10 Ways To Snap Out Of Apathy
By Barrie Davenport
If there's such a thing as a "belly-up" emotion, apathy fits the bill. Apathy is actually defined as the absence of emotion. It's white noise. Dead air. You feel like a chunk of flavorless tofu. Not happy. Not sad. Not angry. And certainly not passionate.
You've probably heard people say they knew they were out of love when they no longer got angry. The relationship had flat-lined, love had disappeared, and it wasn't worth the effort of anger anymore. But what if life begins to feel that way?
What if everything you thought would ring your bell stares back at you with dead shark eyes?
What if all of those goals and habits you were going to achieve start to dissolve in importance and float away in the sea of your apathy?
Apathy is not an emotion to disregard. If you feel apathetic and have one ounce of up-and-at-em left in your antediluvian brain (that small piece that still compels you to stand staring blankly into the fridge looking for food) then use it to snap out of apathy.
Apathy is often the precursor to a full-blown depression. As life starts to feel boring and empty, your psyche might decide to jazz things up a bit by sending you spiraling into a dark hole. If you don't know the signs of depression, get familiar with them and get treatment if you notice them.
Before depression really slams you, you may find your feet sinking in the quicksand of apathy. Apathy comes on slowly. You progressively feel less and less engaged and excited about life until one morning you think, "If I have to get up and do this same thing again today I'm going to chew my foot off." A one-footed pessimist is not an attractive thing.
Here are some signs you might be sinking into a state of apathy:
- Your regular interests and hobbies don't feel interesting or fun anymore;
- You feel very unmotivated at work and your work performance starts to slip;
- Every time you think of acting on a goal or possible interest, you quickly lose steam;
- You allow yourself to spend a lot of time in front of the TV, surfing the net, shopping, or playing video games;
- You feel frustrated or embarrassed being around friends who have something interesting going on in their lives or you avoid them altogether;
- You fill your life with mindless tasks and busy work to keep from having to figure out what you really want in life;
- You're hearing comments from family and friends trying to "help you" get motivated;
- You are reading lots of self-help books without applying any of the help;
- You're eating too much and exercising too little.
If you recognize yourself in any of these descriptions, I implore you not to allow apathy to infect your life to the point that you are completely frozen and unable to cope. Apathy is insidious, and if you don't fight against it, it will surely infect you completely.
Apathy also fosters secondary emotions like shame, guilt, self-loathing, and low self-esteem. And that creates the slippery slide toward depression. So while you still have your wits about you, focus your remaining energy like a laser on snapping out of apathy. Here are some suggestions...
- Start with perspective
Apathy is a temporary state of being. It doesn't define you. You aren't lazy, passionless, stupid, boring, unmotivated, or any other label you give yourself while you feel apathetic. Apathy doesn't define who you are, just how you feel right now. You won't feel this way forever.
- Define the cause
If you can, figure out the trigger or cause of your apathy. Was there an event that finally took the wind out of your sail? Do you feel hopeless about something big in your life? Is there a pattern of negative thinking that is keeping you down? Think deeply about why you are feeling apathetic and if there is any discernible cause. There may not be, but if there is, it's important to know.
- Change the things you can
If you do recognize a cause or trigger for your apathy, is there anything that can be done about it? What adjustments can you make or actions you might take to remove or mitigate the cause? Write these down and begin brainstorming real ways to take action on them. Just taking control of small pieces of the cause or trigger will afford you a sense of control over your life, which can help break up apathy.
- Create small disturbances
Whether or not you know the cause for your apathy, start creating small disturbances in your life and schedule. Shake things up a bit. Do things in a different order in the morning. Go in earlier to work. Talk to a new person. Just break out of your regular routine. Your daily routine, though sometimes comforting, can also trap you in apathy and boredom.
- Create a mood
Put yourself in situations and with people where you feel the most energized as often as possible. Is there a room in your house that has the most "positive energy" for you? Spend time in that room. Does music make you feel happier? Then play more music. Are there people who lift your spirits, make you laugh, and draw out the best in you? Then purposefully spend time with those people. Mindfully put yourself in environments that don't feed your apathy.
- List past joys
Sit down and think about everything in your past that made you come alive with excitement and enthusiasm. List situations and events both in your personal and professional life. Then next to each situation, list the specific elements of those situations that fostered the good feelings. For example, if it was a work project, you might list that it made you feel valued; it involved creativity; it created collaboration. Tease out the feelings and values these events fostered that made you feel so good.
- Find the low-hanging fruit
Look at your life right now to see where you might be overlooking situations that could foster those same feelings and values. They might be in your current work, lifestyle, or relationships. See if there are places you might focus a bit more attention and time to reignite feelings of engagement and motivation, or at least lessen the apathy.
- Pick one thing
If you've been toying with ideas and interests, but you aren't sure which one you should pursue or invest time in (hence your apathy), then match them to the values and feelings you outlined in point #6. Which of these interests have the most potential to create the same engagement and enthusiasm you felt in the past? If you still aren't completely sure, that's OK. We're rarely "completely" sure about anything. Just pick one to focus on for a while.
- Break it down
Since you're feeling apathetic, you won't have much energy to devote to tackling a big, multi-layered project, especially if you aren't sure it's what you want to pursue for the long term anyway. So break down the interest into the smallest possible action steps that are manageable but slightly challenging. If the goal is to write a book for example, then give yourself the goal of writing for five minutes every day or write one paragraph a day, making it the best paragraph you can write. Take small, manageable, forward-moving, slightly challenging actions every day. Then commit to doing these actions every day for 6 weeks.
- Learn about habits
Snapping out of apathy involves forcing change. You force it in well-considered, but small and manageable increments. As you begin to practice this change and get more proficient and disciplined, you will feel better about yourself and will have more energy and enthusiasm for what you are doing — especially if it's something that supports your values, aptitudes, and interests.
Making change is basically creating a series of new habits. Forming habits involves a special skill set that is easy but important to understand. Many people fail at creating habits because they don't understand the simple method for making habits stick. Learn the method and you will have the tools to snap out of apathy.