I think most people have, at some point, experienced a slump; it’s a period of time where things aren’t going well, where you feel frustrated and stuck. You aren’t playing or performing like normal. You wonder if things are going anywhere. They're a bit like plateaus, except the slump corresponds with feeling like you're playing below your current level.
A slump primarily represents two things. The first is frustration, the second is stagnation. Frustration because you can’t perform at a level that you normally do, and stagnation because you can’t seem break out. It’s a big pain to be in a slump, because you can’t do what you normally do and you don’t know what else you can do to make things differently.
How do you break out a slump? Some people take breaks, and I’ve talked a bit about why I think they can help. Some people say “just give it time.” Some people say you've got to put your nose to the grindstone and destroy it. Those answers work for some people sometimes.
But in all honesty, the real answer is fun. Fun destroys slumps.
If slumps represent frustration and stagnation, then fun also represents two things. The first is enjoyment (obviously) and the second is novelty. When you have fun, very often it’s because you are seeing new sides to things, you are appreciating the unexpected, you are trying new stuff just to see what happens. A lot of fun is had from just screwing around. When I see people having the most fun, it’s not because they are trying to do things that are most optimal and most successful, it’s because they’re intentionally doing things where they don’t know what the outcome will be. They are just trying to see what happens.
The feeling of novelty and freshness is huge. Some things stay fun for a long time, and the way we describe it is “it never gets old.” Sometimes that happens because you can always maintain an appreciation for the things you liked about it. The exact opposite of that is another aspect of a slump; the feeling that everything is stale and nothing is new.
So how do you destroy a slump? Accessing your sense of fun and appreciation are probably the most effective ways. The people that I see get more and more frustrated are the ones that keep digging hard into the slump, working harder, expecting more, demanding more, and doing exactly what they currently do, but with a clenched jaw. Then they only get angrier and wonder why things aren’t changing.
I’m definitely not against the idea of working hard to overcome your problems and difficulties. It’s really hard to solve a problem by quitting. The issue we’re faced with is this: what state of mind contributes to stagnation, and which contributes to improvement? Because you can work hard when having fun, and you can feel jaded and dejected even when attempting to relax. When you combine your hard work and perseverance with the state of mind that actually works, you get better results.
The thing about being in a slump is that, typically, it’s really all about how it feels to you. Because sometimes people feel like they’re in a slump when they’re actually improving, but they’re not looking at reality properly. Sometimes I have to point out to people, “you did this and this and this right, why are you complaining?” and they reply with, “yeah but this went wrong.” Even if that thing has always been a trouble spot and they've improved in other areas. Shoot, plenty of people in the past have pointed it out to me and I always want to ignore them in favor of my own frustrated feelings.
Sometimes we use unrealistic and unreasonable demands to judge performance and ability, not noticing that things are getting better. The slump is almost entirely an emotional issue, one of frustration and stagnation, which (no surprise) easily transforms into lower performance and fulfills itself.
In short, they are tied heavily into expectations. Something that might have been good enough before stops being good enough now… and even though maybe you’re better than you were, you’re also angrier and more frustrated. Or maybe something good was supposed to be something great, and yeah sure it’s alright but I was hoping for more.
I remember one conversation where somebody told me they had just learned something useful about a matchup, and they were embarrassed that they hadn’t already known it. And I replied with “you just learned a super valuable lesson and turned it into a reason to be mad at yourself.” Which many of us do. We’ll do something good and be mad that it wasn’t great. We’ll do something ordinary but get mad it wasn’t good. We’ll do something below average and wonder why it couldn’t be normal.
Which is funny, because functioning at a below average level is normal. It happens to everybody. Everybody’s performance is variable. If you expect yourself never to perform below average and end up in a little bit of a slump sometimes, you’re getting mad at yourself for not being better than human.
This is one of the reasons that I think fun slaughters slumps. It gets you to try new things and evaluate everything a bit more honestly. When you’re having fun, you abandon some of your expectations and laugh even if things don’t go your way. It also makes you less likely to reject new information because that information wasn’t quite what you wanted, which is probably one of the most pivotal parts of learning and improvement. But when you’re hunting for one specific outcome and you get mad when it doesn’t happen, it’s very easy to ignore the data you just generated with your failure or misstep. And ignoring data and information coming from the game is a great way to keep doing things the exact same way and stay in your slump.
So have fun! Appreciate the game you’re playing, take yourself and your expectations out of the equation a bit. See what happens.
Thanks for reading.