change,  create your life

How my default mode kept me stuck

A while ago I heard Tonya Leigh (a gorgeous woman coaching all things self-image)  talking about the idea that a lot of us are driven by a default emotion. An emotion that we wake up with and that’s like our main feeling most of the time. We may not feel it on purpose or consciously but it’s there. And makes us think, feel and act the way we do.

It’s an interesting concept and I think it can be revealing to take a look at it and find what our default emotion brings along in terms of meeting our goals and desires.

So I can definitely find myself in this concept.

For the longest time my default emotion was melancholia. Especially in the morning or in quiet moments. It was hard for me to get out of bed (I still struggle with this one) and whatever it was I had planned to do I usually felt unmotivated. Unmotivated to continue my current drawing, unmotivated to write the next blog post or to prepare the next Instagram post. “Why even bother? Nobody is interested anyway. Who do I think I am?” were typical default thoughts. Anything seemed easier and more attractive than working towards my goals. Hello procrastination! Take housework. I know how to do it, it has to be done anyway and it is productive. And – it doesn’t scare me.

You can imagine how much energy is required to overcome this resistance and follow the plan, right?

So my default emotion paralysed me, it kept me stuck and slowed me down. This can also be true for other emotions like for example anger. Being constantly angry about someone or something can make working on our own goals seem pointless.

What is even worse is that if we don’t move forward to meet our desires oftentimes we fuel this unserving default emotion. We get even more angry or melancholic and direct this feeling against ourselves. At least this is what I did. I beat myself up for not progressing. What a downward spiral!

So what can we do? How can we accomplish our goals – or get closer – when our default mode keeps us stuck?

For me it was – and still is – the method of taking tiny baby steps. Just doing the next right thing. “Just for half an hour” is a thought I hold up against the “why bother” ones. After starting to work I usually recognise that the feeling of melancholia maybe does not go away but certainly fades. It turns more neutral.

This was my common pattern in the last years. One tiny step after the next. And it took me forward! Also with time I noticed that the thoughts of “why bother” became weaker in general. Or maybe the routine of following through became stronger, I can’t tell exactly. Sitting down every day and doing what I planned to do despite those feelings definitely helped. Nobody’s interested? So what. I am interested. This is enough for me to go on. And chances are there is somebody out there in this world who is interested as well. 

Still I can easily get lost in melancholic thoughts and spiral down. This is why I appreciate routines and planning and knowing clearly what I want to do each day. To make sure I’m progressing and not drowning in dark thoughts that lead actually nowhere.

So even if I found ways to deal with this melancholia which is great, I recently came to the point where it really annoyed me. It still felt like progress with the brakes on. Like carrying around a heavy piece of old luggage I don’t need anymore but for whatever reason I was not able to shed it off.

This is where the default mode concept really helped me. All of a sudden it felt like I could do something about it. If the melancholia does not come out of the blue but is what I’m currently programmed to – I can change that program, right? It meant that I was no longer at the mercy of this feeling. What a relief!

So maybe you can relate? Do you maybe as well have a go-to emotion which holds you back? Maybe anger, frustration or feeling constantly overwhelmed. Certainly these patterns are there for a reason. Maybe they were helpful in the past. But I think looking at them and examining if they are helpful and appropriate today could be worth a try.

So I was ready to ditch melancholia. The question was, how?

Pondering on that it was only a few weeks ago I had to face the uncomfortable truth that this melancholia was actually self-pity.   


My default mode was self-pity.

Uh, embarrassing.

No matter what I was worrying about – at the core of it I always felt sorry for myself. And also all this worrying involved a lot of made-up drama: “No one is interested in what I do” or “For sure I did something wrong”. Assumptions and speculations. Paralysing me. Making me want to hide under the blanket and doing nothing. Poor me!

„Know thyself“ – „Erkenne dich selbst“ in Kurrent script

When I understood that it was self-pity and not melancholia I had to laugh. Self-pity is not romantic and deep like I had always pictured melancholia (aka myself) to be.Instead this state of being felt now ridiculous and absurd. Theatrical. Sitting at my desk and not writing this blog post or not drawing that picture because I’m too busy with feeling sorry for myself and staring out of the window? I felt like a fool. Gosh, no! I don’t want to be that way!

You know, I totally understand self-pity in certain situations. And that it may take some moments, hours or even days to process that feeling resp. the situation causing it. We shouldn’t push it away. But for sure I don’t want it to be my default mode. No way!  

The good thing is that getting out of self-pity mode is much easier for me than finding a way out of melancholia. Just by renaming it. Melancholia was sticking at me. It even felt somewhat noble I have to admit. Which is probably why I stuck to this feeling for so long.

Self-pity instead is something I want to get rid of as fast as possible. I don’t want it to be my driving force. So when I find myself dwelling in self-doubt again I can often manage to remind myself “Watch out, it’s self-pity disguised as melancholia. We don’t want that anymore”.

The remaining question is what do I want my default mode to be?

I don’t want to spend my time whining. Instead I want to find out what is important to me and pursue it proactively. Determined and self-assured without dithering. With a good portion of joy and humour instead of self-pity.

It will be a back and forth. But for sure it will be worth it. 

Join me on this ride! With these stories as well as my drawings I hope to inspire you to go after your own dreams and not letting any old and worn out feelings stop you.   

The biggest cheers to you!


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