Discouragement isn’t a topic I tackle lightly. Nor do I think the causes and cures are only for creative people, or people going through tough times, or for those who live in one society versus another. Discouragement happens when we take things very seriously and they don’t turn out as we expected or hoped. Once we’ve established our goals or hopes, we can be like a salmon swimming upstream in our fight to keep discouragement at bay.
But I’ve found two tricks to help me keep swimming! The first and most important one is to focus on gratitude. Someone tried to explain this to me in the context of church – the power of praise – but it has taken years of practice for me to “get it.” I’ve only now understood how it works to the point where I can use it like a weapon against discouragement. Focusing on what you’re grateful for – word count, your health, being able to say goodbye to a dying friend – helps alleviate some of the pain you feel from not getting what you want – a higher word count, a better job with health insurance, longer life for everyone you love.
More than that, focusing on the things you’re thankful for keeps your brain operating in a positive manner. When the messages coming in are positive, the brain continues in that vein and will work on positive answers to the problems before it. When the messages coming in are negative because of discouragement, frustration, anger, etc., the brain will work in that manner, focusing on what’s not working. This explains part of why some days seem to go smoothly and some days feel like everything has gone wrong. The phrase “It’s all in your head” refers to how you perceive the world, not how the world may be in actuality.
The second trick I’ve learned is, when a problem arises, to immediately flip the switch in my brain and tell myself that this isn’t a problem so much as it’s a challenge, a puzzle I have to figure out. Every time I try something and it doesn’t work, I’m one step closer to figuring out what does work. This works with everything, big and small, but the bigger the problem, the more creative you have to be in figuring out how to look at it in order to avoid discouragement.
So today, I can look at my tiny word count and see failure because I am not much closer to making the world a better place through my stories. Or I can see success that, even as I was busy making the world a better place by delivering food and water to a Red Cross station to help those who lost their homes in the Southern California wildfires, I still managed to get a few words pounded out on my novel. It’s a constant re-evaluation, much like the scientific method.
Thomas Edison, inventor of the light bulb and the phonograph, was a pro at this! I’ll leave you with some of my favorite quotes from him. And please, let us know what you do to avoid or defeat discouragement.
I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.
Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.
Restlessness is discontent and discontent is the first necessity of progress. Show me a thoroughly satisfied man and I will show you a failure.
Nearly every man who develops an idea works it up to the point where it looks impossible, and then he gets discouraged. That’s not the place to become discouraged.
Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.