Finding Your Way Out of the Doldrums: When Things Don’t Go as Planned

This past week has been really heavy for me, and I’m feeling unmotivated. It’s not just the usual frustration-I feel like my routines aren’t working anymore. Sometimes when I wake up in the morning, it feels impossible to take on anything else that day without ending up exhausted again before bedtime even rolls around.

My family just came off a month of family travel which was wonderful, and at the same time exhausting. When you travel with two teen girls, one young foster son and four dogs-there’s bound to be drama and extra work along the way. While the time we spent together and the memories we made make it all worth it-it’s still work. Real work that any parent of humans or furbabies recognizes.

We are all tired. And I’ve been feeling off kilter, like things in my life aren’t making sense anymore and it feels hard to get back on track.

Add to that the resurgence of COVID cases and again needing to take precautions to keep ourselves safe after having a return to a new normal, has been difficult. My family is vaccinated, but our youngest can’t get vaccinated-he’s too young.

The added fact that those who are vaccinated still can spread the virus and become sick to the rare point of death is even more worrisome. Anxious thoughts and worries about the safety of ourselves, our kids, family, and friends add to the heaviness.

We also live on the West Coast where wildfires are a new reality from mid summer to early fall. There have been fires raging around the Southern part of the state for weeks and the smoke has affected our air quality. Of course our air quality compared to people losing their homes and communities, is not something I should complain about. But, when air quality keeps me from walking outside which is one of the things I do to take care of myself physically and mentally-it makes it more difficult to feel motivated to take on the day.

Finally, add to all of these major events swirling around-we started out the week with a major setback within our immediate family. This setback has been hard for everybody involved for a long period of time and continues to be drawn out.

It feels like so many things are out of my control, because well they are. Even though I know that all I can control is myself and how I show up in the world there are still times when my thoughts about things being out of my control, cause a lot of stress and anxiety for me and my family.

Every day I want to be present for my family, friends, students and clients. I know it’s possible for me to function in a way where I’m at my best or as close to my best every day. I need to be able to show up and model for my children how to navigate a world that is wonderful, but also not always fair.

Along with my daily thought work I also find it useful to remember that what I’m thinking and feeling is a normal part of a cycle that we all go through.

I remind myself that what I’m going through is part of the cycle of growth/renewal and it’s something we all go through in our lives many many times. Regardless of what’s happening around us. We can’t control what is happening around us. Only what is within us and how we show up in the world.

“I’m burned out,” “I’m bored,” or “I don’t know what to do next.”

These are common thoughts and feelings that people experience when they get stuck in the doldrums, and it’s a phase that many people go through at some point. This was where I was at last week, in the doldrums. It’s one of four phases in the renewal cycle.

It’s important to remember that this is just a phase – not something permanent – and there are things you can do to break out of it! I use Hudson & Barton’s, The Renewal Cycle to keep things in perspective. To identify what stage I’m currently in and how to move forward.

Phase One: Go for it! The Heroic Self

In this stage we are positive, goal driven, committed and our energy goes towards planning, working towards dreaming about what we want our life to look like. This is an exciting time where we have energy and a vision for what we want to have in our lives.

In this phase we start from our true self, aligned with our values, and consider how to create something in our life that feels truly important to us.

Phase 2: Stuck in the Doldrums. The Disenchanted Self

The drive and energy of Phase 1 is all but gone and instead you are left with a feeling of not being successful or lacking motivation. This phase is where you may find yourself if you have been trying to lose weight, improve communication, work on your marriage, make more time for yourself-any goal you have set, that didn’t go according to plan.

You know you’re in the doldrums when you are negative, reactive, angry, feel trapped and are holding on to something that no longer suits you. A feeling of overwhelm and hopelessness are also part of this phase.

The only way to get out of the doldrums is to acknowledge what you’re feeling. This can include journaling, sorting things out, or talking with a trusted friend. Depending on what you’re working through-you may be in this stage for a while. However, knowing about this stage and understanding this stage can also help you move through it quicker than you may have in the past.

Planning for the future you want by imagining what your marriage, relationships, income or career look like can help you to let go of things you need to let go of, to move through the doldrums. Sometimes you have to let go of things to move forward.

The good news is that this phase doesn’t last forever. Once you have felt the feelings you need to feel and can acknowledge what you need-you move on to Phase 3.

Phase 3: Cocooning. The Inner Self

In this phase- you turn inward, tap into your core values and eventually awaken out of the heaviness of the doldrums. I have spent the last few days cocooning, understanding that that was what I needed to process everything happening was and being okay with that. Knowing that to get to the next phase, I need to turn inward, trust myself, remind myself of my values.

The focus is on healing during this phase and many people may seek out a new hobby, start a new exercise plan, or find ways of reflecting which help them reconnect with their true selves. They invest in themselves, knowing that they are shifting as people and can’t go back to how they were before the process started.

When you feel a new sense of purpose or passion, or reconnect with a true sense of inner peace and trust yourself you are at a turning point and move on to the final phase of the Cycle of Renewal.

Phase 4: Getting Ready for the Next Chapter. The Passionate Self

You now have great energy from the time spent cocooning. You are ready to explore different ways of being or doing things. You may have new priorities or approach priorities that before you were hesitant about, with a new clarity and purpose.

In this phase you take all of the momentum built up while you were recharging in the cocoon, and return to your life ready to go and move closer to your life’s purpose.

Currently, I’m still in the cocooning phase and that’s okay. I know what the next phase holds for me and just having this awareness helps me relax with where I’m at, with the understanding that as I move into the next stage, I will be ready.

What about you? What stage are you currently in? What can you do to move yourself closer to the next stage?


Hudson, F. M. (1999). The Adult Years: Mastering the art of self-renewal (rev. ed.). San Francisco, CA:


Carole Burton Summary Augsburg University, ML548 Coaching and Consulting, 2016

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