I think feeling discouraged is one of the hardest things to get through. It feels heavy, stuck, sad, even hopeless sometimes.
When you feel discouraged, it colors so much of your world – you easily find more discouraging signs that things won’t work out. (This is your brain’s frustrating negativity bias at work, which makes you more sensitive to anything negative when you’re feeling down.) Without realizing it, you start piling on feelings and stories from your past when you felt discouraged, which adds to the storm (just when you need the opposite).
People often tell me that they admire my tenacity and optimism. Truth is, I’m not naturally optimistic -- I’m a Russian Jewish immigrant, I don’t think that’s in our nature. And while I’m tenacious, I get discouraged, just like everyone else. And I can get really down when I do.
Last week I was feeling really discouraged because an opportunity I’ve been really hoping would work out hasn’t, yet. It would be incredibly meaningful – for me, for Happier, for my book. I’ve done everything I can to make it happen, and it’s still possible, but I found myself losing hope and feeling pulled down the negativity spiral.
I’m grateful that I had the awareness to notice my useless inner dialogue of harshness and negativity: “See, this isn’t going to work out so it’s a sign that other things won’t work out. And there’s obviously nothing I can do to make it work out. Maybe I’m just not good enough…”
But awareness alone isn’t enough – it’s just a really important first step.
So, I decided to practice what I teach and get myself out of the negativity spiral by applying the 5 Core Happier Skills to my discouragement. It really helped. I feel like I can take a breath and keep going. I’m not saying I’m excited about the situation, but it’s not blocking me from moving forward. And there’s joy in the moving forward.
I wanted to share the steps with you so they can help you the next time you feel discouraged, stuck, or caught in a negativity spiral.
Step 1: Acceptance
Allow yourself to feel what you feel, even if it sucks. Acknowledge what you feel – write it down or say it to yourself. Research shows that when we acknowledge our difficult feelings we get through them faster and experience them with less intensity.
The second part of practicing acceptance is to see how things are clearly, as they are, without coloring them with your judgement of “how they should be” or blowing them out of proportion beyond the current situation.
For example, if you’re trying to lose weight and you’re discouraged, acceptance means saying something like:
“I’m not where I want to be, yet. I’ve had a tough time sticking to getting regular exercise with all of my of responsibilities.”
“I’m never going to be able to lose weight. I should have already lost at least half the weight I need to lose by now. This always happens. I’m awful at sticking to any commitment. I suck. This is how it’s going to be forever.”
When you’re able to see the situation clearly, as it is, you give yourself an opportunity to make a choice about how to move forward. Acceptance is the opposite of giving up. It’s an active decision to be meet life where it is and decide on your next step from there. In this example, once you accept that your work schedule is interfering with your exercise commitment, you might find a gym closer to your work or shift your morning routine to make it to the gym before you start your workday.
Step 2: Gratitude
OK, so let’s just be honest and acknowledge that the last thing you want to be doing when you feel down or discouraged is counting your blessings. I’m with you,but science shows, it’s also the best way to help yourself feel better. When you practice gratitude, your brain releases serotonin and dopamine, which make you feel good in the short-run, but you also become more productive, less anxious and develop a mindset of possibility vs. scarcity.
So take out a piece of paper and write down three things you’re grateful for, as closely related to the thing that is discouraging you as possible. I’m not asking you to ignore anything difficult or negative, but to zoom in on something you appreciate within the difficult.
For example, if a job opportunity you were hoping for didn’t work out, you could be grateful for meeting interesting people as you applied for it, the support of your friends and family, or something you learned in the process.
Pausing to appreciate something within a tough situation gives you the very resilience you need to get through it.
Step 3: Intentional Kindness
The best way to make yourself feel better is to get out of your own head and do something kind for someone else. I call this Blasting Your Stress With Kindness.
Take a pause and think of at least 3 kind things you can do right now, and do them. They can be really simple, but research shows that doing kindness acts in clusters has the biggest positive impact on how you feel.
- Check in with a friend.
- Hold the door open for someone else.
- Buy coffee for a stranger in the coffee shop.
- Send an article to someone who might be interested in reading it.
- Leave a kind note for a colleague or family member.
Remember: You feel 100% of emotions you give to others. When you share kindness, you feel kindness inside. Notice these feeling as you go.
Step 4: The Bigger Why
Connecting to your sense of meaning is one of the best ways to get through challenging times and feeling discouraged. I call this The Bridge of Resilience.
Think about the Bigger Why for whatever it is you’re doing and feeling discouraged about. For example, if you’re a writer and you’re discouraged because you’re getting a lot of rejections for your writing (been there!), what is your Bigger Why for what you’re writing? Perhaps you feel that your writing helps people learn something, feel something, or discover something new.
We derive a sense of meaning when we use our strengths to be of service and help others. What is your Bigger Why?
Step 5: Self-care.
When we get discouraged, the harsh voice in our heads often comes out in full force (see above for how mine did this recently). So the first thing you need to do is to become aware of how you’re talking to yourself and shift from harshness to self-compassion.
When you notice that you’re berating yourself or being very harsh, pause. Take a breath. And now imagine that you’re saying what you’re saying to someone you love very much. Rephrase how you would say it, literally picturing that person in front of you.
The second step of self-care is to do something that nourishes you – your mind, body, or soul. This will give you fuel to keep going, to work through the discouragement. Ask yourself: What would nourish me right now? And then make a little time to do it.
Finally, say something supportive to yourself, would you? A pep talk you give yourself can be as effective as one you hear from a friend (science says so.)
Here’s the pep talk I gave myself – I hope it will inspire your own:
You’re doing something you love, something that gives you meaning.
You’re working your butt off.
You’re giving this all you’ve got.
Not everything will work out. And not always on your timeline.
But you’re amazing. You’re strong. You’re sharing your truth.
Stay in the place of giving and leave the outcome of that giving to others. Or the universe.
Which is awesome, because you and the others are the universe, together.
So the more you stay in a place of giving, the more awesomeness you’re sharing, and the more awesomeness will come back to you.
(Also, get a snack, put on one of your crazy bright rings, and take a freaking break to watch an episode of Madame Secretary with some red wine, a hug from your best people, and comfy slippers.)
I hope you’ll try these practices today so you can experience a shift in how you feel, your energy, and your perspective. Let’s do it, together.
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