Raise your baseline

This month, I faced a new version of an old problem. I’ve been known, like many (most? all?) of us, to struggle with motivation and inspiration and all those forces that help us do what needs to be done.

This time, the issues went deeper than usual. I arrived at the end of a long, long stretch of work and all but collapsed on my bed. I stayed there for at least a day and a half. And I really didn’t wanna get back up. I’ve gotten up off the mat many times. But now I was down for the count. (I realize now that I was really, really burnt out.)

I laid there a while, mentally and emotionally bed-ridden, and when I tried to get moving again, I noticed changes in my unconscious and habitual behavior: I started to chafe at doing very basic things.

The “gas tank almost empty” light would turn on in my car and I would put off stopping to get gas for way too long. I procrastinated even though I ran the risk of running out of gas in the middle of the freeway.

My personal hygiene took a hit. Flossing was the first habit to fall. And then I began to occasionally skip even brushing my teeth—at first purely unintentionally, and then as a result of this insidious new kind of laziness that crept in. I slept in my contacts more often. I’ve heard that’s real bad for you, but I did it anyway.

And this all hit with some particularly bad timing—my diet had turned to near-exclusively junk and fried foods. Raiding the pantry (read: snack closet) multiple times an hour. Only ordering delivery to the house, and never anything actually healthy. Venturing outside only to visit fast food drive-throughs.

I didn’t like it. I didn’t like how any of this felt.

You might hear someone talk about eating whatever they wanted and staying up all night and think it sounds like a ten-year-old’s dream. And it is, and it’s why ten-year-olds don’t live on their own. But I’m an adult, and what I was doing felt terrible. It’s crazy how straight up bad your life can get if you let the simple and basic things slip. I felt ill at ease more often than usual. Skipping a night of brushing your teeth is a deeply uncomfortable experience—I don’t recommend you try it.

I was lucky to have my wits about me at least a tiny bit—the tiny bit allowed me to look around and conclude this was unacceptable. That something had to change. I started to look inward, retrace my mental steps, and I realized—I had just let the floor fall out.

Many of us walk through life very effectively just by maintaining a floor, a baseline, of healthy habits. They get us out of bed, and reasonably clean, and out the door to do one or two things that are good for us. And only by going through this experience was I able to realize how much that can be taken for granted.

There’s more dignity to a day, and to a life, where you do the simple healthy things that better yourself and the world around you. Even if you just stick with the basics, you’re still consistently in motion, accomplishing things, maintaining your health, not always feeling like you’re sliding backwards.

To be able to say to yourself, “This is no way to live, and I have more I need to achieve, and I know I can do better.” And then strive to.

Here’s what I suggest.

Recognize the slide


This is the hardest part: noticing where you’re headed, or recognizing where you’ve ended up. It’s more difficult than you might think—people can get lulled to sleep. They get stuck in the muck for weeks and months. It’s happened to me before. I’ve been sincerely lucky that I was able to feel discomfort with the situation and resolve to change it.

If you’re reading this and you recognize any of the same feelings or behavior that I described, you might want to take a look inside. If you realize you’re going through the same thing, don’t worry. It’s not a failure and it doesn’t reflect your worth as a human being. It’s just something that happened and it’s not permanent.

So stand up, dust yourself off, and do something that used to be easy that’s not easy anymore.

Get back to basics


The goal was simple. To return to a baseline of core habits from zero. And then, raising the level of expectation I had for myself. My approach was three pronged.

The initial life change starter kit was brushing my teeth, taking out my contacts before bed, and making a super simple nutritional shake at some point during the day. I didn’t set alarms or create a strict schedule—I knew that was the first thing that was going to stress me out and discourage me from staying consistent. For me, it was embarrassingly simple. Brush your damn teeth. Eat an egg or something.

Then, the next step was to extend the breadth of physically healthy activities I could add to my routine. So that meant slowly and systematically building out my morning and evening routines. Again, start small. Add a mouthwash rinse to your bedtime routine. Add a face wash to your shower. Once you get that down, add some gentle exercise. If you feel like you have that nailed, move on to attacking your posture.

See how these tasks share a commitment level, and an amount of physical impact they each take on your body and your day? We’re building bit by bit. Methodically. Sustainably. And every new thing you add—flossing, meditation, pilates, walking your dog an extra block—that becomes your new baseline and your new foundation to build on.

I know you want to make a change and make it fast. That’s always what I want—overnight success. But we’re not making grand sweeping gestures here. We’re keeping it very simple. But I’m telling you, just watch how your life changes. You will be shocked.

Continue building up


Now comes the fun part. It’s wild to see how quick the wind arrives at your back, and with real strength to push you forward.

The concept of anchor habits, which we’ve talked about here before, is a powerful one in this context. Just make those morning and evening routines sterling and jam-packed with goodness and even a little fun.

Inertia is the most powerful force in our universe. What’s in motion tends to stay in motion, and what’s at rest tends to stay at rest. Your job now is to let it keep you moving. Pick your pace, pick your direction, go forward.

Robin Copple

Robin Copple is a writer and editor from Los Angeles, California.


  1. Another great article from Robin Copple. Thank you! This sort of approach has helped me a lot with mild and situational depression. I would add: if it’s been a while and you still can’t brush your teeth, it might be time to see a therapist because you may have clinical depression.

  2. Robin, I’m really glad to read something like this from you, and see “How to Keep House while Drowning” recommended in the newsletter.
    I was genuinely worried about you in the past month as all the blog entries seemed very tough on yourself, rise and grind bull. I’m so happy to see you reflecting on building yourself up, using neutral and kind language toward yourself during times of struggle, and spreading some real talk about the importance of the care that makes you feel capable with your platform.

    1. Jill, I have to say, I really am floored that you’ve given so much sweet thought to how I’m doing. And that you’ve read all these articles and tracked my path through them! Haha!

      I’m also pleased to report I’m doing wonderfully better! Balance restored. Always aiming to earn and deserve the platform here.

      Thanks again and keep being lovely!

  3. Thanks it speaks to me. I like the humble approach – and I am a great procrastinator so I do get that about inertia

    1. I’m glad staying humble has its appreciators! Great procrastinators unite against our common enemy!

      Thanks for reading and reaching out 🙂

  4. Thanks for letting us in, Robin. I look forward to these writings as they are just so damn relatable. As per our email chat definitely check out that podcast episode- its so on brand to this post: being aware of a baseline and how to bio-hack your brains reward system to elevate motivation.

    1. Thank you so much for the kindness as always, Keiran! Proud whenever we can make something relatable and helpful.

  5. Hi, Robin,

    I generally read your articles within a few days of receiving them. However, I’m quite late reading this one. I want to thank you for sending out such valuable information and for being so transparent. I completely relate to what you experienced, as I have been battling with burnout for years. It wasn’t until I was in grad school doing research and working on my thesis that I realized I was severely burned out, exhibiting all the symptoms that I was writing about.

    One of my biggest issues is wanting desperately to get back to exercising, something that I used to find so much joy in. Going to the gym for cardio or especially weight/strength training, was something I still love to do. I just have the hardest time motivating myself or even having the physical energy to do so. Lack of adequate sleep and a not-so-great eating plan play a big role, as well. One of your more recent articles in which you discussed how proper eating, sleep, and exercise really hit home, in a good way, but I’m still finding it difficult to just start.

    Two days ago, while taking a rest day from work, I put my workout clothes on with the intention of doing my home exercise routine. I never got started. Today, I did the same thing, and had a big cup of mushroom coffee hoping it would help. The day is still very young, and I am determined to exercise, even if it’s only for 15 or hopefully at least 30 minutes. I do know how amazing I feel when I exercise, and how crucial it is for my health. I had a deep prayer with the Lord this morning, and He knows just how much I want and need to get over this obstacle.

    Reflecting back on your article above, I will be kind to myself, continue to extend grace to myself, and set my mind to just start today, taking small steps until the small steps become bigger steps, until finally, it becomes routine again.

    Please don’t stop writing and putting your articles out here, because they are quite literally a lifeline.

    God bless you and thank you again.


Leave a comment