How to Overcome Discouragement
Philip E. Humbert, Ph.D.Recently, I've received a number of emails about how to motivate ourselves and push forward when we are discouraged. Sometimes the writer describes it as depression, other times they use words like frustration, or feeling "stuck" and they want to know how to turn things around. That's a great question!
We all feel discouraged or frustrated or "stuck" at some point in our lives. Whether it's being at our "wits end" with our kids or scared that a business venture won't work out, or confused by our own behavior toward something we very much want but seem unable to achieve, we all have these feelings!
Unfortunately, one of the first things I notice is that many of the writers are asking terrible questions! They ask me "why am I so stuck?" or, "Why does this always happen to me?" Notice the assumptions they make about being "so" stuck and that this sense of discouragement or frustration "always" happens. With questions like that, no wonder they stay stuck!
A much better question is, "How do highly successful people handle these normal experiences?"
Here are a few of my observations about how successful people handle the normal roadblocks and frustrations of life.
1. First, they acknowledge that what they are doing isn't working, and they stop to catch their breath. They do NOT keep beating their head against a wall! Take a break! Gain some objectivity and relax for a moment. If you're discouraged, frustrated, depressed or stuck, be honest enough to say, "this isn't working" and take a rest.
2. Second, they get very curious to understand exactly what is happening. There is a difference between being discouraged, which has to do with fatigue (it may be time for a vacation), verses depression, which is an illness (it may be time to see a doctor). Frustration, on the other hand, is the firm belief that my goal is entirely possible, it's just not happening yet!
3. They double-check their values and highest aspirations. Often we are frustrated because our goal is not consistent with our values. Sometimes we sabotage or procrastinate because deep inside we don't truly want the thing we say we want. Human beings can achieve amazing results when they are totally committed. Unfortunately, we are also capable of fooling ourselves about this.
4. They ask great questions. They ask themselves, "what parts of my goal have I achieved?", or "How have other people solved this problem?" They consult with experts, read books, search the Internet, and find answers to questions that can help them move forward. If nothing else, they'll ask, "What other crazy, off-the-wall thing could I try just for fun?"
5. They take a DIFFERENT action. After checking their values, perhaps taking a short rest, and asking great questions, highly successful people do something different. They try another way. They hire an assistant or a consultant. They develop a new strategy or simply change their approach.
I've come to believe that discouragement, a sense of impending failure, and frustration are actually very useful "early warning signs". They are the brain's way of telling us our objective is reachable, but that we are going about it the wrong way. These normal experiences tell us to step back, get perspective, take a deep breath, and to think clearly! Strategize. Get creative. Ask better questions.
And most important, clarify your values and be certain your highest aspirations support you in achieving your goal. I think ambivalence over our outcomes is perhaps the greatest source of discouragement. We want more money, but don't want to be away from home. We want to lose weight, but enjoy eating too much.
When our values align with our goals, and we ask the right questions, anything is possible! Use discouragement to your advantage! It's your brain telling you to listen up, develop a better strategy, and work smarter rather than harder.
Philip E. Humbert, Ph.D.