Episode 41: Discouragement
There are times in our lives when things just aren’t going the way we hoped they would. You might be struggling and thinking you’re a failure. You might be worried that things won’t work out and all this thinking can start leading you down a dark, lonely path of discouragement. Discouragement isn’t a fun place. It’s a painful place. When you’re feeling discouraged it’s difficult to see any light or goodness. It’s difficult to see any goodness that’s still around you and it’s even more difficult to see any goodness in YOU. Discouragement is a confidence killer. This week I want you to tune to recognize the warning signs of discouragement and what you can do to in these moments to feel better and more confident in your life.
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Okay, discouragement – we are talking about discouragement today because it’s something that everyone struggles with. Everyone. We can be moving along, doing everything “right” and still, things just don’t turn out the way we’d hoped they would. At times they even fall completely apart and we’re left with thoughts that leave us confused, feeling alone, wondering if something is wrong with us and spiraling into this dark abyss of all the times you have perceived failings.
Think about times in your life you’ve felt discouraged. There are mornings you just don’t want to get up. You don’t feel like doing anything and maybe it’s a mix of being tired and working hard and not seeing the results of your efforts manifesting. So you just feel unmotivated, like, “Why should I bother? What’s the point? Should I just quit?” And we start doubting ourselves. We slip into discouragement and defeat without even realizing what’s happening. All we know is that it just feels terrible and heavy and dark.
It can be extremely difficult to get up and do anything and for a lot of us, we don’t do anything. We just kind of exist in this funk. So when these times come I want this episode to be one you can listen to again and again to help you move forward and get back to your “normal self”?
First and foremost these seasons aren’t forever. It’s a tunnel and not a cave. The scriptures say again and again, “and it came to pass”. This experience isn’t your forever. We need to remember that “this is not forever”, “this too shall pass”. These phrases or variations are so essential because in the moment it feels like it’s all-encompassing. It feels like it just might be forever.
There are times in our lives that we feel like we’re still walking and moving but it just seems like it’s getting darker, it’s not getting easier, things are still not working – maybe they’re even worse. It might feel like you’re not making progress because it just feels so dark and lonely. Remember, it’s a tunnel and not a cave.
Each step you take moves you closer and closer to the light. Tunnels can be very dark but they’re not forever. There is light if we can just keep moving.
So how do you keep moving when you just don’t want to? There’s no motivation?
The antidote to discouragement and despair is hope.
We have to have hope that there is light at the end of the tunnel. We have to have hope that we are going to be okay. We have to have hope that this isn’t forever.
Hope is the cure. There’s a space between disappointment and discouragement. There are times in our lives that things just don’t work out the way we wanted them to. During those times we don’t want to feel happy about it. We don’t want to choose to feel good. We want to feel disappointed. But there is a space between disappointment and discouragement.
This space is crucial because what you tell yourself and what you choose to focus on will determine how you feel and what you do next.
Disappointment looks like, “That failed. That’s a major bummer.” And allowing yourself to stay in that space of IT is a bummer Vs thinking, “I’m a failure. I can’t do this. I’m not enough.” It’s focused on I instead of IT.
When we make it mean things about ourselves we’re creating a lot of mental drama for ourselves. We hurt our own feelings. We create discouragement.
Ezra Taft Benson said, “We live in an age when, as the Lord foretold, men’s hearts are failing them, not only physically but in spirit. (See D&C 45:26.) Many are giving up heart for the battle of life…As the showdown between good and evil approaches with its accompanying trials and tribulations, Satan is increasingly striving to overcome (us) with despair, discouragement, despondency, and depression.” (Ensign, Nov. 1974, p. 65.)
When we focus on IT. Whatever IT is, the thing that’s not working it’s easy to make it math. No drama – just information. It’s thinking, THAT didn’t work, now what? There is no drama or despair or discouragement in math. It’s just solving a problem.
The despair and discouragement comes from focusing on ourselves and our perceived lack. We make it mean things about us personally. It’s not that IT failed. It’s I’m a failure.
Remember, any time we focus on a thought our brain takes that as direction. If you focus on, “I’m not good enough.” Your brain, an amazing piece of machinery is going to find evidence to prove that true for you. It’s going to bring up all the things in your past about how it hasn’t worked out before. How you couldn’t do it before so how could you possibly believe you could do it now? And with each thought that you accept and believe, “like, yeah, I’m not enough. I’ve never been enough. I’ll never be enough.” Then you’re giving your brain more and more direction to spiral down that path.
There is no hope on that path. It’s just darkness and suffering.
When you can interrupt those thoughts with a question then it pauses the movement. I’m a huge, like a huge believer in thought work. I believe wholeheartedly in the power of positive thinking and gratitude but I also have been overcome with discouragement and during these times if you try and insert positive thinking into the mix it’s just going to hurt even more because you don’t believe it yet. Your brain is going to shoot every single thought down and give you 5 reasons why that won’t work for you. Maybe for others. Probably for all others except you, because you’re different. You’re not enough. So instead of positive thinking, I want you to turn to questions.
Questions are beautiful because they’re not taking sides. It’s just asking for clarification and more information.
Start by getting clear on what the problem really is. What happened really? Not your perception of what happened but factually.
I had this piano audition once that I completely bombed. I wasn’t prepared for it. I knew that going into it but I went anyway because I felt a lot of pressure from my teacher at the time. I was pregnant and huge and swollen with my first child and had totally fat fingers. It was not comfortable. So the audition bombed. A few days later I got a phone call informing me about my evaluation. It was terrible. Some of the things said were harsh and really hard to hear.
I wish I had these tools then because I slipped so quickly into despair and discouragement instead of disappointment. I was purely focused on self, on me and what I lacked, how I wasn’t good enough, how embarrassing this is to now have to tell everyone that I failed, that I’m a failure. It was all doom and gloom and self-focused. My brain brought up all the times in the past that I’ve failed and wasn’t enough, all my faults and things that I lacked. It spiraled into every area of my life.
Here would have been a good time for a question. What really happened? What’s really the problem.
The facts were that the adjudicator did not pass my evaluation. In this light, it’s focused on IT and not ME. It was a failed audition. It was not I’m a failure, like me personally.
But we’re so quick to be mean to ourselves. To beat ourselves up and to focus on our perceived lack. Question what’s happening. Question the thoughts that come up.
Question when your brain wants to tell you you’re a failure, that you’re not enough, that you’ll never be enough, that you’re not lovable, that all those things. Question them.
Is it possible that you’re not a failure? Is it possible that you haven’t failed in everything? What aren’t you a failure in? What do you do well?
Is it possible that if you succeed in this area that you can also succeed in other areas?
Are you starting to see the shift in emotions? It goes from discouragement and despair to curiosity, like maybe it’s possible, and from there to hope.
Hope is the antidote to discouragement.
Now, in the moment even doing this can be difficult. There are some times that we’re just mean and ugly to ourselves. We want to be terrible and to feel terrible. We want to be like Alma the Younger and think, “Oh that I could be extinct” even. The prophet Enoch felt this way too, The scriptures quote that
“He had bitterness of soul, and wept… and said unto the heavens: I will refuse to be comforted; but the Lord said unto Enoch: Lift up your heart, and be glad; and look”
Being able to lift up your heart means that you have to clear out all the negative mental drama that you’re drowning in. We have to stop thinking those thoughts and it’s not so much stopping those thoughts as it is transferring our focus. We want to change the direction we’ve given our brain otherwise it’s just going to continue to throw out more and more evidence of how you’re not enough.
So instead you want to go inside your body. You want to allow the feeling to be there. You’ll need to name it. Be really clear about what you’re feeling. I’m feeling discouraged right now. Then ask yourself, what does discouragement feel like inside your body? What does it feel like from a physiological perspective? Is it a heavy feeling? Where is it heavy? Where else do you feel it? What kind of energy is it? Fast, slow? What does discouragement feel like behind your eyes? Leave out the temptation to add in thoughts of good or bad. It feels bad. Bad like how? Be specific. You want to experience this feeling – not the mind drama that created it but the actually physical vibration.
When you do this you’ve given your brain a new direction. You’re not thinking the same thoughts you were just moments ago, the thoughts that created the negative feeling. You’re cleaning the slate so you can add in what you want to think and feel.
It’s only from this space that you can start to do more thought work and reframe your perspective. It’s only after you’ve allowed yourself to feel the feeling that you can move forward. When you’re ready to take the next steps I have some things I want to invite you to think about.
1.) Realize what triggered you. Discouragement always stems from lack so figure out what you think you’re lacking. Most always it comes from some kind of expectation that we have for ourselves. When I was discouraged with my audition it was because I had an expectation that it was going to work out the first time. It wasn’t that I was going to pass and get there. It was the expectation that it had to be now. I could have easily auditioned again a few months later but I didn’t because I had these self-made expectations and I didn’t fulfill them so in my mind, that was it. I missed my one and only chance to do that. It created a lot of lack and scarcity.
Remember that discouragement is created when our expectations don’t align with reality. In other words, what we think should happen doesn’t align with what actually happened.
In times like this, it’s imperative that we check in with ourselves and our expectations and question them. Why does it have to be now? Is it still worthwhile if it took 10 months or 10 years? We would miss out on a lot of things in this life if everyone quit after their first failed attempt. J.K. Rowling was turned down over a dozen times before a publisher picked up Harry Potter. Can you imagine life without this incredible magical world? Same with Walt Disney, Dr. Seuss, Oprah Winfrey, Thomas Edison, The Wright Brothers, and millions more. Question your expectations. Why do believe it has to be now and is that true?
The moment you allow yourself to access possibility and hope is the moment that courage is born and discouragement ceases. The journey still might not feel good. It will require a lot of negative emotions but you can wade through all of that because you have hope that what you’re trying to do and offer the world is important. Remember C.S. Lewis when he said, “Courage, Dear Heart”
2.) Another thing to remember is that there really isn’t such a thing as “failure”. There’s only information and education. It’s either, “that was amazing. I want to do more of that” or “that didn’t work, now what?” It’s all just math. Just information. When we leave the mind drama out of and not make it mean horrible things about ourselves we can move forward and progress. Either way, it’s all progression. If I take a wrong turn which I do frequently, my family teases that it’s my superpower to get lost. It doesn’t bother me. I like the scenic route. We’ve seen and discovered many amazing things because of my “failures” in navigation. It doesn’t have to be a problem. It’s all the information.
When things aren’t going the way you hoped they would look at it as information, not as a means to degrade yourself. Well, that didn’t work, now what?
3.) Remember who you are. I was forever changed when Russell M Nelson taught us that the answer to solving any of our life’s challenges is in remembering who we are.
Remember in the movie The Lion King when Simba is having a moment of discouragement and despair he has this experience with the spirit or vision of his deceased father and he tells him, “remember who you are”. This is important to think about and to think about often. Who are you really? The adversary would have you believe that you are nothing. That you don’t matter. That no one cares about you. That you’re not lovable or even likable. When we think this way and feel this way the last thing we want to do is be around people. We don’t want to go and do anything we want to hide, stay in bed, not talk to people, not be seen. It is in the remembering who we are that we can access our inherent virtue which is a holy and sacred strength and power. Gordon B Hinckley taught us that we are “children of God of Infinite capacity”. You’re not limited or stuck. You are infinite in what you can do and accomplish. There is an infinite amount of time for you to create what you want to create. There is enough and then some. Remembering who you are solves all of life’s challenges because when you realize who you are and what your heritage is there isn’t a single thing on earth that you can’t do.
Remember who you are and who HE is. Infinitely loving. Perfectly forgiving. Perfectly understanding. Perfectly compassionate. Perfectly supportive. Infinite.
You have love. You have support. You have cheerleaders cheering you on when you’re ready to unplug your ears to hear them.
4.) The last thing I want you to think about in these times is actually the second part of Russell M Nelson’s admonition to us. The first is to know who you are. The second is the know what your purpose is. Why are you here? Not the general sense, the primary answers but really you, you specifically. Why are you here? What do you have that no one else has or ever will have? You are here, placed in this family, in this city, in this circle of people for a reason. Your likes, your talents, your passion, your interests, your thoughts, all of that is here for a reason. What are you trying to create? Why do you want that?
Another way to think about this is your vision. Think about what you want to create in your life. See it clearly. What would that feel like if everything worked out as you hoped it would? What’s the feeling? This is the road map. You don’t have to wait to feel that until after. You need to create that NOW and then from this space, you can move forward empowered and courageous.
All of this doesn’t take away the disappointment and the necessary productive negative feelings that help propel us forward. But it does take away the suffering. The suffering is optional. It’s in our mind, created and crafted by us. Nothing outside of us needs to change for us to feel better now. And with each step. With each question. With each thoughtful careful examination of self, you’re taking one step at a time forward and pretty soon you’ll start to see a pinprick of light and then more and more until you’re not in the darkness anymore. You’re out of the tunnel and moving forward.
There are going to be many tunnels in your life. In all our lives. The darkness and the tunnels are not a problem. Use these tools, question your negative thoughts. Then get really clear on who you are and what your purpose is. Doing this you will feel confident. You will be able to move forward certain that this is only temporary. Confident that because you are infinite you have everything you need to accomplish what is in front of you.
Let me leave you with some profound words of Jeffrey R. Holland. He says:
“Hope on. Journey on. Honestly acknowledge your questions and your concerns, but first and forever fan the flame of your faith, because all things are possible to them that believe.” —Jeffrey R. Holland