Sometimes kind of crummy things happen. Sometimes REALLY crummy things happen. And sometimes major shitstorms blow through leaving you rattled, upset, and off course.
Whether it’s a major issue or a relatively minor setback or disappointment, discouragement is a natural offshoot of dealing with a difficult situation. It’s important to develop a strong set of skills for navigating discouragement so you don’t allow it to settle in too deeply and overwhelm you.
I like to think of myself as an expert in discouragement. Not because I’ve mastered dealing with it and have zero tickets for the struggle bus where discouragement is concerned, but rather because it’s a familiar feeling and a battle I find myself in frequently. I have a tendency for “all or nothing” thinking. I’m doing great, celebrating my wins, and then BAM! Something happens that I didn’t plan for and sure as heck didn’t want. (Hello, 2020!) I’m knocked sideways and wondering how to get back on track and whether or not any of my efforts are worth it anyway.
It’s not so much about controlling the first thoughts that come to mind when we find ourselves getting discouraged. We might throw our hands up in the air, utter a few choice words suitable for adult ears only, or even ask why we’re bothering doing any of this work at all in the first place. You might have a range of feelings going on, too: frustration, anger, sadness, hopelessness. It’s also not about controlling or preventing those initial reactions.
When I find myself battling demons of discouragement, I take these 5 steps:
Feel what I’m feeling! I not only allow myself to feel what I’m feeling, I actively work to feel it all the way through. This isn’t always a super-happy, ultra-positive experience, but I find it’s necessary to help me process quicker.
Complete an emotional inventory. Discouragement is a breeding ground for low-level but ever-present “ickiness”. I find it helpful to do a quick emotional inventory and actually name and write down the yucky feelings that have cropped up. Otherwise, they tend to simmer in the background and drain my energy slowly. Naming them clearly helps me prevent them from taking on a bigger role than they deserve.
Make an intentional choice. Once I’ve gotten clear on what I’m feeling, I have a choice to make. I may not actually feel better at this point, but I am in the power position of choosing how I want to feel about it. It’s now time to make an intentional choice to continue to feel discouraged OR to feel differently about the situation.
Consciously release. Once I’ve chosen how I want to feel about it, I find it helpful to do a quick activity to consciously release the negativity. This can be as simple as a deep breath and intentional exhaling of the discouragement, but it’s important to actively do something to signal the release of discouragement so you don’t carry it forward with you.
Reframe to move forward. Finally, once my head is a bit clearer, I find a reframe for how to view whatever got me discouraged in the first place. Is there a lesson I’m learning? Is there a possible good outcome that might be different than what I wanted but also something positive? Will I be more experienced and better equipped to navigate the next difficult situation because I was able to get through this one?
Dealing with Discouragement isn’t about avoiding it all together. It’s about healthy strategies for navigating it and continuing to experience your days in a way that feels good to you -- no matter what you encounter.
Nicole Lance is a women’s leadership development expert, facilitator, executive coach, speaker, strategic planner, and promoter of self-care. She is passionately committed to helping organizations and individuals succeed in reaching - and reaching beyond - their goals.