Saturday, October 29, 2005

Discouragement , Doubt, and Despair

If I were to measure the success of my various attempts at accomplishing particular goals, I’d have to divide that success into two categories. One would be the actual results from the standpoint of the stated goal. The other would be the degree to which I was able to rise above any emotional resistance, whether or not I got what I set out to get.

It may very well be that the real purpose of all our goals is the mastery of ourselves that comes from dealing with our emotional obstacles. In regard to discouragement, doubt, and depression, the three Ds, it’s especially challenging because each of these emotions carries a belief system within it that the feeling is real, that our limitations are real, and that it’s useless to resist the pull of that emotion. But resist we must.

Doubt is the feeling which makes us think that even starting the journey is futile. We are, in our estimation, hopeless, or the technology we’re being given is, in our judgment, incapable of changing anything. To combat this, we must suspend our disbelief. We must look on doubt as a suspect emotion. That is, we must turn doubt in on itself. We must doubt doubt.

The opposite of doubt is humility. We must humble ourselves before a higher authority. If Jesus, the Buddha, Wayne Dyer, Mark Victor Hansen, and I all tell you that you can succeed, who are you to argue?! Your doubtful stance represents an arrogant adherence to identification with an outmoded idea, the idea of limit and lack. It’s not universal limit or lack that has resulted in your current predicament, so you can’t use it to justify the notion of impossibility you’re trying to sell yourself.

Discouragement is the deflating feeling of impossibility that appears to result from intellectual evaluation of your current progress. You start out enthusiastic and hopeful, and then you encounter obstacles in your path. Not knowing how to meet these obstacles, you consider them stopping points and decide that you can’t accomplish your goal after all. Sometimes discouragement comes quickly and early in the process, before you’ve even had a chance to fail at one of your steps. All you might need to encounter discouragement is the recognition that you don’t have one of the prerequisites for success. You want to be a long distance runner, but you realize that you have terrible form and weak lungs.

To overcome discouragement, you only need one word. The word is yet. Put this word at the end of every sentence that starts with “I can’t” or “I don’t.” I can’t run any distance….yet. I can’t maintain my breath for more that five minutes…yet. I don’t have good running form…yet.

Then, the limit becomes an obstacle on your list. Every obstacle has a solution. The solution becomes an action step. And you’re back on track!

Of all the three Ds, depression is the most debilitating. I’ve suffered from some degree of depression most of my life, so I believe that I’m qualified to share some insight in this area.

Depression can result from faulty thinking, but it is just as often the reverse. Faulty thinking can result from depression, and it can be very lonely and frustrating to explain your predicament to people who’ve never been afflicted by this horrible malady. Whenever personal growth gurus told me to cheer up, I felt like punching them. Even the Dalai Lama was in danger of a punch or two if I ever got close enough to him. Being unhappy is a pervasive and persistent problem.

Granted, conditional unhappiness, the kind that results from a specific set of circumstances, like losing a loved one, is easily curable. Usually a bit of time and a deeper understanding of the transient nature of reality are all that are necessary for healing to occur. We should always strive to maintain equanimity in the face of all circumstances, never allowing the absence of a specific condition or the presence of another to sway us from a positive outlook.

However, what do we do about unconditional unhappiness, the experience of feeling unhappy, discontented, and apathetic regardless of our life circumstances? In my experience, dreaming and goal setting go a long way towards correcting this condition. Even in the depths of depression and apathy, I’ve been rescued by my own efforts at redesigning my future. Imagination brings hope, and hope conquers despair.

Still, sometimes this isn’t enough. It is possible that your depression is biochemically induced. You may have a chemical imbalance, which creates what scientists call “false mood syndrome.” If you fit into this category, chances are you’ve contemplated or tried antidepressant medication. If so, it’s likely that you’ve met disappointing results. If so, I recommend strongly that you read The Mood Cure by Julia Ross. It’s a life-changing work about the chemical environment of our brains, and how we can positively change it through diet, exercise, and the use of certain supplements which replenish the neuro-hormones that create our moods in the first place. If you’re plagued by constant mental pain, you may be the victim of an easily corrected nutritional deficiency. Discovering the right supplements for you might mean the difference between a life of misery and a productive, happy life.

We’ve looked at the three Ds, doubt, depression, and discouragement. We’ve explored strategies for combating each. I’d like to close by saying that we’re served well by maintaining a certain amount of scientific detachment from these feelings, seeing them for what they are, but being careful not to identify with them. In so doing, our essence is maintained, and we have the greatest chance of moving beyond these debilitating emotions.

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