Barriers to change – discouragement

In last month’s article, we began to unpack how distractions can keep us from fully engaging in a healthier, more balanced life. This month, we’re going to explore another one of the three big “D” ’s (discouragement) and how to overcome it. The solution might just surprise you.

Self-Compassion: A powerful antidote to discouragement

When I first heard about self compassion, I’ll be honest, it was hard for me to wrap my head around. It seemed idiotic and dumb. What is self compassion, and how could it possibly help me overcome discouragement? In the past when I felt discouraged, it was because my expectations did not match reality. I inadvertently made things worse by focussing almost entirely on my failures and wallowing in my mistakes. Discouragement quickly became hopelessness. Maybe you can relate. 

One week off-plan can easily become “what’s the point”?  Or ‘I worked so hard and got no results” or “I worked so hard and I actually gained weight” Or “I missed all of my workouts for the past two weeks and now I feel like I’m starting over…why bother?”. You get what I’m saying. 

The truth is we all get discouraged because we all fail to achieve goals and we all make mistakes. No matter how hard we work at something, there are bound to be setbacks. The key is figuring out how to face your flaws and failures with love and courage.  

Facing up to our destructive self-talk

When you are discouraged because your expectations don’t meet reality, how do you treat yourself? What does your self-talk sound like? Do you catch yourself saying things like, “I’m an idiot”  “what’s the matter with me”  “why can’t I just do this?” 

We tend to be our own worst enemies when it comes to feelings of discouragement and failure. But what we really need to move forward again is perspective. 

How we respond to our flaws, mistakes and feelings of failure is far more important than the fact that we have them. 

Consider this: we often treat ourselves with harshness, anger or self-hatred, to the point where it becomes second nature. We ignore our feelings and deepen our discouragement and then wonder how the rut we’re in suddenly became so huge. 

While it may feel as though we deserve the pain, we tend to be our own worst critics and it can actually make things worse. Take a step back and think about the last time you felt really discouraged because you failed to meet a goal. Did you beat yourself up? Did anything change? Now look at it from a different angle.  If you had a friend or a partner struggling to find traction, would you talk to them the way you talk to yourself? Probably not. 

Instead of beating ourselves up or wallowing in discouragement, we can choose a different approach. We can work to accept what we can’t change (the past) and to change what we can. The key is learning how to practice the art of self-compassion. Compassion and self-love are the best sources of long term resilience and endurance. 

How to develop the skill of self-compassion

So I messed up. I am disappointed, discouraged and I feel like giving up. What should I do? Where do I begin?

First, I need to actually notice what I’m feeling in the moment and own it. Rather than denying or suppressing my feelings with food or alcohol,  instead try acknowledging them. You might say ‘this hurts” or “this is disappointing”. Maybe you made a choice which put you off track and you feel frustrated or angry or sad. Take a moment to notice what that feels like and be mindful of how it feels. Resist the urge to label your feelings (as good or bad) or to beat yourself up. 

Second, recognize that failure, pain and disappointment are part of the human experience. Nobody gets it right 100% of the time. We all jump off the wagon sometimes. Self compassion doesn’t pass judgment on those mistakes, calling them good or bad and instead says, “it is what it is”. The reality is, sometimes I make mistakes. It’s normal. I can move on from here.

Third, imagine how you would speak to a deeply cherished friend who is going through what you are going through. What would you say to them? Practice saying compassionate things to yourself like: “Be patient. I forgive myself. Keep trying. I can do hard things.” 

Some may find it hard to practice self compassion because on the surface it may seem to be an excuse for not trying hard enough or laziness or a lack of commitment. But self-compassion isn’t just kind, it helps us do better the next time. Being compassionate to yourself doesn’t short circuit your efforts to change and it’s not an excuse to continue making the same mistakes again and again. Rather it’s a way to put your regrets to rest so you can find the courage to try again. Self-punishment only adds to discouragement. It makes us more fearful, perfectionistic and anxious to try again in case we fail again. Self compassion makes us more likely to grow and realign with our goals so that we can do better next time. So give yourself some love so you can build up the courage to try again.

J. McKay – MDWL contributor

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