If January is a month when many of us resolve to be better at using our brain’s executive functions, February is often a reality check.
Any time we start something new, like a new year, a new class, a new job, or a new planner, our brains are fired up by the novelty. But when reality sets in and things begin to get complicated, difficult, or boring, we can, to quote one of my clients, “Slide into the valley of despair.” Do you know that valley? I certainly do and I see it in my clients, friends and even my neighbors.
I was taking out the compost the other day when I heard my name called out by a neighbor. I was confused for a moment because I couldn’t see who was calling to me. Then I looked up. He was on his roof, taking down the Christmas lights. While he was squatting on the roof, we ended up chatting about one of his children, a high school senior. Dad was concerned about his young person’s lack of connection and enthusiasm for going to college – or anything else for that matter.
I reassured him that his child’s behavior matches that of many of my clients. The last two years of education under the cloud of the pandemic has made it hard for many students to connect to the joy of learning and the thrill of anticipation for the future.
When describing my clients’ lack of “oomph,” I hesitate to use the word depression which is a serious clinical condition. Instead, I like to use the word “malaise”, which signifies the discomfort or uneasiness that can dominate our days. I believe that the stress of living in an ever-changing world has overwhelmed our brains. And we aren’t getting any sustained relief so that our brains can build up resilience for everyday challenges.
It is as though the shock absorbers are gone from your car and every little bump in the road is jarring, an attack on both your car and your body. All this stress can make it hard to sustain energy and engagement for the future. Why bother? The energy required to activate your executive functions and plan for the future can disappear.
I told my neighbor that even I, someone with an above-average drive to do and create, have felt this malaise creep into my soul. My neighbor, now taking notes from our conversation while sitting on his roof, took a deep breath and said, “You know Marydee, I’ve got that malaise too. I am always goal-directed and doing things, but lately, it is hard to push myself.”
So what can you do to combat that malaise and climb out of the valley of despair? Here are the key points I constantly tell myself, my clients, and even my rooftop neighbor:
May you have the best day, month and year possible!
Marydee Sklar is the president of Executive Functioning Success and the creator of the Seeing My Time Program®. She is an educator and author of three books on executive functions, as well as a trainer and speaker. Marydee has more than twenty-five years of experience working with students and adults with executive function challenges.