Even the most motivated of us feel unmotivated at times. In fact, sometimes we get into such a slump or we hit creative rough patches that even thinking about making positive changes seems too difficult.
But it’s not hopeless: with some small steps, baby ones in fact, you can get started down the road to positive change.
Yes, I know, it seems impossible at times. You don’t feel like doing anything. I’ve been there, and in fact I still feel that way from time to time. You’re not alone. But I’ve learned a few ways to break out of a slump, and we’ll take a look at those today.
When I fall out of exercise, due to illness or injury or disruption from things going on in my life, it’s hard to get started again. I don’t even feel like thinking about it, sometimes. But I’ve always found a way to break out of that slump, and here are some things I’ve learned that have helped:
- One Goal. Whenever I’ve been in a slump, I’ve discovered that it’s often because I have too much going on in my life. I’m trying to do too much. And it saps my energy and motivation. It’s probably the most common mistake that people make: they try to take on too much, try to accomplish too many goals at once. You cannot maintain energy and focus (the two most important things in accomplishing a goal) if you are trying to do two or more goals at once. It’s not possible — I’ve tried it many times. You have to choose one goal, for now, and focus on it completely. I know, that’s hard. Still, I speak from experience. You can always do your other goals when you’ve accomplished your One Goal.
I think the most common basketball rough patch is the shooting slump. Even in the NBA, the best shooters in the world like Ray Allen and Stephen Curry and the best scorers like Kobe Bryant, Lebron James and Kevin Durant struggle from time to time with their shooting. They go for games where they shoot below 35% from the field and even miss easier shots that they are so accustomed to making. You’d think with thousands of hours put into their art, that they’d be perfect and shoot with the same level of accuracy consistently, but it just doesn’t work that way.
Think about how they take the ‘One goal’ approach to overcome this particular mental hurdle. In between games and traveling on the road during a season, these players get in the gym earlier and leave later, focusing on only their shooting and nothing more. They shoot for hours during practice and pregame sessions to regain the same mechanics and reactivate the same muscle memory that allows them to shoot like pros at an extremely high level.
2. Find inspiration. Inspiration, for me, comes from others who have achieved what I want to achieve, or who are currently doing it. I read other blogs, books, magazines. I Google my goal, and read success stories. Zen Habits is just one place for inspiration, not only from me but from many readers who have achieved amazing things.
If you find yourself struggling with your game in general, watch the best. Who does your game most resemble? What is it that you are struggling with? Youtube has virtually an endless collection of highlight mixes and tapes that you can browse through of your favorite players and teams as well as basketball tips and drills from non-NBA coaches and players. You might not always find solutions that translate in real life on the court, but you can certainly find new ideas and inspiration that could give you a fresh approach to your problems. Sometimes, that’s all you need – a hard refresh.
3. Get excited. This sounds obvious, but most people don’t think about it much: if you want to break out of a slump, get yourself excited about a goal. But how can you do that when you don’t feel motivated? Well, it starts with inspiration from others (see above), but you have to take that excitement and build on it. For me, I’ve learned that by talking to my wife about it, and to others, and reading as much about it as possible, and visualizing what it would be like to be successful (seeing the benefits of the goal in my head), I get excited about a goal. Once I’ve done that, it’s just a matter of carrying that energy forward and keeping it going.
For this maybe Youtube might do the trick, but I’d recommend going away from current technology. Youtube might have virtually every NBA video, movie and tape mix out there, but there’s nothing like a good old-fashioned DVD or even VCR tape of the old days. Very few DVDs get me excited like my Bulls 90’s dynasty collection which contains stories and Finals games of 6 of the best years in Bulls’ history. This is my go-to collection when I get any sort of creative block and have a few hours to kill.
4. Build anticipation. This will sound hard, and many people will skip this tip. But it really works. It helped me quit smoking after many failed attempts. If you find inspiration and want to do a goal, don’t start right away. Many of us will get excited and want to start today. That’s a mistake. Set a date in the future — a week or two, or even a month — and make that your Start Date. Mark it on the calendar. Get excited about that date. Make it the most important date in your life. In the meantime, start writing out a plan. And do some of the steps below. Because by delaying your start, you are building anticipation, and increasing your focus and energy for your goal.
Sometimes, it helps to just take a step back and go on a ‘vacation’. If it’s basketball you’re slumping with, stay away from the gym for a day or 2. As badly as you might want to return, let the excitement build internally. It’s the opposite approach of an earlier point but there’s no one fixed solution. Sometimes you have to try 2 different extremes to get the desired result. Go back to the gym with a clear mind and high anticipation. That energy just might re-ignite you.
5. Post your goal. Print out your goal in big words. Make your goal just a few words long, like a mantra (“Exercise 15 mins. Daily”), and post it up on your wall or refrigerator. Post it at home and work. Put it on your computer desktop. You want to have big reminders about your goal, to keep your focus and keep your excitement going. A picture of your goal (like a model with sexy abs, for example) also helps.
Honestly, I don’t think this tip applies unless you struggle finishing a long-term training routine. For slumps, I wouldn’t recommend this because I’m not sold on the idea itself. Leo’s absolutely right however, if you have a specific short-term or long-term goal in mind, don’t sleep on it. Make mental and physical notes to not let it become irrelevant.
6.Commit publicly. None of us likes to look bad in front of others. We will go the extra mile to do something we’ve said publicly. For example, when I wanted to run my first marathon, I started writing a column about it in my local daily newspaper. The entire island of Guam (pop. 160K) knew about my goal. I couldn’t back down, and even though my motivation came and went, I stuck with it and completed it. Now, you don’t have to commit to your goal in your daily newspaper, but you can do it with friends and family and co-workers, and you can do it on your blog if you have one. And hold yourself accountable — don’t just commit once, but commit to giving progress updates to everyone every week or so.
It takes a lot of balls to declare you’re going to do something big and worthwhile even to friends and family, who you know will support you. Like Leo said, you don’t want to fall short, be ‘all talk, no action’ and look bad. If you’re thinking about joining that school basketball team next season, tell people about your intention clearly and then go out and do it. If there’s someone you trust that’ll go out of their way to call you out on slacking, thank that person and ask them to hold you accountable until you achieve that goal.
7. Think about it daily. If you think about your goal every day, it is much more likely to become true. To this end, posting the goal on your wall or computer desktop (as mentioned above) helps a lot. Sending yourself daily reminders also helps. And if you can commit to doing one small thing to further your goal (even just 5 minutes) every single day, your goal will almost certainly come true.
Self-explanatory. Luckily for basketball lovers, it’s not hard to do. Basketball just comes to mind naturally and frequently, especially at the office or in class, don’t be afraid to daydream and imagine new moves, new ideas on how to improve your game, etc.
8. Get support. It’s hard to accomplish something alone. When I decided to run my marathon, I had the help of friends and family, and I had a great running community on Guam who encouraged me at 5K races and did long runs with me. When I decided to quit smoking, I joined an online forum and that helped tremendously. And of course, my wife Eva helped every step of the way. I couldn’t have done these goals without her, or without the others who supported me. Find your support network, either in the real world or online, or both.
Get help from other players and coaches. This isn’t always easy because the players you generally play with and against are your competitors and the last thing you want to do is show any weakness and give up any mental edge. But it is helpful especially when you’re closer friends with someone than you are brute competitors.
9. Realize that there’s an ebb and flow. Motivation is not a constant thing that is always there for you. It comes and goes, and comes and goes again, like the tide. But realize that while it may go away, it doesn’t do so permanently. It will come back. Just stick it out and wait for that motivation to come back. In the meantime, read about your goal (see below), ask for help (see below), and do some of the other things listed here until your motivation comes back.
See next point.
10. Stick with it. Whatever you do, don’t give up. Even if you aren’t feeling any motivation today, or this week, don’t give up. Again, that motivation will come back. Think of your goal as a long journey, and your slump is just a little bump in the road. You can’t give up with every little bump. Stay with it for the long term, ride out the ebbs and surf on the flows, and you’ll get there.
You always hear NBA players, coaches and analysts talk about how shooters need to just shoot when they’re struggling. They’re all right about this. Sometimes it might hurt your team, but your team in the big picture needs you to be aggressive and on point with your shooting so they need to bear with you while you struggle and you need to return that same favor to any teammate when he/she goes through a similar slump. Persist and you sooner rather than later pick up right where you left off.
11.Start small. Really small. If you are having a hard time getting started, it may be because you’re thinking too big. If you want to exercise, for example, you may be thinking that you have to do these intense workouts 5 days a week. No — instead, do small, tiny, baby steps. Just do 2 minutes of exercise. I know, that sounds wimpy. But it works. Commit to 2 minutes of exercise for one week. You may want to do more, but just stick to 2 minutes. It’s so easy, you can’t fail. Do it at the same time, every day. Just some crunches, 2 pushups, and some jogging in place. Once you’ve done 2 minutes a day for a week, increase it to 5, and stick with that for a week. In a month, you’ll be doing 15-20. Want to wake up early? Don’t think about waking at 5 a.m. Instead, think about waking 10 minutes earlier for a week. That’s all. Once you’ve done that, wake 10 minutes earlier than that. Baby steps.
This is my favorite tip, especially for shooting slumps. When you’re struggling with your shot, you could spend hours shooting from your normal range and spots but it’d really be helpful if you start ‘close’. Shooting is mostly arm-eye coordination so to get the muscle memory in sync again, you just need to ‘remember’. Go stand underneath the front of the rim and shoot jump shots at point blank range. Too easy? It’s not. Go ahead, take 500 shots. Most amateurs won’t make even 50% of them. Avoid using the backboard. Shoot like you would from any other spot on the floor minus jumping.
12. Build on small successes. Again, if you start small for a week, you’re going to be successful. You can’t fail if you start with something ridiculously easy. Who can’t exercise for 2 minutes? (If that’s you, I apologize.) And you’ll feel successful, and good about yourself. Take that successful feeling and build on it, with another baby step. Add 2-3 minutes to your exercise routine, for example. With each step (and each step should last about a week), you will feel even more successful. Make each step really, really small, and you won’t fail. After a couple of months, your tiny steps will add up to a lot of progress and a lot of success.
13. Read about it daily. When I lose motivation, I just read a book or blog about my goal. It inspires me and reinvigorates me. For some reason, reading helps motivate and focus you on whatever you’re reading about. So read about your goal every day, if you can, especially when you’re not feeling motivated.
14. Call for help when your motivation ebbs. Having trouble? Ask for help. Email me. Join an online forum. Get a partner to join you. Call your mom. It doesn’t matter who, just tell them your problems, and talking about it will help. Ask them for advice. Ask them to help you overcome your slump. It works.
15. Think about the benefits, not the difficulties. One common problem is that we think about how hard something is. Exercise sounds so hard! Just thinking about it makes you tired. But instead of thinking about how hard something is, think about what you will get out of it. For example, instead of thinking about how tiring exercise can be, focus on how good you’ll feel when you’re done, and how you’ll be healthier and slimmer over the long run. The benefits of something will help energize you.
16. Squash negative thoughts; replace them with positive ones. Along those lines, it’s important to start monitoring your thoughts. Recognize negative self-talk, which is really what’s causing your slump. Just spend a few days becoming aware of every negative thought. Then, after a few days, try squashing those negative thoughts like a bug, and then replacing them with a corresponding positive thought. Squash, “This is too hard!” and replace it with, “I can do this! If that wimp Leo can do it, so can I!” It sounds corny, but it works. Really.
To add to Leo’s point, here’s a bonus tip:
17. Change it up.
Don’t be afraid to change up all your routines. Work out with different basketball training aid and equipment to kill boredom. Shoot with the opposite hand for an entire shoot-around session. Shoot with the lights off. Read some books. Take some time to research your favorite players and coaches and learn about their personal side and understand them better.