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Strategies for Mastering Discouragement

Mar 1, 2008
You know the feeling. You try and try something and it just doesn't work. You were expecting something to happen and it didn't. You want to change something about your life and there you are, right back in the old habits you want to quit. That feeling washes over you with a sickening heat. It tightens the throat, constricts the breathing, and settles in the belly. What can you do to prevent this kind attack of bad feeling in the future?

One of the first steps is to stop for a minute and notice what you were and are thinking. "What I'm thinking?" you wonder. "What does that have to do with anything?" It has a great deal to do with how you feel. Most people just react to situations and go through life without taking a good look at what they are thinking. The first strategy is: What you think has a great impact on what you feel.

Think back in your life to a situation in your past where you really messed up and failed, or let someone down. What were you saying to yourself in your head? "What an idiot, you did it again!" "I'm never gonna learn what I need to learn, change what I need to change, find the help or resources I need. I might as well give up." "Nothing ever works for me." "I'm a real loser." Did you notice how you felt just reading these? It wasn't a very pleasant, positive, or uplifting feeling, I am certain.

It's important to become aware of what you are thinking just prior to any unpleasant feeling, not just discouragement. These unhelpful thoughts are called "cognitive distortions." An in-depth discussion of cognitive distortions can be found in Dr. David Burns' book, "Feeling Good: The New Mood Therapy." Once you learn to become aware of what you are thinking, and then identify the distortions, it is possible to challenge your thinking. For example, if you catch yourself thinking, "Nothing ever works for me," you can say to yourself, "Wait! A lot of things in my life have worked for me," and then remind yourself of your past successes.

If you have a group of supportive people in your life who are positive and encouraging, you can enlist their help. Ask them to tell you when they notice you saying anything that is negative. They won't know what you are thinking, but "out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks." If you are working on changing your world-view from an employee to a business owner, or if you are working on recovering from an addiction, a group of like-minded positive friends can be a great support. This is the second strategy: ask others for help! Just make certain that they can truly be helpful to you. If they are negative or demeaning, you don't need that. You already beat up on yourself enough; don't let others do it.

You may have heard the phrase, "the paralysis of analysis." Negative feelings, including discouragement, often lead us to go over and over the situation in our minds. "If only I had (or hadn't) done that." "Why would they do or say such things to me? Didn't they know that would really hurt?" These types of ruminations don't help your situation at all. Midwesterners know that "rumination" is what cows do with the cud. Let it go. The third strategy is: a brief fact-finding review of what happened is sufficient. Don't rehearse an unpleasant situation. Let it go, and move on to more positive uses of your time and energy.

Motivational writers have written about the fourth strategy for years. It is persistence. Many stories have been told of people giving up their quest just before its attainment. The tale of how many attempts it took for Edison to invent the incandescent light bulb is legendary. Thinking of different strategies and approaches to solving your problem is a much better use of your time and energy. Don't give up!

The last strategy may be a surprise to you. It can seem very selfish. It may appear to go against the work ethic needed to succeed. It may be against your family rules, the ones you were taught when you were growing up. Even so, it is pivotal for you to believe it is important to take the necessary time to take care of yourself. "Now I know you're crazy! That's egotistical!" you may be thinking. The bottom line: ultimately, nobody else is going to do it. As an adult, taking care of yourself is a basic life-skill.

You have probably heard these admonitions most of your life, yet do you really do them? Get enough sleep. Eat good, healthy food. Have some fun doing something creative; something you enjoy. Take time to rest weekly. Make sure you get proper exercise regularly. Get together with nurturing friends. Set some goals and write them down. Figure out the reason you are here on the earth. Make a spiritual connection with a higher power.

In summary, here are five strategies for overcoming discouragement:
* Become aware of what you are thinking and challenge the distortions
* Don't try to do it alone! Ask appropriate others for help
* Over-analyzing and rumination don't help at all
* Don't give up! Persistence will keep you in the game
* Take care of yourself; nobody else should or will

Life is a great adventure when you don't let discouragement or other negative emotions keep you sidetracked. It is true that we learn the most from our mistakes. Enjoy the ride! And may you reach your dearest and wildest dreams!

Copyright 2008 Suzanne Thomas
About the Author
Suzanne Thomas, RN, has worked as an advanced practice psychiatric RN for 28 years. As a keen observer of the healthcare system, she realized her future would be bleak unless she made a paradigm shift and became an entrepreneur instead of an employee. She continues to overcome discouragement and is now building an online business .
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