Why do we feel discouragement, and even more importantly, how do we bounce back faster?
Not everyone is prone to get stuck in discouragement. But some of us are. In a world of “suck it up, buttercup,” it’s not popular to admit you feel discouraged. But those feelings are real, and until you can pinpoint why they’re flooding your mind, it’s hard to move forward up and out.
This concept has been on my mind a lot lately – I chalk it up to the wild ride of entrepreneurialism and the creative process. But I also watch discouragement play out in real life with my son quite frequently. In fact, my husband had a chat with him just this morning about it. “You know what the opposite of discouraged is, buddy? COURAGE.” (I literally had never thought about that before.)
Something my son did has been stuck in my craw since Spring Break, and I finally figured it out. So here you go:
Discouragement in real time
Ever had to ski up a mountain? That’s exactly what I had to do when my 7 year old melted down over a challenging run.
You see, he had toppled over for the umpteenth time (turns out his binding was loose) and lost both skis in the tumble.
He has… well… a short fuse. Like father, like son. And when he hit the ground this time, he got mad. So mad that he formally and very loudly denounced skiing and the entire state of Colorado and our whole vacation all in a fit so epic I had to turn my body away so he wouldn’t see me choking back laughter. He saw me anyway, and so for dramatic emphasis, he threw his ski down the slope… and then was furious that I made him go get it himself. By then I was mad too.
Just about the time I thought I was going to have to roll him down the slope, we got his skis back on despite his epic pouting. He made it down the rest of the run, faster and more confident as we went. We got to the bottom and I clipped out of my skis to take him for a cheer-up hot chocolate when I heard him yell at the top of his lungs, “THAT WAS AWESOME!”
I think I actually pounded my helmet with my fists. He makes me crazy when he does this.
This story happened months ago and I promise you it has taken me this long to process it. Why does he react this way, and why does it send me into a tailspin? What is it about his display of rage that bothers me so much?
I finally put my finger on it this morning. It popped on like a light bulb.
His anger stems from discouragement
Whether it’s skiing, or a poor grade on a school assignment, or a failed attempt at a sports skill, or feeling excluded by friends, this child’s heart breaks when he feels discouraged.
No big deal, right? This is a life skill we can work on, right?
So why does it bother me so much when he gets like this?
Because I fall apart when I am discouraged too.
While he may pick up his temper from his daddy, my son picks up his tendency towards discouragement from me.
“I Can” Attitude
Upon reflection, I realize I have spent the majority of my adult life subconsciously learning to master the feeling of discouragement. Experiences like the grieving process, entrepreneurship, leadership, risk-taking, learning from failure, etc. are all incredible tools for learning how to cope with feeling discouraged. Taking one step at a time. Determining the next best yes. Honoring my feelings in the moment and then choosing to continue with only the good ones in my brain.
I am the Queen of Picking Myself Up By My Own Bootstraps. I could write a book of motivational quotes and list 100 reasons why your attitude determines your altitude.
I know that by focusing on and working in my strengths, my confidence will grow.
And by keeping a spirit of optimism and positivity, I can always, always, always find a silver lining. (this is really annoying to lots of people in my life actually.)
There’s nothing that God and I can’t do together.
But sometimes, I just feel discouraged
My usual traps of discouragement show up after an embarrassing fall on my you-know-what or when my confidence takes a dive.
And when I feel discouraged, my personal tendency is to get stuck in it.
I am not proud of this. I am, however, proud that after 3 months of wondering why a thrown ski bothered me so much, I figured it out.
I don’t like the way my son behaves when he’s discouraged because I don’t like the way I behave when I am discouraged.
When this realization became crystal clear, my mind flooded with instances when I have thrown my own proverbial ski.
Times when I pouted… rerouted… blamed… and stayed stuck in my own self-pity instead of picking myself up and moving ahead.
How much time and energy have I wasted pitching a fit instead of getting back to the venture at hand?
Where my son and I differ is that he is made up of a pretty even mix of his daddy and me: he has my tendency towards discouragement, and his daddy’s fiery competitive spirit. Those may seem opposites of one another but they fuel each other pretty intensely. (They’re explosive in our marriage… it’s no wonder they’re explosive within himself.)
My little guy gets discouraged, defeated, and then flashes red hot mad. I get discouraged and then, if I’m not careful, get stuck in defeat. So I know all too well the feeling of disappointment that turns to embarrassment and other related unproductive behavior.
I’ve had a lifetime to acquire and practice techniques that help me forge onward when I feel discouraged. But he’s just getting started. Maybe it won’t take him until nearly-40 to understand – and adapt to – how he is wired.
How can I help him (er, myself) move through moments of feeling discouraged without pushing him to the point of anger or frustration?
How to stop feeling discouraged
- Acknowledge your actual feelings. I have found that “help me understand what’s making you sad” is a valuable opener when I’m helping my son work through discouragement. Not surprisingly, that question is just as helpful when I ask it of myself. Sometimes all we need as human beings is to be heard and understood. Being misunderstood is in itself incredibly defeating, so if we can start by simply trying to understand where our feelings are coming from, it’s a lot easier to navigate anything else that follows.
- Decide what you’d like to see happen. Help identify some next-step options. He didn’t really want to leave Colorado. He wanted to have fun skiing like a champ. So once he could think/speak clearly enough to articulate what he wanted, we could figure out how to make it happen.
- Take action towards a solution. Action cures fear, and frustration, every time. We put his skis back on, even though he was still upset, and made it down one easy turn at a time. By the time we got to the bottom, it was the Best Vacation Ever.
What doesn’t help:
- Yelling or shaming. This includes our own self-talk. Shaming yourself never works. Discouragement breeds frustration and anger, which breeds more discouragement. Punishing my son (or myself) for feeling upset would have been completely counterproductive.
- Pushing him. His sister is old/wise enough for me to do this, but he is not. There will come a time that I can tell him “dig deep and keep going” or the more popular “suck it up buttercup” but he doesn’t have the emotional coping skills to do that on his own yet. He needs help with the process. (Some of us adults still need to give ourselves grace in this area too. Pushing yourself through something when your emotions aren’t in check is sometimes not the best option. #unpopularopinion #notsorry)
- Not honoring the victory. Celebrate the way discouragement turns into confidence. Every experience we have turning over negative experiences into something positive is another tool in our emotional toolbox. It’s a feeling you can draw on the next time you encounter feelings of discouragement.
What’s got you feeling discouraged? Tap into yourself and get to the heart of what’s really bothering you. Figure out what you’d really like to see happen. And then take steps to get there.
There is no reason to let discouragement hold you back.
So put your skis back on and let’s go. It’s fun, I promise.
PS: Feeling discouraged? Check out these books I love that have helped me learn how to work through it. (These are affiliate links – if you choose to purchase a book through one of these links, you won’t pay a penny more, but I’ll receive a small commission which helps keep our little community up and running. Thanks!)
Do It Scared by Ruth Soukup (BRAND NEW and launching TODAY, I’ve read the sneak peek and it’s fantastic!)
Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway by Susan Jeffers
Crash the Chatterbox by Steven Furtick