Updated: Nov 20, 2021
Do you have low mojo? When you wake up, do you feel like staying in bed because it’s easier than facing people who have high expectations of you that you can’t possibly live up to? Is it all in your head? How can you tell?
I’ll tell you a story.
When I finished my PhD, I believed that the next logical step was to get a post-doctoral fellowship – a job in which I’d work on a funded project for a respectable professor. My PhD was in cognitive neuroscience, and there were no fellowships in that field, so I developed my own idea. The synergy was amazing – my idea fit a model of community management and the National Disability Insurance Scheme in Australia had a pilot site for psychosocial disability in my hometown! I got professors and a community-managed organisation on-board, a fantastic PhD student and terrific co-supervisors, and I put together a funding application that was reviewed as awesome!
But no fellowship … Instead, I worked right outside my field, in a hospital department where people were treated for cancer. I helped to develop research capacity for the clinical staff there, and after five years, my boss and I agreed that “my work here is done”. As much as I had a great job with beautiful people, my sense of self didn’t match my reality, and I felt like a fraud.
This experience is often called “Impostor Syndrome” - many people know how it feels. Sometimes, it’s like what I just described; other times, it’s because you’ve got exactly what you wanted, and it doesn’t feel right. Why doesn’t it feel right? I’ll tell you.
It doesn’t feel right, because you need time to adjust your sense of self. Give it time. Talk to others about their experiences and their solutions. Go easy on yourself and allow others to be part of your team of supporters.
Recently, I watched “Finding Dory” on TV. This little fish had “lost” her parents and a bit of her memory as well, and one day she realised that she was beginning to remember them and how to find them, so she set off to do exactly that. She wanted her friends, Marlin and Nemo, to come with her, but Marlin was terrified. In the ensuing tale, Dory has moments when the low mojo can set in, but she has these tricks that help her overcome it:
When she was a little fish, Dory’s mother taught Dory to follow the shells, they will always bring her home (and that her mother’s favourites are the purple shells). So Dory always has a plan, that works from any direction (which means it’s flexible), and it contains something sentimental to strengthen its salience;
Dory’s mother taught her a song, “just keep swimming”, and the activity that she CAN do, is what keeps her going;
Dory asks her friends for help, and despite fear, they help her because they care about her and love her like family;
Dory is open to help from unexpected sources, and she trusts that they will come through for her too;
Dory has faith in herself, despite her seeming inadequacy (a poor memory), so that she gives things a go, is fine with failure and keeps on trying, and she discovers all the important things are still right where she needs them.
I’m often asked how I overcome low mojo, possibly because I look like I have experienced it, and probably because I seem confident. The truth is, I know both sides of that see-saw. So, here is my take on it:
You trust that the psychological heritage and the foundations you have (family, friends, education, experience, ability to give and receive, capacity to listen and share) are strong;
You trust that you have the ability to learn from various teachers (life, blunders, embarrassments, as well as other people).
You might make a plan. You allow for diversions. You try to be flexible but informed. You include others as part of your plan.
You trust that in doing what you can, you will feel a sense of progress.
You tell trusted persons how you feel (if you don’t have friends and family, start with Lifeline, and your neighbours).
You ask for advice and help.
You listen to the way you speak and look at how you present yourself. If you sound miserable, you will continue to feel miserable. If you leave the house looking like a success, you will stand up tall and feel like a success (before long). Try using soft tones and a light-hearted voice when you speak, and think positive words.
So, to blow my own low mojo, I start by doing what I can with what I have (as Theodore Roosevelt was credited for saying). Doing is so much better than wallowing!
Then, I make a plan (or go back to a previous plan and tweak it). The plan includes other people who can help me, and I give them a call and say something like, “I’ve got an idea and I’d love for you to be part of it”. If I can’t bring myself to be that forward, then I might start with an email or a text, but really, a phone call is the best start.
Then, I meet up with my tribe. It could be the people I’ve enlisted to help me, or it could be my family or friends. It doesn’t have to be a party! But, it could, I suppose …
Then, I do something from my plan. Doing is so much better than wallowing! (Oh, did I already say that? It must be worth repeating!).
I make sure that I leave the house … I get dressed nicely and put on some subtle makeup, so it’s not overly obvious, but I look like I’m in business. Wearing track pants around the house every day will not make you feel so good about yourself, but wearing something classy can get compliments (and they help your self-esteem too).
I try to connect with loved ones. I call, just for a chat. Low mojo times aren’t the only ones that I’ll do all these things, but it’s good to tick them off when it is a low mojo time. And connecting with loved ones is good to get out of my own head. The conversation is not all about me, because I make the effort to ask about the other person. And it is it’s own reward!
And if someone asks me, “are you okay?”, I answer honestly – no set response that everyone gets. I answer honestly, because if someone cares enough to ask, “how are you?”, then they should get an honest answer.
There’s always professional help too. I didn’t study psychology and coaching for nothing. And my friends who are coaches, psychologists, clinical psychologists, health psychologists and psychiatrists come in handy! And lastly, if I can't stop thinking when I should be sleeping, I say the rosary. It puts me to sleep in no time!! It might not be your thing (and that's completely fine), but you never know ... it could be exactly what you need.
Hopefully, this has helped! I'd love for you to share your tips too, so please feel free to post a comment.