What the Funk?

Whenever I’m feeling significantly down, I try to do these 5 things.

What the Funk featuring Dr Jason Fox by dangerlam


So I’ve been in a bit of a funk, recently.

Not quite the blues—and certainly not depression—but a kind of restless apathy. A strong feeling of discontent for I don’t know what. A meandering, persistent (and yet not entirely consistent) melancholy that’s at stark contrast to the many things to be grateful for.

I know this may come across as a bit of a downer—but that’s certainly not my intention. Far from it! I’m glad for this dark storm. This is no cry for help, but rather: a natural part of constructive discontent.*

* The very thing that fuels all meaningful progress and growth. 

I know that—on the other side of this—awaits renewed congruence. After all—creativity and destruction are two sides of the same coin. It’s a paradox, and an early cue for some sort of change on the horizon. 

And so! I’m writing this just in case you—or any folk you know— are passing through funk-town too. 


Here’s what I know I need to do


And yes, I'm presenting it as a listicle.*

* Though, to my credit, I didn't use a click-bait title like: ‘You Won't Believe These 5 Free Ways To Overcome Any Funk...’


1. Get philosophically reconciled


At times like this I take great comfort in philosophy, and the renewed pursuit of knowing thyself. Alan Watt’s The Wisdom of Insecurity, James Carse’s Finite and Infinite Games, Alain de Botton’s Consolations of Philosophy, and Oliver Burkeman’s The Antidote: happiness for people who can’t stand positive thinking (which draws from Seneca) are all good reference points (and are thus scattered about the house). I’m also thoroughly loving The Book of Life. If you haven’t gotten into this yet—do so. It is a veritable omnibus of contemporary wisdom.*


2. Dial up physical & social activity


I’m doing okay with regards to physical activity* (thanks to the joys of cognitive dissonance and the sunk cost fallacy of having a PT). Nutrition-wise I’m also doing okay.°


* Which is lucky—physical activity is an extremely good buffer against the blues.
° Alas, it turns out that excessive coffee is inexorably linked to anxiety, so I’m trying to cap it to just one brilliant coffee each day. Okay two. Definitely no more than three.


But social activity is the thing that gets very counter-intuitive for me whence I’m in a funk. I’m not one to answer calls from friends at the best of times (well—I stare at the phone and then call back later when I have the energy). But, by the same token, I’m very lucky to have some mighty thoughtful friends and family. Folks who I can bounce with, and who can empathise—without the need to give sympathy or advice. And so, knowing my natural inclination leans toward solitude, I’ve gone and proactively planned some social activity in the calendar. I’m my own worst enemy—in the best possible way.

On the flip-side, I wonder if—for an extrovert—the default might be to constantly surround themselves with people. To not be alone with your thoughts. I don’t know. But if you’re that way inclined—and are passing through funk town too—it might be worth experimenting thus.


3. Reflect more, with gratitude


During our Monday morning team meetings, we check in with each others’ fulfilment factors. This is to buffer against burnout, and to ensure that we have each other’s back—that we champion each other’s fulfilment (both professionally and personally). Journalling is a ritual I value—but I’m currently out of rhythm with this. For the past few weeks I’ve been using various excuses—travel, work, and so on—and now it’s catching up to me. But... it’s not too hard to get back into flow.* As for gratitudes—I’m lucky in that the dangerlam and I both know just how important they are in counterbalancing constructive discontent, and the withering contempt in which we view most of our own work. In addition to reflecting with gratitude in my journalling, we have an annual calendar on the wall in our bedroom, to which we write down small things we’re grateful for each day.° But I reckon I can do more. Soon.


* A few minutes writing morning pages in my Day One Journal or Baron Fig notebook, as per The Artist’s Way.
° Which is an exceptionally kind way to end the day.
◊ Which I have not done yet, but several folk have recommended I do.


4. Actually meditate


I really enjoy Tim Ferriss’s podcast, wherein he interviews world-class performers from a range of eclectic areas. One of the most common characteristics amongst interviewees is a form of meditative practice. It’s thoroughly annoying, because I’m not there yet myself. And I fancy myself as quite the progressive. And yet evidently not—it still seems counter-intuitive to me. ‘There are better things I can do with my time’ I think to myself. But then I’m reminded of the old Zen adage: ‘You should sit in meditation for twenty minutes every day—unless you’re too busy; then you should sit for an hour.’ Bah! I have a long way to go. Or perhaps I don’t. But here’s what’s working for me now (other than the very occasional whisky°): neighbourhood strolls, digital sunsets,* There Is No Right Way To Meditate (a delightful illustrated guide the dangerlam bought us), and buddhify (an integrated mindfulness and meditation app).


* It’s the gateway to mindfulness.
° Except for reading books on the Kindle.


5. Quest


When I am in a funk I am more allergic to advice than ever. As an over-thinker at the best of times, it’s rare to hear advice that I haven’t already thought of.* You offer someone insight, and then they leap to offer ridiculously simplistic and obvious advice—showcasing the all-of-three-seconds-of-thought they’ve devoted to it—in a way that you can’t help but feel is lacking a certain empathy for the bigger complexity of things. Of course, this is not their intent—they just want to help—but I’ve come to learn that, when in a funk, I relish a different kind of help: questions. 

* Or at least, that’s the unhelpful delusion I hold.

Questions are quite the different thing. The premise of all quests. The provocations that beckon us beyond any settled apathy. Questions are gifts to be interpreted and explored through the lens of your own context. They’re opportunities for you to invite new perspective into the mix. And, while others might share their own conclusions with you, when questing, the conclusions you come to are of your own.


And so, therein lies how I attempt to handle this temporary funk this time. And, if you’re in a funk, hopefully some of these elements are useful to you too (though I daresay you may have already thought of them, ha). Until next time (to which, I'm sure, at some point between now and then, I shall have my own archimedes moment equivalent, and the funk shall be dispelled for a while).

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I venture into all manner of dark places to garner these insights. But I share the best secrets from the Abyss (whom I know quite well: we do coffee) with those who subscribe to my museletter