Overcoming Discouragement

Life is full of failures, rejection and more than a fair share of discouragement. I believe that the difference in how persistent people are often comes down to how they handle the discouragement that comes from the same situation. While some people can immediately brush themselves off, others can enter a negative cycle of thoughts that persists for weeks, months or even years.

How you handle discouragement affects your ability to take new risks and chances that could have huge benefits. The root word of discouragement is courage so it should only make sense that the feelings associated with failure and rejection often try to deal a blow to your inner source of courage. Unfortunately, these emotions can cripple you to the point where you avoid taking small risks that have huge potential rewards.

Negative thought cycles, whether it is in the form of depression, discouragement, hatred or self-loathing tend to spiral out of control so what was originally only a minor trigger becomes inflated into a major upset. Quickly correcting this negative thought cycle before it gets out of hand is critical to ensure you can rebound back to success. So how can you handle discouragement so it doesn’t consume you?

Don’t Analyze

The time to analyze what has just happened is never when you are in a negative state. Most people falsely assume that rational analysis is the same whether you are in a good or bad mood. Logic is logic, right? This error in judgement is why most people have so much trouble escaping that negative cycle of thoughts. Rational judgement gets corrupted by emotion very easily, so what seems like a logical flow of thought is completely ridiculous from an outside perspective. Emotion and rational thought are too intertwined to be completely separated.

When you get turned down for a date, promotion or business opportunity it can be very tempting to start trying to analyze what went wrong. This of course spins into self talk that seems rational but is purely emotional. Immediately after a discouraging failure is not the time to devote self-talk to it. Analysis is important but it must come from a neutral viewpoint that can’t be attained while you still have negative feelings.

Create an Immediate Success

What do you tend to do when you feel down? Sit in front of the television? Eat ice-cream and watch movies? Go to bed? Although these are all viable strategies for handling stress, they often just temporarily bring you up to a neutral point of view. A better tactic is to find something you know you can be successful at and do it right away. By creating a tiny, even superficial, success you can balance out the negative feelings associated with your discouragement.

My favorite strategy is to immediately exercise after a discouraging event. Not only does exercising increase energy and release endorphin which makes you feel better, but by successfully completing my workout I can stop negative cycles of thought quickly. Exercising is a good strategy, but you can use any activity that you feel you can be successful at.

After you create the immediate success, you need to continue this approach until you feel you have stabilized the negative thought cycle. If you start feeling negative about your discouraging situation a few hours after your situation, redo this step to regain your balance.

Only once you feel fairly positive and stable about your self image and you can look back at the discouraging event from an emotionally neutral standpoint should you try to analyze what went wrong and how to improve it for next time. Analysis and review is important but it is completely worthless if it just another means for self-pity and negative thoughts. Keep in mind that the time necessary to recover from a discouraging situation varies for each person and for each event. Some people who aren’t used to discouragement will require longer periods to recover as will certain events that are particularly demoralizing.

Reward Attempts

Whenever you make strives outside your comfort zone and past barriers you need to reward yourself regardless of whether the external environment does so. If you are just starting out as a salesman and you have to make a few cold calls, reward yourself for mustering up the confidence to make the attempt even if they completely reject your offer. If you are shy and you ask someone for a date and they give you the cold shoulder, you need to reward yourself for making the attempt.

Whenever you take steps outside your past limitations, either in conquering your fears, improving your skills or increasing your own willpower you must recognize and reward that victory even if the rest of the world won’t. Ultimately, inner qualities such as courage, discipline and skill will create a greater impact on your life than the success or failure of one encounter. Even if this encounter is big like the failure of a business, you need to recognize that failure as a positive step in your own growth and celebrate it like you would any external success. Your partners may think your crazy for breaking out the champagne when your company doesn’t make it, but you need to reward yourself for making the attempt.

Above all these other strategies the most important thing in improving your ability to handle disappointment and discouragement is to face more of it. Taking more risks and getting yourself a little bruised from all of life’s stumbles is the only way you can build the emotional muscle to handle more of them. When you reward attempts even when they aren’t successful you are signaling to your brain that taking there is value in attempting something that isn’t attached to a particular outcome.

Whether it is struggling to make sales, asking for a date or even the daily disappointment from the outside world, everyone faces discouragement. How you handle that discouragement will ultimately make the difference between a life of broken dreams and misery and one where every discouraging attempt makes you stronger.

  • DeAnn

    Hi Scott, thank you for writing this piece about discouragement.
    I was just told that an article I was going to do was stolen by a staff writer,
    so now I have to find another venue for the piece, and I was feeling very discouraged that
    an editor would leave me out in the cold like that, and favor a staff writer, when I know
    I can do a better job on this particular article.
    But after reading your blog, I feel better, and I am going to try to make lemonade out of lemons
    and do the piece for another publication.
    Thanks again for the logical and intelligent insights.

  • Scott Young

    Thanks for the comments, DeAnn.

    Discouragement seems to follow whenever we try to do anything outside our comfort zone. Learning to manage it, not avoid it, is the key.

  • Jamila

    This was so on time for me. I spent all weekend listening to depressing music from my high school days, woke up today sad, depressed and with no motivation.

    I found your site from the mediabistro link, read this, worked out and have a renewed vigor to get something done! I even mentioned this in my blog.



  • Molly Burkhart

    I was just thinking about “rewarding attempts” the other day. A group of writer friends and I used to reward each other for being brave enough to submit our work by writing each other little blurbs of our favorite actors making special deliveries. No matter what the response, we each got kudos for submitting: imaginary roses for an acceptance or imaginary comfort chocolates for a rejection.

    I can’t tell you how many times those chocolates delivered by Vin Diesel or Viggo Mortenson or Kevin Sorbo perked us up and kept us going. No calories or fat, either, so our rewards were completely guilt-free!

  • Scott Young

    Thanks for the comments Jamila and Molly,

    Good to see other people are using the reward attempts strategy with success as well.

  • R. Clark

    Superbly stated and thoughtfully composed. Awesome insight – thank you for sharing it with the world.

  • Scott Young

    R. Clark,

    Thanks for the comments!

  • Lobelia

    Thank you for this which was linked by a friend. I have just struggled through a short period of depression and deep loss of self-confidence, and this is really helpful, especially the points about immediate success and rewarding attempts. 🙂

  • Scott Young


    I invite you to read my upcoming emotional mastery series which will include a topic on overcoming persistent emotional states like depression. Hopefully this can continue improving on the same stream as this article. Good luck.

  • John Atkins

    Whether tragic events touch your family personally or are brought into your home via newspapers and television, you can help children cope with the anxiety that violence, death, and disasters can cause.

    Listening and talking to children about their concerns can reassure them that they will be safe. Start by encouraging them to discuss how they have been affected by what is happening around them. Even young children may have specific questions about tragedies. Children react to stress at their own developmental level.

    The Caring for Every Child’s Mental Health Campaign offers these pointers for parents and other caregivers:

    * Encourage children to ask questions. Listen to what they say. Provide comfort and assurance that address their specific fears. It’s okay to admit you can’t answer all of their questions.
    * Talk on their level. Communicate with your children in a way they can understand. Don’t get too technical or complicated.
    * Find out what frightens them. Encourage your children to talk about fears they may have. They may worry that someone will harm them at school or that someone will try to hurt you.
    * Focus on the positive. Reinforce the fact that most people are kind and caring. Remind your child of the heroic actions taken by ordinary people to help victims of tragedy.
    * Pay attention. Your children’s play and drawings may give you a glimpse into their questions or concerns. Ask them to tell you what is going on in the game or the picture. It’s an opportunity to clarify any misconceptions, answer questions, and give reassurance.
    * Develop a plan. Establish a family emergency plan for the future, such as a meeting place where everyone should gather if something unexpected happens in your family or neighborhood. It can help you and your children feel safer.

    If you are concerned about your child’s reaction to stress or trauma, call your physician or a community mental health center.

  • Scott Young

    Not sure what about my post you’re commenting on, John, but I’ll take the comment. Sounds a little spammish to me, but unicef is a nonprofit, so I’ll let it fly. If only those cell-phone companies and adult websites would only take the hint…

  • Barbara

    I’m going through a struggle starting my own business and it’s shaken my confidence considerably and has me ready to retreat back to my comfort zone. Your blog not only served as a reminder that we all face disappoints and feel discouraged, it also offered practical, sound tips on how to deal with those disheartening situations.


  • Kevin V

    Great post!

    Lack of courage seems to be a *major* issue in our society today.. but thankfully one that can be addressed. History has proven time and time again that the power of thought is the seeding point for actions which alter the future in a positive way.

    Understanding this, and having the courage to persist without quitting in the face of any obstacle, allows us to accomplish anything.

  • Scott Young

    Thanks for the comment Kevin.

  • Danny

    Hi Scott,
    I also see it in my life about negative thinking. Some of people I know they see the negative thinking is the truth happen in the world. They don’t want to see other option.

    I agree when you said about see positive our self-image. That’s unfortunately, some people fear to see about them self.

  • Scott Young


    You aren’t ever going to come to an exact truth in your interpretation. The only thing that really matters is which interpretation is more useful to you.

  • BB

    thank you for this excellent post…made me feel so much better about a recent disaster in my career.

    I can’t believe you are so young!

  • Scott Young

    Thanks BB

  • shad

    i was absolutely inspired by this informative article and i really felt good and greatful since i saw this. i was always been discourage by all my thoughts and what i realized is i’m the problem not the crowd. if you fear something try to overcome it by taking even little steps. and the truth is it will help you for keeps.

  • beia

    it’s definitely a big help for me since i’m going through a terrible crisis. thnx 4 dis encouraging article for making feel fine. great and good words indeed makes me feel finer. woah…. love this…
    hope this will help….

  • conrad

    kudo’s for this article!
    you’re like my steve plavina replacement!! 😀

  • Scott Young

    Thanks Conrad!

  • Annie

    Thanks Scott.

    Your article is very timely because I just received some news that discouraged me because I was expecting things to go as I had planned.

    Your article helped me to see things differently & encouraged me.

    Thank you for giving me an idea about how I might start getting out of my depression, & to keep fighting back.

    You are very wise for such a young person … and a fellow Canuck, too.

  • kenneth daniels

    I think we should always be pushing our comfort zone or we grow stagnet or go backwords with that like you growing seems to have peaks & valleys & you summed it up very well when we are disappointed & discouraged to do something right away to pull ourselves up out of the valley is very inportant

  • Roy

    I have been reading your articles for around 4-5 weeks now, and I must say that this one impressed me the most… The part about rewarding one’s attempts towards breaking a comfort zone is so amazing and effective… Great post dude…

  • Mark


    One thing that a number of people fails to understand is that failure is an event and (hopefully) a lesson, not a person.

    It isn’t important how many times you get knocked down (except perhaps, for the same reason). What’s important is how many times you get back up.

  • Julie

    This is really a great article. I’m not exactly sure why I’m reading this now of all times, but I’m glad I did. I just dropped from BC math into AB and ranted for about an hour about how I let down all my past, present, and future teachers (math and otherwise), my friends, my family, all the random people I see in the halls every day, and above all, myself. This is exactly what I needed to read and I feel so much better right now. I guess I’m a little too hard on myself sometimes. So basically what I wanted to say is, thank you.

  • teresa

    Thanks. I was feeling discouraged as a teacher, having a not too successful day. My students went to lunch, I typed in the word discouraged and this came up. Synchronicity. Good thoughts here!

  • RoxAnne

    Hi Scott,

    Life takes courage!

    Great blog. I come from an environment where I have lived with discouragment all of my life.

    I am tired of feeling tired, I am tired of feeling worthless, I am tired of feeling bad and feeling down, I am tired of having negative feelings about myself, and I am tired of just going throught the motions.

    Thank you for touching upon a plan of attack. Thank you for the encouragment.

    I have a new way of looking at courage and living my life everyday!

  • Jason Ruiz

    Hey the article was great as I kept reading I found that the descriptions described me to a tee. I look forward handling things differently and see a better out come and not allow discouragement get the best of me. More like i will strive to bring out the best in myself.

  • Anonymous

    Can you start a facebook group on overcoming discouragement? I found the link to your site there. It would be greatly appreciated!

  • Regina Richards

    Thanks! I needed this!
    I signed a contract a year ago after 6 months of preliminaries to do a project and have done it well. New leadership comes on board and wants to reinvent the project into something completely different than what the original contract called for. I felt very discouraged for the time and effort wasted.
    I feel better after reading this. Glad I made sure that original contract specifies if I leave my work goes with me. Though I’m still sad for what won’t be, I’m suddenly excited about the possibilities opening up for using the work myself.

  • JAM

    The desire to “QUIT” or to give up is the byproduct of discouragement.

    The bible tells us that if we have FAITH the size of a mustard seed that we can move mountains.(Matthew 17:20)

    If we have discouragement the size of a seed it can grow and cause us not to move at all.
    Understanding discouragement better helps us to handle it better on a daily basis.
    Thank you for the additional intelligence on dealing with discouragement, it is greatly appreciated.

  • Nickster

    One thing I found that helps is to recognize that discouragement is a *feeling* and that feelings change from day to day. It’s okay to feel discouraged – your feelings are perfectly valid. Just remember tomorrow you may feel completely different and it becomes bearable today!

  • Great advice!