How to move forward when you’re feeling numb

move forward when you're feeling numb.- beige food
What my beige food eater ate

When my daughter was a baby, she went through a strange phase. She only ate white food. She drank too much milk, ate too much bread, rice, and tofu, and refused to eat vegetables and fruit that she had enjoyed in months prior.

Thankfully, I happened to read about “The Beige Food Eater” in Donna Fish’s book Take the Fight Out of Food: How to Prevent and Solve Your Child’s Eating Problems.* I learned she was trying to control her environment.

We had just returned home to NYC from a trip to my husband’s hometown, Honolulu. She experienced so many new things, like going to the beach and the zoo and feeling the tropical weather. Instead of walking or taking public transportation, we got around in a rental car where the sun often shone too brightly or too hot on her seat.

“Go away sun!” she’d say.

She met new people and got to play with her cousins who had a house full of toys–a big contrast from our little apartment.

But, it was too much for her. Not being able to express herself or do much, she only had one thing she could control: what she ate. So, she stopped eating anything new or colorful. Her diet was restricted to things that tasted and looked bland.

Our trip to Hawaii was wonderful but for an infant, it was also overwhelming.

Why we’re numb or dulling our sense

And, in a similar–albeit less positive–way, the last two years have introduced too new many stimuli. In rapid-fire, we had to figure out how to protect ourselves from something we couldn’t see, how to learn, work and care for others while being confined and constricted. Not to mention, there was political and social unrest, violence, illness, mental illness, and death.

And just as we thought things were getting better, a second wave hit. Leaving us with broken plans and more disappointment.

It was too much. As a result, we had to find ways to numb ourselves a bit, or protect ourselves from the pain. It’s understandable. I heard from some readers that they were able to slow life down and enjoy their families. Many of us took up new hobbies or tried new things to keep ourselves busy. Some of us limited how much we watched the news, while others discovered BookTok.

In different ways, we tried to control our intake of stimuli. And, in the process, we might have played it a bit too safe. We may have held ourselves back too far.

So, while we may not be feeling as overwhelmed as we were two years ago, many of us are still feeling something else. It’s hard to put your finger on it, isn’t it?

It could be trepidation or being cautious. Maybe it’s feeling disoriented after being gobsmacked.

Or it could be what Adam Grant described as languishing–being in “the void between depression and flourishing—the absence of well-being.”

Why move forward when you’re numb

Like anesthesia before surgery, there are times when we need to dampen our senses in order to get to the next step. Sometimes we need an escape and it is useful to be distracted.

But, life can’t be fully appreciated with dulled senses.

Parents can’t smoothen every path for their children, so they never trip or fall. I thought if I breastfed my babies, I could build up their immune systems. Yet, my older daughter has a severe peanut and tree nut allergy and my younger one got cancer. (She is healthy now!) We can’t prevent bad things from happening.

We’re human; we can’t go through life without mistakes or having regrets.

So, if bad things happen anyway, why dull our senses? Why not give ourselves the opportunity to experience more of the good, the richness of life?

To be clear, we don’t need to live life on the edge or in the extremes. I hate the advice, “Do something that scares you every day.”

But, we can step forward a bit more, venture out bit by bit. Relationships deepen when you’re willing to be vulnerable. Your ideas, work product, or creative projects improve when you dare to share them with someone who can give you constructive feedback. And, we can do these in baby steps.

As Brené Brown has said in so many of her books, it takes courage to live with your whole heart, but it’s also worthwhile.

Steps to move forward when you’re feeling numb

Humans long to strive for something.

Some of us may be feeling numb because we’re stuck and haven’t figured out what to do next. Others have already charged ahead. Regardless, it’s worth pausing for a moment to make sure we’re striving for the right things and in the right way.

Here are my suggestions:

  1. Don’t aim for external rewards. Making more money, seeking recognition, achieving higher status will put you on a hamster wheel that leaves you depleted and empty. Because it will never be “enough.” Of course, having enough money is important and having a bit more can bring you comfort. But, using “more money” as a carrot will never bring you satisfaction. Plus, you don’t have as much control over external rewards as you do internal ones.
  2. Instead, strive to practice happiness. Happiness is neither a mood nor an outcome, it is a skill we need to practice everyday. It’s cultivating a deep sense of appreciation for our lives within us, regardless of what is happening around us. (To learn more, I highly recommend, Happiness: A Guide to Developing Life’s Most Important Skill by Mattieu Ricard* or check out my book note).
  3. And, aim for flow. When we’re striving to master something sufficiently challenging, seeing ourselves struggle but also gain small wins, we can lose ourselves in the task. Getting into that zone, where we lose track of time, and build a sense of wonder can give ourselves a sense of fulfillment that no one else can offer. (To learn more, check out Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi* or check out my book note.)
  4. Correct how you manage your time to focus on practicing happiness and finding flow. Create structures and habits to help you ignore societal pressures that urge you to simply do more and instead focus on doing the right things. (To get started, you might want to check out my course to reclaim your time.)

These are the strategies that have worked for my coaching clients and for me.

What’s next?

To get our beige food eater back on track with a healthier diet, we first had to stop her from drinking so much milk. Not only was she soothing herself, but she was also filling her belly, preventing her from wanting any other food. So, while it was hard to hear her cries asking for “more,” we had to say “no.”

Not introducing anything new, I just held her, singing her familiar songs and reading her favorite books. Eventually, she settled back into her routines and her hunger allowed us to reintroduce more colorful foods.

And, what about you? How are you feeling these days?

Are you reawakening your senses? Are you holding yourself back in some way?

What, if any, are some of the strategies might you try?

*This is an affiliate link. Should you purchase this book, I will earn a small commission–most of which is donated to organizations that support women and girls like The New York Women’s Foundation and Girls Scouts. Making a purchase through Bookshop also supports independent book stores. Thank you!