How to Pull out of a Dark Chapter in Your Life

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In all of our lives, we’re going to experience failure, tragedy, and setbacks.

  • Our hearts will be broken
  • Our friendships will end
  • Our loved ones will die
  • Our careers will crumble

Nobody is immune to adversity. If you’re living what my friend Pamela Slim refers to as a full-color full contact life, you’re eventually going to get punched in the face.

At the end of 2014, I was in one of the darkest chapters of my life. I had financial challenges, many of my friendships were falling apart, and I was going to sleep most nights hoping I wouldn’t wake up the next morning.
It was a chapter of my life that became a chapter of my previous book, in which I described it as follows.

A days ago my friend Jadah Sellner interviewed me for her podcast. In our interview, she asked me how I pulled out of this dark chapter, and what’s below is what I shared with her.

1. Upgrade Your Environment

The impact of our environment is profound. It affects our thinking, emotions, and behavior. One of the fastest ways to change the way you feel is to change your environment. That doesn’t mean that you have to buy a fancy car, move into a McMansion or wear the most expensive clothes money can buy. It’s just a matter of deliberately designing an environment that inspires you and makes you feel good.

Get rid of anything that reminds you of the past. We all have emotions that are linked to objects in our physical space.

  • They might be clothes you wore in a relationship that didn’t work or pictures of an ex.
  • It could be pens, notebooks, paintbrushes, or something else from a creative project that you consider a failure.

This also doesn’t have to be some massive undertaking. You change tiny things. I changed the type of pen I was writing with and the color of the moleskines I wrote in. If something in your physical environment does nothing but remind you of painful memories, get rid of it.

2. Deliberately Design Your Space

When I interviewed Jim Bunch about the 9 Environments that make up your life, he told me that whenever he interviewed someone for a job, he would walk to their car with them. If the car was a mess, he didn’t hire them. If you can’t manage and maintain your physical space, it’s going to be hard to handle a demanding job.

If you’re depressed or going through a rough patch, the last thing you need is a car or workspace that’s a complete mess. You’d be amazed by how much better you’ll start to feel just by doing the following:

1) Have clean physical spaces
2) Fill those spaces with things that inspire you.

Even though these seem like little changes, they add up over time. Still not convinced? After explaining all of this to me, Jim said: “pretty soon your bank account starts to look like a new environment.”

3. Prioritize Self Care

There are few times when self-care is more important than when you’re going through a rough patch. As somebody once said to me, your body is your first line of defense.

  • Exercise/Diet: Exercise won’t change the fact that you just got dumped or fired. But it will make you feel better, even if it’s just for a little bit of time each day. Physical health is not only one of the 5 essential investments that every human being should make in themselves. It’s the foundation on which everything else is built. When you start exercising on a regular basis, other things change. Because you need the energy to exercise you eat healthier food. Eventually, you look better. As a result, your self-image improves. It’s the start of a cycle to help pull you out of a rough patch.
  • Therapy: Recently my friend Sarah Kathleen Peck published a piece about how to go to therapy. Therapy can be one of the most valuable tools for getting yourself out of a dark chapter. Unlike talking to friends and family, you get an objective perspective on the situation you’re dealing with. And unlike friends and family who will eventually be tired of hearing why you’re feeling the way you are, a therapist will keep listening, and even get you to the point where you stop telling your friends and family the same story over and over again.
  • Medication: Medication gets a really bad rap, particularly in personal development circles. But that doesn’t mean it should be completely ignored as a possible solution. I’ve talked to many friends who’ve taken antidepressants and benefited from them. That being said, I’d treat it as a last resort when you’ve done everything above, and nothing is working.
  • Sleep: Of all the things that contribute to anxiety and depression, poor sleep might be at the top of the list. Before this dark chapter I used to have my phone in my bed at night, and I’d chat with people until 11 pm. Study after study has shown that the blue light emitted from screens is disruptive to our sleep. Sleep in many ways is to the mind what food is to the body.
  • Gratitude: Happiness is a habit that has to be trained, and a gratitude practice is one of the easiest ways to train that habit. When things are shitty, it might feel as if there’s absolutely nothing to be grateful for. If that’s the case, start with the smallest possible thing. It might be the coffee you just had, the fact that you have a computer to read this one or the book that showed up in the mail. Over the course of a month, this simple practice will start to shift your perception of how things are.

4. Redirect Your Energy

This is easier said than done. But what results can be incredibly powerful. By the time I hired Nick Notas as a dating coach last year, I had found myself in the midst of another bout of depression. First dates weren’t leading to second dates, and other people ghosted me. The result was an in-depth inquiry that resulted in my piece about what we should have learned in school but never did. It ended up being the most read thing I’ve written in the last 10 years. Great pain sometimes helps to plant the seeds for great art.

5. Quit Social Media

A few days ago my friend Mike asked me if I thought social media was making our lives worse. Without hesitation, I said yes. This was even though I had just shared my new book on social media and received hundreds of likes and comments. In fact, after my book launch is done, I’m hoping to reduce my use of social media drastically.

If you’re depressed or going through a rough patch, the last thing you need is to watch the highlight reels of everybody else’s life. Consciously or unconsciously, it fuels comparison, which in turn amplifies anxiety and depression.

The variable rewards that drive our behavior on social media make it both addictive and unfulfilling. You post something. You check to see how people respond or if they do at all. If the artificial standard you’ve invented in your head isn’t met, you feel worse. If it is you feel better, and start thinking about what you should post next to get a more potent response. The vicious cycle continues, and you spiral further into your depression.

When we prioritize measurable gains (i.e. fan and follower counts) over immeasurable losses (empathy, sympathy, and humanity), we’ve voluntarily chosen to stand on a dangerous edge.

As Chamath Palihapitiya said in his now famous talk at Stanford, if you feed the beast it will destroy you.

6. Connect with Your Community

The paradox of being in a dark chapter is that you want to feel more than anything in the world connected to somebody and the same time feel the need to isolate yourself from everybody. I honestly couldn’t have gotten through my dark chapter without the help of some really good friends.

Our primary method of communication with each other has become digital, whether it’s texting or instant messages. The result of this is that we talk more and listen less. We listen less to each other and ourselves. The tools we’ve built have paradoxically connected and isolated us.

When you have any relationship that exists almost entirely online, as Tucker Max once said: “you’re not in a relationship you’re in a fantasy.” Between sexing, texting, and a perpetual stream of Facebook message you get one dopamine hit after another. But what is more toxic than the fantasy is what happens when the fantasy comes to an end. It’s like cutting a rat off of cocaine supply, the natural result of which is a deep depression. The illusion of being connected to thousands or millions of people isn’t a substitute for the sense of community that only arises from being genuinely connected to people in the physical world.

Community isn’t having millions of fans or thousands of friends on Facebook. Digital connections are not a viable substitute for real human contact. As human beings, we need to hear each other’s voices, see each other’s faces, and touch each other.

7.Read the Obstacle is The Way

There are certain books that you can return to over and over when you need a kick in the ass. Every time I’m going through a challenging time in my life, whether it’s internal or external I return to this book. It’s filled with stories and essential reminders of people who have in Ryan Holiday’s words “turned shit into sugar” and shit that’s far worse than what any of us are probably experiencing. Every time I read this book, it put things in perspective.

Adversity Takes Place in Seasons

We all go through seasons of adversity. Much like actual seasons, sometimes they’re long, other times they’re short. But a beautiful thing about seasons is that they end, and they change. If you’re in a season that seems like it’s going to last forever, remember that your temporary circumstances are not your permanent reality.

Gain an Unfair Creative Advantage

I’ve created a swipe file of my best creative strategies. Follow it and you’ll kill your endless distractions, do more of what matters to you, in higher quality and less time. Get the swipe file here.

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