Overcoming discouragement


discourage (v.) mid-15c., discoragen, “deprive of or cause to lose courage,” from Old French descoragier “dishearten” (Modern French décourager), from des- “away” (see dis-) + coragier, from corage “spirit” (see courage). Meaning “express disapproval or opposition, dissuade or hinder from” is from 1640s. Related: Discouraged; discouragement; discouraging.

Stories for adult life

There are many important skills to master in life, but overcoming discouragement definitely, deserves more attention.

You’ve set your goals and outlined your projects and tasks.

You know what you need to do (well, sort of), and you’ve been doing it for a while now, and then it hits you: you’re feeling discouraged. 

You don’t want to abandon your vision, but it’s just getting harder and harder to carry on. 

Imagine that one day you saw a picture of an incredible, majestic mountain, glistening in the sun, covered in snow. And all of a sudden, you felt compelled to climb it all the way to the top. 

You know why you want it and feel prepared to do it. You’ve got your gear and your will. You’re probably feeling very motivated. 

You may have imagined the wonderful feeling of you standing on the top, celebrating your success, and watching the world beneath you. You set off and start walking. So far, so good! You may stop, take a break, have a snack, stretch a little, and that helps you restore your energy for a while. 

You imagine yourself standing on top of the mountain and admiring the views, but the way to the top may be less than pleasant on more than one occasion. 

You see it on the horizon, but ignore the fact that even before you get to climb that mountain, you first need to get through the forest.

You realize the sun is setting, and it’s getting freezing.

Nevertheless, you leave your safe harbor and take a box of matches to light the way. It’s dark out there and getting darker. You walk into the darkness. It’s getting cold, you’re hungry, you only have matches to light your way like glimpses into your surroundings, but you can see no clear path and have no-one to guide you. You walk into something soft, mushy, something else touches your neck… the plants are getting taller, and you’re wearing sandals.

But hey, that’s FINE! You have your tent, you have some food; you’ll rest a bit and get moving again in the morning.

When the morning comes, you may be a bit achy and more tired than you had thought you’d be, but that’s fine. . Finally, you make it to your mountain. You continue the climb. 

As you move higher, it gets colder, the air is thinner, it’s harder to breathe. In fact, it’s so hard, you don’t even admire the views anymore. All you see now is the impossible to reach the top, looming in the distance. You start feeling a bit discouraged and doubt you will ever make it. Your shoes are wet, all the best snacks are gone, your body is aching, every step is becoming harder and harder, the sun is setting again, and you cannot even find a good spot to put up your tent. It’s not much fun anymore. 

You don’t even remember why you wanted to climb that mountain in the first place! You should have known it was impossible to do in the first place! You’re out there, in the cold, facing a blizzard that may force you to go back – and that is not easy either – while you could be sitting in your cozy den and binge-watching tv shows. And what’s wrong with that, you may think. Lots of people do it every day, and they’re just fine…

You are feeling very discouraged, and you now have to choose what to do next. You lose heart.

You might give in, and you’ll FEEL GOOD. You’ll eat donuts and watch Netflix, and sleep in your warm bed. At least for a while. And you’ll feel good, but in the long run, you won’t feel HAPPY. 

Our biology is geared toward feeling pleasure, but our hearts are longing for happiness. 

It’s easy to get discouraged when you don’t see progress, when things get in the way, when the enthusiasm wanes, and all there’s left is WORK, the daily grind. You lose the big picture; you’re disconnected from your WHY. You start thinking: why do I even bother? Quitting, giving up actually seems like a smarter decision.

You convince yourself you’ll be better off by NOT doing it.

You’ll tell yourself you’re just wasting your time (but most likely won’t do anything productive with it anyway)

If there’s one great menace standing between us and our life achievements, it’s got to be DISCOURAGEMENT. 

There will be all sorts of temptations waiting for you to lessen the discomfort and make you forget why you wanted to do it in the first place. 

So let’s get deeper into the reasons why you may feel discouraged in the first place and how to overcome discouragement!

The reasons why we feel discouragement

So why exactly does discouragement ‚happen’ to us? Here’s a list of some of my own greatest hits on the discouragement playlist:


  • are not seeing much progress
  • feel overwhelmed because no matter how much you do, there’s still so much that needs to be done
  • don’t have the physical or mental energy
  • feel like we’re missing out on other things and don’t get rewarded for our efforts
  • don’t get any feedback on how we’re doing
  • do not have support
  • are stuck and don’t know how to move forward
  • lost sight of our horizon – our life values and intentions
  • focus on the daily grind but not the bigger picture
  • may not know that it’s a natural phase, and things fluctuate all the time
  • give ourselves too much space to THINK, thus allowing resistance and uncertainty to creep in
  • start thinking: does it really matter? what if I just don’t do it? Most likely- NOTHING. But can you afford NOTHING?
  • stop believing it’s even possible, so why keep trying? 
  • lose hope. 
  • start believing it’s too hard to do, that we don’t have what it takes to reach our goal. 

What can you do to NOT GET DISCOURAGED

Of course, the best thing we can do is prepare ourselves well, so we never feel discouraged, or at least lessen the chance of feeling discouraged too quickly or for too long. So what can we do to avoid discouragement?


We can design a system to hold onto it when it’s dark, there’s a blizzard when we don’t even know what we’re doing and where we’re going anymore. To me, a system means creating a set of procedures to help you stay on track and get through the inevitable periods of discouragement.

  • Try to assess what is a realistic timeframe for you to accomplish your goal. Don’t just guess, research! Things may differ whether you want to write a book, learn a foreign language or lose 20 pounds. Whatever it is, chances are, someone has already done it. Look for a realistic medium and then pad it with another 30% 

  • Set a realistic timeframe during which you will temporarily suspend judgment. That step is crucial if you second guess your own actions and don’t have much trust in your abilities. These days we’re being fed instant gratification and feedback all the time. So it is not easy to keep doing something that does not produce spectacular results quickly. So for an agreed time, just DO THE THING and then take time to evaluate your progress. Sometimes you will not see progress quickly, and that’s ok. You may feel like there’s very little progress, but you start to see the change when you look back over a more extended period.

  • Try to translate parts of your goal or project into habits. We all want to work smarter, not harder, but more often than not, it really boils down to just doing the work. You can always improve and make it more sophisticating, but for now, just do the work (write for 20 minutes every day, exercise for 10, save 10% of your income immediately, meditate for a minute)

  • Plant your habits into the fertile soil of routines. That means knowing what-when-how you’re going to do something (also known as the Implementation intentions)

  • Water your habits with focus and deliberate practice – remove all possible distractions ahead of time

  • Don’t overthink it. It’s essential to know your intentions, your values, and your WHY. But think of this part as a map to your destination. It’s supposed to help you get there, but it’s not very helpful to have your nose buried in the map instead of taking the actual steps. 

  • Have your WHY written down so you can get back to it when in doubt – chances are, you knew exactly why it was important for you to start working on your project in the first place? But then life happens, we’re tired, we’re upset, we stop seeing the point. If you have your intentions written down, they’ll come in handy when you need to remind yourself of your WHY and realign your vision with your actions (because we’re human, and we simply forget our whys)

Easier said than done, I know because that means a significant mind shift.

But not just put up with hard work -try to find some virtue in it. 

I’ve adopted a mantra to get me through some tough shit in life – or merely small, unpleasant tasks. The moment my brain registers some hardship, I tell myself: “THIS is how you get stronger.”

It’s about being in the moment and labeling it the correct way. THIS IS HOW YOU GET STRONGER! THIS IS IT! So you know it’s a part of the process, and it’s how things are done. And that there’s nothing to be afraid of, it’s normal.

No matter how well you set your goals and design your systems, there will most likely be times when you will feel discouraged to move forward. It’s important to understand that this is normal and, if approached right, only temporary.

Discouragement at your doorstep.

What can you do if you’re already feeling discouraged?

Start with realigning your vision with your actions.

Tweak your systems: is there anything that is sabotaging your efforts? Sometimes we don’t see it, but there might be little things getting in our way. Maybe we leave something until too late and don’t have any energy and willpower left by the time we get to our tasks/projects/goals? Track your energy levels during the day and during the week and try to schedule the more demanding tasks when you naturally have more energy and willpower. You’re more likely to be killing it on Monday morning or Friday evening. We’re all different!

Or maybe we try to bite more than we can chew? In that case, scale it down. Focus on the smallest, immediate step you can take. And another, and another…

  • Find support:

Many of our dreams and goals and passion projects happen in the corner of our own minds. 

Sometimes we want to keep them to ourselves to protect them from others who could discourage us. Still, the danger is, when we have no support or accountability, it’s so much easier to just quietly give up.

Try to find some support or an accountability partner. There’s plenty of other people struggling with their own discouragement. You can definitely help each other because our motivation and emotions fluctuate constantly. 

  • Try to detach yourself from your feelings.

Discouragement often happens when our inner child gets in the way. The only wise way to go about it is to parent it well: listen to it, acknowledge the struggle and move on. 

You are not your feelings or thoughts. They can be very manipulative and don’t always act in your best interest, well, at least not long term. Think stone age brain living in the digital times. 

When you learn that you can actually do A LOT without ‚feeling like it’, it’ll be your new superpower. 

When discouragement hits you, you can stop for a moment, acknowledge the feeling and start inching forward…

  • Come into an agreement with yourself:

Decide on a realistic time frame to evaluate your progress. Give yourself an exact time frame to work on something NO MATTER WHAT – I call it temporarily suspend judgment – and assess it after that time. 

Most of the time, we don’t succeed because we’re not persistent enough with our actions, not because we haven’t tried.

Some things just take longer, and that message seems to be getting lost a lot these days. Especially when you’re just starting out and are not familiar with THE PROCESS, you may get discouraged too early into it. 

  • Learn about the PROCESS 

Often we just don’t know how things work and what to expect, so we cannot even prepare ourselves.

Ideally, you’d learn all about the process BEFORE you start working on something, but if you haven’t, now’s the time to dig deeper. 

First of all, most of what you’re experiencing is NORMAL. 

Are you surprised that after a hot summer, plants start to wither? Are you still shocked when you see birds flying away in search of a warmer place?

When the snow covers the ground, do you lose all hope to ever see green grass again? 

Most likely, no. 

Because you know it’s temporary, it’s cyclical. 

There are different stages in the process. There are ups, and there are downs. What you don’t want is to just ‚go home’, because you’ll have to start all over again. It’s easier to start where you’ve left. Remember, it’s easier to NOT STOP AT ALL, even if you need to slow down once in a while. 

  • Learn the Art of Inching Forward

What do I mean when I talk about Inching Forward? 

I mean taking the smallest possible action within your possibilities to just get you started, to just keep moving. 

That means suspending all judgment and leaving all the expectations outside – you just do something DESPITE, feeling discouraged. 

  • you open that file
  • you write one lousy sentence
  • you put your running shoes on
  • you exercise for 30 seconds

That’s when using a timer helps. Just set it for whatever seems feasible at the time, be it 15 minutes or 30 seconds. 

Remember that when you’re in a deep forest, you may not see your finish line, just trees, waist-high grass, and muddy path (or no path at all), but the only way is THROUGH. 

  • Dig into your WHYS and WHYNOTS

Usually, there’s an inner conflict ingrained in the whole process. With all that you have to gain in a longer perspective, there’s usually plenty you have to lose immediately. 

If you don’t make peace with it, you’ll feel resistance and resentment towards your dreams. How weird, right?!

Because let’s be honest, your dreams may rob you of your free time, fun. More than anything- it robs you of PLEASURE, very much like having kids (think sleepless nights, spending money on things you don’t really like, struggling on a day to day basis). They’ll rob you of your time, money, health, and beauty, but they (may) give you true happiness. And that’s what we’re really after here.

Because pleasure does not equal happiness, and happiness often cannot be associated with pleasure.

I hope these tips on overcoming discouragement help lessen the pain and gets you through this rough patch (or patches). 

Remember, most of the struggle lives in our heads, and there are many pathways to shift.

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