Reality Check: Courage and Discouragement

If you’ve ever felt the thud of discouragement, you may have also felt that you have no control over how you respond. It’s a powerless feeling, isn’t it?
What brings on those discouraged feelings? Here are a few of the many possibilities.
When I am unable to do something, I could become discouraged because I perceive that I’m not very smart. When I can’t get along with people, I may become discouraged because I believe I’m not very compassionate. When I work and work with no satisfactory reward, I may be discouraged because I’m not appreciated enough.
Discouragement can come from the recognition that I’m not making progress in the direction that I want to go.
Learning is one area where I sometimes see discouragement, and the way folks deal with that discouragement can make a real difference in their lives.
For example, say you have an important goal—you need to write a screening test for an employer, pass an apprenticeship exam, or achieve a credential of some kind. But first, you need to learn, say, equation-solving.
Some people don’t grasp new learning as quickly as they believe they “should.” An unfortunate result of that belief can be the conclusion that if they didn’t understand everything right away, they’ll never get it.
Discouragement kicks in; they beat themselves up, give up, and head down quite a different path than they might otherwise go.
What responses to discouragement have you seen? When one feels unappreciated, perhaps it’s, “No one appreciates what I’m doing, so I may as well not bother.” If the discouragement comes from a feeling of being inadequate, perhaps it’s, “I can’t do this, so I may as well not try.”
Unfortunately, responses such as those can act like a feedback loop. If we respond to a lack of success with, “I may as well not try” then we give up. That pretty much guarantees that we’re not going to experience the success that could come from persisting.
Similarly, if we perceive that we’re not appreciated, we may respond by withdrawing, which could lead to being appreciated even less than before.
What might help? It would be great if we could just decide, “I am not discouraged!” and have the discouragement vanish. But trying to choose our feelings directly doesn’t seem to be very effective in practice, does it?
Here’s an idea. Try choosing a different perception about discouragement. That is, instead of seeing discouragement as feeling blue, incapable, or unappreciated, what if we choose to interpret “dis-courage-ment” as “lacking courage?”
How might that help?
A rework of those discouraged situations using a different mindset might look like this. “Even if I don’t seem to be as smart as everyone else, I have the courage to continue working.” Or “I may not be naturally compassionate, but I have the courage to reach out to others anyway.” Or even, “My efforts may not be appreciated, but I know that they are good-faith efforts, and I have the courage to continue even when no one notices.”
When we’re in a discouraged funk, it might not be at all clear that one of the responses that we could choose is to muster our courage. However, there are many situations in our ordinary lives that require courage, and discouragement may be one of them.
How would you do that? Ask yourself, “If I were courageous, what would that look like?” Or, “Consider the courageous people that I know (and I think that we all know some), what would they do in this discouraging situation?”
So, if you are feeling “dis-couraged,” might it be worth trying the perspective of, “Perhaps I need to work on my courage?”
What do you think of courage as a response to discouragement?

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