Dealing with Discouragement

Woke up, it was a Chelsea morning and the first thing that I…
Oops! Wrong song :) Let me try again.

Woke up, it was a Tuesday morning and the first thing that I felt…was discouragement.

Yes, discouragement. That dragging, cynical, nothing's ever going to work state of mind, where you start wondering why you're even trying.

I can't say I was surprised. I felt it coming. The day before it seemed everything went wrong; then the night came complete with bad dreams. Not exactly the formula for glowing happiness. But not earthshaking either, and certainly not anything
to change your life for. Just enough to trigger that pesky discouragement.

I'm sure you've also woken up discouraged…and then what did you do? Probably you soldiered on: smiling when people asked how you were, trudging ahead with the expected, all the while feeling that you must be the only one who has voices in your head saying you're doomed, it's just a matter of time, the sky is falling NOW.

I want to offer a different route. Which begins by reminding you of this: You're not the only one who gets discouraged. Especially if you're trying to make changes in your life, discouragement seems to be just part of the process. 

You'll have good days, you'll have bad; you'll have confidence, you'll have doubts. Part of becoming who we are involves encountering new adventures. While we hope they're always peak experiences, our growth and discovery come from the downsides too.

There's nothing wrong with minimizing discourage- ment, though, or having some tricks to get out of that state of mind, yes? So, drawing from my own day of discouragement, I thought I'd share with you some helpful perspectives and tips for moving out of the "doom state" and bringing in those peak experiences again.

1.         Step One: Basic Truth: Discouragement is a state of mind.

Feeling discouraged doesn't equal reality. By that I mean that if you feel like the world is falling down around you, it isn't necessarily true. It's just what your mind is choosing to think about reality on this particular day.

Listen to your mind. What is it saying? Typical statements are "I'll never be able to get past this." "This relationship will never work." "I'll be stuck forever." Has your life really changed that differently from two days ago when you were feeling positive, anticipating that things would work out, and having a good day?

Probably not. You may just be tired, needing support, or had a small setback, and that is triggering your negative mind talk.

You don't' have to change that mind talk right now. Just be aware that that's all it is: talk. It's not reality, it's a bad habit that you're learning to change, and we're going to find ways to get past it.

2.         Step Two: Allow yourself to be discouraged.

Our natural tendency when we're feeling bad is to deny the feeling, or to try to make it go away immediately. I'm not telling you to have a full blown pity party, but it's important to acknowledge your feelings. You're human! You have ups and downs, good days and bad days, and you really shouldn't try to be a robot. If you have to cry, do it. If you want to slam some pans around, or yell in the shower, do it. Recognize your feeling, so you can truly move past it, not make it go away and have it pop up inconveniently later in the day.

3.         Step Three:    Lower your Expectations Temporarily.

I'm not a morning person. I can get up early if it's required, but have to admit that even when I'm going on vacation to a place I'm really excited about, I don't jump out of bed with excitement. I don't know about you, but somewhere along the childhood path I got the message that I was supposed to be like Doris Day, flinging open the windows with the birds chirping and the sun shining. I can do that at 10 am, but rarely early in the morning, even on a good day. So if you wake up discouraged, don't try to meet that bright and sunny expectation. Allow yourself to be quiet, a little tired, and ease into the day.

4.         Step Four:      Change Up Your Routine.

This one may sound silly to you, but it works. Deliberately do things throughout the day that are different from your usual actions. If it's a work day, drive a different route. Take your lunch at a different time, or go to someplace you haven't been before. Even if you eat your lunch at home, go sit someplace different, or take it outside.

Discouragement is usually accompanied by the thought "This is never going to end, this is never going to change." So change your day to show your mind that it's wrong, even if it's a small start.

5.         Step Five:      Get Active.

Have you ever seen a hyperactive discouraged person? I think not. The feeling of discouragement usually slows you down physically. You may feel like doing nothing.

It's your call. Sometimes what you need is rest, and that will pull you out of your slump. But if you've rested and you still feel bad, then take some action. Endorphins are real:  their release during exercise really does make you feel better! Take a walk, do some yoga, swim, run… get your energy going.

If you can do something that has a tangible result, do it. Wash your car, clean your house, go run the errands you've been putting off. If you're at work, do something that is pleasurable, short, and has a definite end. Sometimes merely getting into physical action, especially something you enjoy, will shift your discouragement without your having to change anything.

6.         Step Six: Change Your Self Talk

If you've done all of the above, and still feel discouraged, it's time to look at your self talk again. Be sure to add this step to your action solution. We don't want you washing the car and repeating the mantra "I'm a failure, life sucks, things will never change."

What we do want is for you to be washing the car saying, "This is just temporary, this is not my whole life, there are solutions." Hey, get radical, and add some more positive thoughts: "I'm a great person no matter what is happening. I have value.  I have the power to change things."

The point is to remember that anything your mind is saying is not reality, it's just talk. The future's just an idea, no one really knows what will happen. And who says it has to be the negative outcome? If you're going to believe that whatever you say to yourself is true, then at least add the positive potential for reality into the mix.

Try this: for every negative prediction you say to yourself, you must next say the opposite. And then try to let your body feel the positive just as intensely as you've been feeling the negative.

7.         Step Seven: Get Some Help and Support

Hmm, still discouraged. OK, consider some new ways to be supported.  It's time to stop doing it alone. What might help to move you away from this state you're in? Do you need counseling, someone to help you get out of your confusion and see your options more clearly? Do you need to talk to your boss and let them know what's not working? Is it time to sit down and get honest with your spouse about something that's really important to you?

There's usually more than one solution to a problem. When you feel discouraged, it's often because you keep on trying the same one solution, instead of changing things up. Go back to step four, and apply it to your specific problem: what haven't you tried yet that may need trying?

8.         Step Eight: Apply Your Spiritual Practice

I can't tell you how often I have to remind people (and myself!) to use the spiritual practice they're aligned with. Do you believe in prayer? Ask for help! Have you been learning to meditate? Sit down and do it! Use that practice.

I'll never forget the time I was in the middle of an intense day of self-doubt, and a friend looked straight at me and said, "How's your faith?" It was a great reminder to go back to my values and my own spiritual belief system for support. We are not our material world challenges, we are spirit. Don't forget it.

9.         Step Nine: Remember, Tomorrow is Another Day

I used to think that Scarlett's grand pronouncement in the movie Gone with the Wind was such a naive thing to say. But actually, as long as you don't use it continually to avoid a problem, it can be quite helpful.

Sometimes the best thing to do is to wait and see what tomorrow brings. Take one step today, have a good dinner, some time with friends, a good night's sleep, and often you will then have new energy to bring to your challenge the next day.

"Patience, grasshopper." Be thankful for what you have now, take one step at a time, and look ahead to your future good.   

Heidi Straube, M.Ed., LPC

Copyright 2007

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