The worst enemy to productivity and creativity is self-pity.
This morning I didn’t feel like doing anything. It’s a combination of exhaustion from a few days of hard work, and a lack of sleep with a baby in the house.
I couldn’t motivate myself to do anything important, which is a rare occurrence for me. I just felt completely discouraged and defeated. I started overthinking things and doubting myself, and wondering whether anything I do is worthwhile.
I sat there in this funk for nearly an hour and wondered how to get out of it. Should I just forget about today? Should I just give up on this project, because I’m not as good at it as I thought I was?
That’s what I was considering, at least for a little while. But the better part of me knew this mild state of depression was temporary, and so I dug into my own intellectual toolbox for solutions – little tricks of the mind that can have a real effect on reality.
Here’s what works for me – seven things to keep in mind (and do) when you feel discouraged and defeated:
1. You are not the center of the universe (stop making it all about YOU).
I think we all have the tendency to put ourselves at the center of the universe, and see everything from the viewpoint of how it affects us. But this can have all kinds of adverse effects, from feeling sorry for ourselves when things aren’t going exactly as planned, to doubting ourselves when we aren’t perfect.
So this morning, instead of worrying so much about myself, I thought about other people I might help. Finding little ways to help others gets me out of my self-centered thinking, and then I’m not wallowing in self-pity anymore – I’m starting to think about what others need. I’m not doubting myself, because the question of whether I’m good enough or not is no longer the central question. The central question now is about what others need.
Thus, thinking about others instead of oneself helps solve feelings of discouragement and defeat.
2. It is your resistance to ‘what is’ that causes your suffering (be present).
This morning my mind was ruminating about every time and place other than the time and place I was in. When I caught myself doing this, I brought my focus back to the present.
Remember, happiness is allowing yourself to be perfectly OK with ‘what is,’ rather than wishing for and worrying about ‘what is not.’ ‘What is’ is what’s supposed to be, or it would not be. The rest is just you, arguing with life. Think about that for a minute. This means your suffering only ever occurs when you resist how things are in the present.
Although you can’t control everything that happens to you; you can only control the way you respond to what happens. In your response is your power. In your power is your presence. (Read A New Earth.)
3. You are more than one thing (loosen up and stretch your identity).
We all have this picture in our minds of ourselves – this idea of what kind of person we are. When this idea gets threatened, we react defensively. People may question whether we did a good job, and this threatens our idea of being a competent person, so we become angry or hurt by the criticism. Someone falsely accuses us of something and this threatens our idea that we’re a good person, and so we get angry and attack the other person. My identity of myself as someone who’s motivated and productive and has great ideas… this was getting in the way this morning. When I wasn’t productive, it made me feel defeated because I began subconsciously worrying that I wasn’t who I thought I was.
My solution was to realize that I’m not just one thing. I’m not always productive – sometimes I am, but sometimes I’m unproductive too. I’m not always motivated — sometimes I am, but other times I’m feeling lazy. And obviously I don’t always have great ideas either – because that’s impossible. The truth is, I can be many things, and remembering this helps me stretch my identity so it isn’t so fragile. Then it doesn’t matter if someone thinks I didn’t do a good job – because I don’t always do a good job. I make mistakes. I am less than perfect. And that’s perfectly OK.
4. Today is still a priceless gift (make the best of it).
I only have so many days left on Earth. I don’t know how many that is, but I do know it’s a very limited number. I know that each one of those limited days is a gift, a blessing… a miracle. And that squandering this miracle is a crime – a horrible lack of appreciation for what I’ve been given. And so, I reminded myself this morning that this day counts and that I still need to make the best of it. That doesn’t mean I need to be hyper-productive or work myself into the ground, but that I should do something worthwhile.
Sometimes taking a break to nourish yourself is a worthwhile activity, because doing so allows you to regroup and do other worthwhile things. But just sitting around in self-pity isn’t helpful. So I got up and took my 8-month old son, Mac, for a long walk that we both enjoyed, and I came back feeling better. (Read The Miracle Morning.)
5. Complaining is only making matters worse (find a solution).
When I get in a funk, I have a tendency to complain out loud to everyone around who’s close enough to hear me. Obviously, this doesn’t help them, or me. And as soon as I catch myself doing this, I force myself to shift gears.
The bottom line is that you will never get to where you want to be by complaining about where you are now. Each step in your life is preparing you for the one that comes after it. Complaining does not work as a strategy. We all have limited time and energy. Any amount of time we spend whining is unlikely to help us achieve anything worthwhile. And it won’t make us any happier either.
If you took 10% of the energy you put into complaining and applied it to solving your present problem, you’d be surprised by how well and how fast things can work out. (I forget this sometimes, which is why I’m writing it down again – to remind myself.)
Working as a life coach for the past decade with people who’ve suffered major trauma in their lives but found the courage to turn it around, I know we all have access to far more power, authority, and influence over our lives than we often believe. When you stop complaining, and refuse to see yourself as a helpless victim, you’ll find that you are more powerful than you realized, but only if you choose to accept this reality.
6. Feeling discouraged and defeated is a sign that it’s time to make a change (make that change).
It could be a change of heart, a change in your perspective, or a change in your habits. But the point in any case is that the way you are doing things is no longer working.
When we feel discouraged and defeated, typically our first instinct is to look outside of ourselves for someone or something to blame. In reality, we ought to be looking at how we’re feeling, what we’re thinking, and how we plan to respond.
Your life is your responsibility. While you can’t always change what’s outside of you, you can certainly change your perception of it. And the funny thing is, when you change the way you look at things, the things themselves change, which paves the way for positive action. (Angel and I discuss this in detail in the “Adversity” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
7. Even the tiniest possible step is progress. (take a tiny step NOW).
It can be hard to get moving when you’re seriously stuck. This is how I felt a decade ago when I was stuck in a rut after simultaneously losing two loved ones to illness and my breadwinning job. It was really hard to motivate myself when I didn’t think I had the strength to push forward – when I felt insanely horrible and sorry for myself. But I took one tiny step every day, and it felt good, and I got stronger.
That’s what I did this morning too – I took the tiniest possible step. Just turning on my computer, opening up a document, and writing a single sentence. Such an action is so small as to seem insignificant, and yet so easy as to be possible when I was feeling defeated. And it showed me the next step was possible, and the next. And the end result is this blog post you’re reading now.
Yes, I’m still feeling out of it, but not defeated. I’m feeling stronger, because I took these steps.
I know some of you feel the same way from time to time, maybe more often than you’d like to admit. That’s OK. We all do. We aren’t machines, constantly charged up and ready to fire on all cylinders. We are human, which means we falter, we doubt, and we feel pain sometimes.
And this too shall pass.
What would you add to the list? What do you try to keep in mind to motivate yourself when you’re feeling discouraged and defeated? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts and insights?
Photo by: Tony Di Messi
Thank you for posting this. I will definitely going to come back to it whenever I feel down and defeated.
As always, thank you for your wonderful posts. Your thoughts provoke me to look into the more meaningful side of every situation/struggle. it makes me remember what’s really important and take small steps to where I envision myself to be. And your post makes me feel we’re all in this together… Kudos!
I appreciate this article very much. These past few months I have been feeling very discouraged, defeated and low. I am slowly rising above it and taking steps to become more motivated and stronger.
I love how your opening quote “the worst enemy to productivity and creativity is self-pity” relates to what is going on with me right now. I’ve been beating myself up for not always being cheerful or productive or have good ideas or always being positive and I forget that I can’t always be like that and that there are moments that we feel sad, lazy, unproductive etc. I forget that I am human and that I can be multiple things. I am very glad you reminded me of that.
It is very true that we are responsible for our own thoughts and attitudes regarding any situation. And whatever life brings upon us good or bad we have a choice on how we deal with it.
I really relate to what you wrote about taking the tiniest step. I remind myself of this when I try something that I think is hard. (At the moment, exercise seems like a hard task to do.) What you wrote reminds me of what Matthew Kelly says about doing the next right thing. What action can I take that will move me toward being my best self? He also talked about thinking about how you will feel FOLLOWING an action, instead of prior to it. I had never thought about something like that before.
I love this article!
And the “change your mindset and perception” of your situation is the easiest and most effective tip of all.
It might be hard sometimes to let go of the current mindset even though it hurts you. Bet if you allow yourself to leave it behind, you’ll be surprised at how easy it is to choose a new and more productive mindset.
It’s not about doing the right things to have the right mindset. It’s the other way around. When you choose to be in the right mindset, you do the things that make you happy.
Charlene Allen says
You are so inciteful and encouraging. I look forward to reading your posts. You always seem to give me the boost that I need and please know that this is very much appreciated. Keep doing what you are doing. Thanks.
Great post here. It’s hard to get out of a rut of negative thoughts, so it’s good to keep all of the things mentioned here in mind. I like to write down positive information I find so that I can read it later when in such a negative mindset, so thank you so much for sharing this.
This post came to me at the absolute perfect time — almost as if it was sent by the Universe. Thank you so much for doing what you do — you are helping more people than you realize.
I needed this today. Thank you!
Marc Chernoff says
@DM: Mistakes are stepping stones. Don’t carry your mistakes around with you. Instead, place them under your feet and use them as stepping stones. Never regret. If it’s good, it’s wonderful. If it’s bad, it’s experience. Success in life is not about where you are standing at any given point in time; it’s about how much you’ve learned and how far you’ve come to get there. 🙂 Stay strong.
@Mary Anne Looby: I absolutely love your sentiment!
@Heather: I’ve said a prayer for you. Please know that you are not alone.
@Everyone: As always, thank you! Your comments continue to inspire me. And seeing some of you reach out to each other to offer a kind word truly makes my work rewarding. 🙂
Thank you Marc for getting up in spite of your funk and creating this post. This post is special and it was truly one of the most helpful posts that I’ve read here. Plus, seeing you doing this self-discipline, I am the most motivated. Thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Thank you for showing that you aren’t perfectly content and happy all the time. It’s hard sometimes to show the vulnerabilities, therefore making the “students” wonder how they can ever reach the realm that the “teacher” is in. But today this article showed that even those that “teach” are human too, and these steps were very comforting to me today.
Thank you for showing your vulnerable side today.
Doubting as usual that my words mean anything to anybody anymore I write a response to this blog. My daily life is not bad, 3 kids a house, supportive husband, but my turmoil is a swirling mass of constant inner dialogue centred on ”not good enough” kind of thoughts. I am though, good enough, and my daily struggle is a slow reconstruction of who I was to who I am now. I need to read your articles, this entity of personal mistrust, is slowly diminishing; fear, anxiety, self-loathing and unhappiness are becoming undone by exercises of minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day self-observation and distraction. There is no fell swoop of change, be positive and the feeling of success or glimmers of happiness becomes noticeable and workable and believable (and smile)
Thank you so much for your honesty! And you are right, doing something about the situation is the best way to move past it.
Thank you for the article. I really needed that.
Jason Cornish says
6 and 7 really get me….
I have found this column after reaching a mental breaking point today that has been 5 months in the making. My life right now sounds like a bad country song and I have been crying off and on all day, have searched for the Healthline phone number to call for help because for the first time I thought to myself “What is the point of life like this!” I’ve tried to “suck it up” but today was just too much.
Points 2 and 5 really hit home for me though. My misery is dwelling in the past and feeling sorry for myself. All of my hardship, sadness and self-pity has gotten me nothing but a headache and an empty Kleenex box today. Yes, all of the stuff that has happened to me is so unfortunate and you wouldn’t wish it on anyone, BUT it’s also in the past now. Tomorrow I will try to wake up and find a purpose and take that small step.
The article I was expecting was to re-affirm my right to my pain and my pity-party…the article I got did that but it also said to me, “Yup, you’re in pain, now what are you going to do about it?” and for that I thank you Marc. You may have just prevented me from crying myself to sleep tonight. Maybe I will suffer a little bit less tomorrow.
Abdul Rauf says
I have always been the fan of you guys, Marc Chernoff and Angel Chernoff! I love your blog.
The first thing about this post is that its title attracted my attention. Recently, I was fired from a job and have been searching for a new job but no success found up til now. So, I was just feeling discouraged and defeated. I thought it would be helpful and it really proved to be.
Point No. 4 is great. Today is always a gift.
The most helpful point was that of No. 5. Personally, it helped me understand my behavior over getting all this hype about job.
Thank you so very much for your kind help! Love.
jennifer D says
Exactly… It’s a nice reminder when we are going through a moment or experiencing something new, that its easy to recenter.
Hi….I too felt very discouraged this morning, and….I have been dealing with this, or fighting it for a while now as well. . .after reading your blog I’ve realized that I’m not always gonna be optimistic, or out and about, but I most definitely can not stay dissapointed, nor discouraged. ….I need to change my mind set and pick my self up!!……and I will, and I am!, I declare that right this minute I am stronger, for I have taking a leap of Faith, faith in God (which will never allow anything we couldn’t bear), and faith that I can do it!
Just imagine the odds of each of us showing up and being members of the human population. It is a staggering victory just to be born, to be family members, to have love in our hearts.
While discouragement is a natural human emotion we all confront, my strongest source of overcoming the fragile moments is counting my blessings, including the fact that I am actually alive today and experiencing these moments. The future is uncertain, but nobody can steal this special moment of contemplation from me or you.
Very helpful on all points. Been experiencing a lot of disappointment from unexpected setbacks for months. No professional advancement to no job to no income to cant even get hired to ideal/seemingly qualified for positions. Its hard to part with my identity and ideals/ expectation of self, but I guess its that time to Change my perspective. Just feels like I’m only conceding cuz I’m not in control of things.
Nerriza Lim says
Just what i needed to remind myself… Thanks for this blog! Such a great encouragement and reminder that i can still start again even with one baby step at a time…
Thanks so much and Godbless! ?