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