9 Ideas to Overcome Discouragement


If you have a goal, then you’ll probably face a lot of discouragement. Rejection, criticism, frustration, obstacles and failure are all part of the package. Although a few people might be immune to discouragement, I know I’m certainly not. I suspect you probably aren’t either.

For myself, I’ve found that trying to resist negative experiences isn’t helpful. Trying to be stoic and pushing through problems can help initially, but eventually it wears you down emotionally.

The alternative is to recharge your motivation. Just like resting for a day can help sore muscles, refueling your motivation can help a bruised ego.

Motivation Isn’t Affirmations…

When I talk about motivation it’s easy to get the picture of Stuart Smalley. This character from Saturday Night Live has such insights as, “I’m good enough, I’m smart enough, and doggone it, people like me!” These affirmations might work for some, but I’ve gotten pretty lousy results from them.

Instead of affirmations, motivate yourself with ideas. I’ve found getting my ideas flowing to be a far better remedy for an emotional setback than telling myself I’m a good person. Generating new ideas, solutions and goals can snap you out of a negative state.

Here are some motivational idea-generating tips I’ve found helpful:

  1. Do Something Creative. If you’re recovering from a particularly disappointing setback, getting new ideas won’t be easy. Trying to tackle the problem directly may backfire. Instead, I like to spend a few hours doing something creative and relaxing. Drawing, painting and building can start your idea-generators going in the background before you try to motivate yourself.
  2. Listen to Audio Tapes. I think it’s a good idea to have a few motivational audio tapes. These can help steer your thinking away from negative thoughts and towards new ideas. The content of these programs isn’t usually groundbreaking, but where it starts, you can usually continue in generating new ideas.
  3. Journal. Write down all of your ideas on paper. Explore any problems you face and start thinking of possible solutions. Writing is better than just thinking, because you have more control over where your thoughts lead. Journaling gives you an added layer of control over your mind.
  4. Review and Plan Goals. Go over your goals. Review, change them and set new ones. Setting new goals can restart the enthusiasm you might have lost after a setback. When I get stressed after a particular negative result, tweaking my goals and reminding myself of them can start me on the flow of ideas once more.
  5. Meditate. I’ve never found sitting cross-legged and chanting “OM” for an hour does much to motivate me. But meditation can help if you treat it as an interactive self-dialog. Practice your breathing and visualization until you can start creating other characters in your mind. You can then “talk” with these characters to sort through problems. The intense focus combined with relaxation can often give ideas you would otherwise miss.
  6. Exercise. One of the major symptoms of depression is a lack of energy. While your temporary setback might be nothing compared to full-blown depression, a bad mood can drain the energy out of anyone. Exercising can be the first step in reversing this trend by boosting your energy. Even going from apathetic to angry can be a stepping stone to rebuilding your enthusiasm.
  7. Posture and Body Language. Standing and moving as you would if you were in an enthusiastic state can be enough to trigger the feelings of enthusiasm. I wouldn’t take this as a magic cure-all, but if you are feeling down, the first step should be to adjust your posture.
  8. Spend Time With “Idea Magnifiers”. Some people can do a great job of magnifying and reflecting any enthusiasm you have. Spending time with these people and avoiding negative people can also help. This step isn’t as easy as it sounds. Often, in the desire to connect with people after a setback, I’m pulled towards people who are sympathetic, but only magnify my bad mood. Identifying the people that actually cause a change in your mood rather than the people who tolerate your complaining is critical.
  9. Achieve Something Easy. I believe a good way to look at motivation is like a ball rolling down a hill. If it hits an obstacle, all of the momentum stops. However, only a slight push forward can start the ball rolling again. Take on a simple task you know you can accomplish. Organize your office. Go to the gym. Empty your inbox.

Motivation is Built in Steps

My final suggestion is simply to recognize and respect the state you’re in. Our culture puts so much importance on being happy all the time, it can be easy to let a temporary bad mood become a further blow to your self-respect.

Starting with a small idea-generating activity can be better for recharging your motivation than with a big one. Trying to overview your goals after a major disappointment might make you even more frustrated. But working on a creative activity like painting can help subtly get the ideas flowing before you handle bigger tasks.

  • Chris

    What I like about this article is that it’s skeptical about a lot of the boiler plate motivational advice, and a little more realistic about how to get over a setback.

    I like writers that do this. I can’t help but feel so much of the standard advice out there is just being given because it’s been repeated so much that no one questions it anymore. I’ve had experiences similar to yours with affirmations, meditating, and ‘fake it ’til you make’ body language changes.

  • Darren Meyer

    It frustrates me how often people think meditation can only be done through sitting the lotus (cross-legged) and chanting. That’s the method adopted by only one tradition, and it’s not even their only method!

    It’s perfectly acceptable to find any position that you find relaxed and balanced (though if you lie down, you’ll probably just doze off, so I don’t recommend that…). I’ve been practicing meditation daily for nearly 8 years, and my preferred position is still seated on a bench, feet flat on the ground.

    The second thing that bugs me is the idea of “emptying your mind”. If one tries to think of nothing, then you’ll think of everything! The concept of “empty mind” has much more to do with being fully present in the moment and completely aware of your surroundings. This is quite hard, and takes much practice. However, it’s also not necessary for beneficial meditation.

    Simply focusing on one thing — it could be a sensation, the intricate details of an object, a particular memory, or whatever you find relaxing or peaceful — can have immense benefits for your mood and focus. The only difficult part of this is avoiding distraction. You *will* think of things related to what you’re focusing on: this is natural, and you need simply to catch yourself doing it and return your focus to where you started.

    It takes practice, but there is no “wrong way”, and even just sitting still and breathing for a few minutes (even just 2!) is better than not meditating at all.

  • Darren Meyer

    Sorry for the double-post, but I forgot to mention that any intense, internally-focused activity is meditation. Devout Christians who are deep in prayer achieve a meditative state, and derive the benefits of mediation from this practice.

    Keeping a journal is meditative for some, and there is a method called “Acem” meditation that has absolutely no spiritual component — it’s entirely secular.

  • Albert | UrbanMonk.Net

    Good stuff Scott, I love journalling, as you mentioned. It really clears the cobwebs and cleans the dust of your mind, so to speak, letting the important stuff underneath shine through.

    BTW meditation is more than just OMMMM 😉 BUt you were probably just having a bit of fun.

    Albert | UrbanMonk.Net
    Modern personal development, entwined with ancient spirituality.

  • Scott Young

    Of course meditation isn’t all “OM”, but most people don’t know that. Thanks for adding to the conversation.

  • Russ

    I think that the best way to avoid discouragement is number 4 – Review and plan goals. Even if it seems as though nothing is working out, if you look or set some long term goals you can see that you are always moving in the right direction. Although you may have diverged a bit to the side, you are always going forwards.