The Action Corps

When You’re Just . . . Stale

I had a client in my office recently (let’s call him Jared) who didn’t seem sad or depressed. He wasn’t even down. After some pleasantries and him not saying much of substance, this just fell out of my mouth before I had a chance to weigh or filter it. “You seem . . . stale.”

He looked up at me trying to figure out what I’d just said. I was wondering the same thing.

Then I said, “You don’t seem down or depressed. Just stale.”

His eyes moved upward as he thought, and he just went, “Mm-hmm.”

We agreed that he wasn’t upset or down or confused or scared. These were all moods or feelings we had sorted out in other sessions. He was something just shy of stable that day.


Have you felt stale lately? It’s when you are on the border of boredom, the intersection of O.K. and disinterested, not-quite-stable. It’s kind of like you’re balanced in this place but you might fall in any direction—toward joy or sadness or annoyance or curiosity.

I told Jared that what he was looking for (but didn’t know it) was to feel stable. He was so stale that he didn’t know what he needed. The best antidote for that was to discover what he wanted.


When you’re stale, you won’t know what you want. At least, it’s all covered over with indifference. It takes action. Write or think or discuss what you want. Open your journal or grab some scratch paper and just start writing. List what’s important to you.

Or maybe you’ll be well served by taking a walk around the neighborhood or a local park and think about what you want. This is a form of meditation when you purposefully let other thoughts (of tasks, to dos, missed opportunities, and looming conversations) take a back seat so you can just focus on one thing. In this case, allow yourself to think of what you want, what’s important to you.

And then there’s conversation. Whether it’s with a friend, a spouse, a therapist, or a stranger at Starbucks, allow yourself to talk through what you want. Sometimes we need an ear to receive what we need to get out. Or you could read “Assessing Your Wants,” chapter 3 in my book, The Bergen Protocol: How To Achieve Your Goals.


After I told Jared about the importance of knowing what he wants, I said, “Then do something new.” Don’t overlook the key word in that directive—do. One would think I’d say the keyword was “new.” And while “new” is important, “do” is basic.

Doing is about taking action. There may be nothing wrong with sitting with the staleness and pondering. But that’s just it—you’d be doing that with intention. It would be an action that you decided on.

While “new” is important, “do” is basic.

The “new” part could be visiting the new library across town. Maybe having lunch at that place down the street you’ve never tried. Rearranging furniture at home, attending an opera, or trying a new sport could all fall into the do-something-new category. The key is, when you do new things, you’ll likely discover you like it or don’t like it—but you won’t stay stale. And that’s how you approach stable. ◘

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About the Author

Kevin is the director of The Center for Counseling, Recovery, & Growth in Torrance, California where he serves as therapist, receptionist, interior decorator, graphic designer, HR manager, light bulb changer, poet laureate, company spokesman, and CFO.

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