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We dissolve stuck and rewrite patterns. We apply radical playfulness to life (when we feel like it!), embarking on internal adventures (credo of Safety First). We have a fake band called Solved By Cake. We build invisible sanctuaries, invent words and worlds, breathe awe and wonder.

We are not impressed by monsters. Except when we are. We explore the connections between internal territories and surrounding environment to learn what marvelously supportive delicious space feels like, and how to take exquisite care of ourselves. We transform things.* We glow wild.**

* For example: Desire, fear, worry, pain-and-trauma, boundaries, that problematic word which rhymes with flaweductivity.

** Fair warning: Self-fluency has been known to lead to extremely subversive behavior, including treasuring yourself unconditionally, unapologetically taking up space, experiencing outrageously improbable levels of self-acceptance, and general rejoicing in aliveness.


When you feel discouraged.

I’m not sure if you know Maryann. I mention her kind of a lot.

She’s one of the most thoughtful and worth-listening-to people I know.

Anyway, yesterday on Facebook she put out the question:

When you feel discouraged about your art or your business, what helps you keep going?

And there I was scribbling down all sorts of things in response.

Not because I’m a weird genius, but because ohmygod I get discouraged all the time. This is a part of my experience that I am achingly familiar with.

This is not advice.

Experience is so individual. That’s the ever-useful People Vary principle. And at the same time, we’re all in this together.

So my intention is not to tell you what to do/think/feel in times of discouragement.

It’s more the hope that something about this will spark your knowing about all the things that are true for you. And that this remembering of what works for you will be as useful to you as writing this down has been for me.

Some of what I know about discouragement. Starting points.

Reading notes of appreciation in my Box of Wonderful Things People Have Said.

Dancing. Remembering that growth is exponential, that beginnings take time and that you can never see all the progress while it’s underground.

Also: I’m constantly reminding myself that getting discouraged about business, art and creative-expression is normal.

It’s heavy identity stuff happening. Of course sometimes I’ll feel discouraged.

There’s nothing like having a good cry.

And bouncing on the tiny trampoline.

Sometimes I like to think about past clients and students, and the beautiful things they have accomplished.

Here’s a useful thing that is always reassuring to remember:

Seeing our own radiance is pretty much impossible.

What else? Having conversations with my monsters, walls and sad, scared selves.

Taking a bath. Running away. Getting offline. Going to the Playground. Getting a burst of color. Popsicle stick permission slips. Roller Derby. Singing sea songs. Hiding.

I remind myself of what I want to remember.

I remember that there are people who live congruently — they live according to what they want, what they know and how they want to be.

And not in some high-powered Donald Trump-ian way, but with simplicity and grace.
And I have met some of these people: I know them.

Like my teacher Andrey Lappa, my delightful uncle Svevo, my sweet friend Hiro, the hilarious Barbara Sher. There is hope.

I tune into unlikely sources of support.

The unexpected internal resources and deep reserves of strength that I always forget about.

And I list all the times that support did come. Or it was there but I was tripping over it.

As well as the reasons that now is not then, and why things can in fact be better, different and less painful this time around.

Without forcing gratitude (because aaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaagh), I look for non-obvious sources of support to lean into: oxygen, gravity, the way trees just stand there full of power.

Then there’s the part about context.

Is this bout of losing the faith at all related to hormonal stuff? Weather stuff? Time of year? The memory of an awful thing from then?

Could it be triggered by External Crap (tragedies and catastrophes, recent political events, someone else’s stuff)?

More often than not, there’s a lot of gunk that is not mine sneaking into my space and holding a dance party there. That part is not mine. That’s mine. Not mine.

Speaking of dance parties…

Turn out all the lights. Put on some 80s music. And dance up a storm.

That pretty much always helps — for me. And it’s not that this makes me feel better about business or artistic endeavors. It’s about coming back inside of what’s important to me:

Body, rhythm, pulse, breath, patterns, structure, form, possibility, flow.

And of course, as much mad flailing as possible.

What else?

Wearing a costume. Being five years old and having superpowers like Joseph.

Arts and crafts. Construction paper and magic markers.

Reassuring myself about the fractal flowers. Changing something in the video game.

Yesterday I went to the Bolivia post because a bunch of you referenced it, and you know what?

Seeing two hundred and thirty eight comments, and the level of self-inquiry and kindness there…. it amazes me. I find it completely astounding that a topic so painful and so controversial — discussed on the internet — didn’t turn into a total troll-fest or an angry fight. We may have even accidentally screwed with Godwin’s Law, the most true thing in the known universe.

Mostly though, I go to the Book of Me.

That’s my version of the Book of You, and where all this useful information belongs. And where I’m going to put this as soon as I finish writing.

Discouragement is such a ridiculously huge topic that I kind of wish I could give it an entire chapter, but even just a sticky note about three things to try or one reassuring truth to remember. It all helps.

And even if I don’t remember, or I don’t record the information I’ve collected about myself and my process, something about the act of noticing is strengthening the neural pathways of exiting the land of discouragement.

So everything counts. It all helps me to feel more at home in those less familiar parts of my internal kingdom.

Can we collect more ideas? And comment zen for today.

What do you know about discouragement and what has helped you come back from it or interact with it?

I would love to keep adding ideas to the pile. Please share.

As always, people vary. And nonviolence wins. We all have our stuff. We’re all working on our stuff. It’s a process.

We let people have their own experience and we don’t tell them what to do.

We own that whatever we give people is our take on something, not fact.

“Something I personally find useful…” versus “This is what you need to do.”

That’s it. Love to everyone who reads. Hugs for the hard, because this is hard. Huge appreciation for Maryann, who keeps writing about everything I want to read.

p.s. Thank you, WordPress, for showing me something I had completely forgotten: that I already wrote a post on this very topic titled On Discouragement eleven months ago. I am hilarious.

17 Responses to When you feel discouraged.

  1. Jesse
    Twitter: persnicket

    Here is the strange spark this is has generated in me: memory of all the times I have reread, in bits and pieces, old journals when I have come across them while cleaning or moving books. That’s a sort of Book of Me, but not the nice kind; the kind that only remember one certain time, with all its catastrophes and depressions and events and truths. They are not the truth, but they were true back then. And funny how I never find myself reading the good kind of old journal, the kind where I think and write about good epiphanies, or what got me through, or beautiful moments. Some of that is in my blog; some of it is in my Shiva Nata/Rally journals.

    Although I’ve thought and thought about sure, the Book of Me, awesome, I don’t have a physical one that I can stumble upon in the course of a day. So although I have these physical journals of old, occasionally bad times, I don’t have a counterbalancing Journal of Good. And I think now that I need one, because it is good to stumble into (or consciously seek out) the good and not just the bad. Just because those are the journals I have doesn’t mean that’s what I’m limited to.

    Ahhhhhh <—— sound of a tiny wall dissolving that I didn't even know existed.

  2. J. Martin-Cox
    Twitter: JMartinCox

    I wrestle with discouragement all the time. I suffer from depression, so I tend to inflict myself with self-doubt and discouragement at the slightest provocation.

    I am not very good at overcoming it, but there are a few things that help me:

    1. Play with my sons. The trick here is to let go and forget about whatever is discouraging me and just be. Be in the moment and just play. It does not really matter what we play. It could be Nerf Wars, building with Legos, soccer in the park, or whatever. As long as I ignore my demons and just be with them, I almost always come away feeling better.

    2. Fly Fishing. I only get to do this in the summer, but a few hours alone on a stretch of beautiful river does something to me. It is as if the water whispers words of encouragement and solace, quiet words that cut through the noise in my head and speaks to the part of me that knows but has forgotten. Norman Maclean was haunted by waters; I am healed by them.

    3. A good laugh. I am the type that, when down, listens to sad songs, watches sorrowful movies, or reads tragic stories. I wallow in my discouragement. it is not helpful, but it is what I do. A good laugh, especially if brought out by a talk with a friend, helps put things into perspective. That is usually what I need when I’m discouraged.

    4. A date with my wife. Corny, perhaps, but true. When married with children, life is busy. The time we used to have just for the two of us has been taken over by other commitments. Taking an evening to reconnect, to focus on just us, to share my doubts and hear sage words of advice from the person I respect and trust most in the world, and to give encouragement and advice or sympathy in return… I do not have words to fully explain it. It is so easy to lose that contact and to forget why you chose that person. Those evening remind me and ground me.

    I hope this helps or inspires.

  3. Kevin Ball
    Twitter: kbal11

    Some tools I use:

    1) Read Pema Chodron. Her writings are a fantastic way to bring myself back to perspective.

    2) Go running. This works even better frustrations than discouragement, but it works for both. Get frustrated energy out plus trigger endorphins… yay!

    3) Writing. Starting to write about what I’m discouraged about seems to help release the blockages and get me back to the bigger picture of what I’m trying to accomplish, and where I’m going in my life. I’m not good at writing for public consumption (and I’m amazed you do with such regularity) but even writing privately helps a lot.

    4) Remind myself that this stuff is hard for everyone. Success goes to the stubborn. :)

  4. Beth says:

    Two things from my hat to add to the possibilities pile: talking about how I feel to someone who under no circumstances will reply (usually while having my good cry), and making myself a nice warm dark nest of blankets and staying there for a while.

    The first one is because I need to cope with problems emotionally before I’m ready to consider solutions or otherwise address them in a thinky sort of way. My friends mean well, but they do it the other way around. The second one is because when I’m discouraged I feel vulnerable, and nesting down into somewhere dark and warm and cosy makes me feel safe. Also, sometimes when I’m feeling discouraged it’s disguised exhaustion, and I wind up taking a nap and that helps too.

    Hugs, hugs, hugs all around.

  5. Ty Barbary
    Twitter: tybarbary

    Some of the things that help me when I get down about stuff:

    – Going outside and breathing the wind.
    – Opening my eyes and looking, really looking, somewhere that isn’t a digital screen. It helps to ground me in What Is Here and What Is Real, rather than all the turmoil in my head.
    – Closing my eyes and going elsewhere. One of my favorites is to a world with skyscraper-sized trees and gargantuan above-ground knobby roots. I am so very small there, and there is so much air and space, that it’s hard to feel constricted and stifled and troubled.
    – Digging up something I’ve done (written, usually) that I’m insanely proud of as proof that I can totally rock it.
    – Reminding myself that it’s okay to get cranky. Accepting it, un-invalidating it, and then moving on to something simple and enjoyable. Often a video game or a book, both of which put me in a different head than my own.
    – Whining to my partner. I can get things off my chest and get just the right balance of encouragement and sympathy from him.

    Thank you for writing this post; I’m glad for the nudge to make this list, ’cause I don’t think I’ve ever grouped these things together in a mini-toolkit until now. And they are all very useful to me. :)

  6. Jen
    Twitter: modernhypatia

    (Hi, this is first comment here!)

    I’m slowly working on my Book of Me (using VoodooPad, a Mac program that works like a computer-based wiki). I have a list of starting points at the top of my index page that includes a page for “remembering the awesome” (the link name for that page is alightindarkplaces for bonus fun.)

    On there, I have comments friends have made over time about why I’m awesome. (I went and solicited a bunch last spring when stuff at the previous job was really hard, and I’m so glad I did. Re-reading them now reminded me of a better way to write cover letters for the ongoing job search, too!)

    Other stuff that helps me:
    – Putting on music that makes me happy. I keep a playlist of this – the stuff that I can’t help smiling over.

    – Petting the cat. Purring always improves my day.

    – Thinking about what my Ideal Awesome Self would do to solve a problem, and trying at least some of that out. (I find that even a little step can make a big difference. My Ideal Awesome Self is less scared to try stuff, sometimes.)

    – Doing something that has a tangible result for a bit. Knitting. (There is more scarf). Cooking. (There is yummy food). Putting books away. (There is more floor).

    – And for some reason, doing something that I’ve been really dragging my feet about gives me a huge boost: something in my brain goes “See, you did that tedious thing, you can do lots of cool stuff now!”

  7. chacha1 says:

    I am a board member for an athletic/educational non-profit. Volunteer board = incessant strife and incompatible personal agendas. Discouragement? Well known.

    But I am almost never discouraged about everything all at once. It’s just one thing at a time, most of the time.

    Most effective for me: abandon the discouraging thing – temporarily, but for as long as I need to in order to restore internal equilibrium. Just stop engaging. Leave it alone. Go do something else.

    Preferably something fun where I alone control the outcome, or where there is no goal (like dancing, or playing with beads, or rearranging my furniture, or just sitting on my patio with a cup of tea and watching the hummingbird vortex).

  8. Claire
    Twitter: clairetompkins

    Heavy identity stuff happening: yeah, that’s discouraging. I feel like that baby bird wandering around asking “are you my mother?”

    The old is dropping away and the new isn’t here yet. So, where am I? Who am I?

    I hope the progress is proceeding underground. I could really go for actually seeing some of it though.

    When I feel discouraged is unfortunately the worst time for me to be able to come up with helpful ideas, so thank you for offering yours (all of you).

    I do have one idea. Today I’m volunteering for a few hours. I know that shifting my focus to other people’s needs and problems helps me. Partly because it distracts me and partly because it feels good to help. It’s also interacting with people in person instead of sitting here by myself: that’s good for me.

    I don’t have a Book of Me yet but I think I need one.

  9. Miss P.
    Twitter: chemieemma

    When I am discouraged from going on with whatever is important it helps me to

    – check if all my physiological needs are met. If I’m tired, thirsty, hungry, or have sat still too long my mood often turns bad. Also hormones, icky things those.
    – Generally walking or knitting help me get through stuff. Rhythm and patterns help me untangle what is happening in my mind. (Still too new to yoga to see if that would work as well.)
    – I talk to friends or my mom and whine about how bad I am at everything and let them laugh at me and tell me what a great person I am. (I am working on internalising this process)
    – I sit in my safe space chair and write. I write adjectives about the bothering thing and about how I want it to be when it is resolved. Usually that gives me a hint about what to change.

  10. helen
    Twitter: SneakyEli

    Yes, the Bolivia post. It worked because it was hidden under a veil. Clever one. And the comments were really great too.

  11. claire
    Twitter: claireofRA

    A few quick thoughts:

    I take a break from whatever’s discouraging me and do something else. Go outside, read, watch something on tv, mainly put my mind elsewhere. Distraction essentially. Perhaps not the healthiest choice but undeniably useful.

    I have an “encouragement” label in my email when people write/post nice comments. I’ve never actually needed to look at them- knowing they are there has been enough of late.

    Celebrate and appreciate small successes.

    Have playlists of music you love ready to go. I’ve got 3 go-to’s to boost my mood. One makes me feel like dancing, so that’s always good.

  12. Christine Myers
    Twitter: ladychrismyers

    My 2 and 1/2 year old nephew is the number one thing I go to to feel better. Making him smile is so easy, and he reminds me to be silly and notice the special in the ordinary (how awesome are bubbles?!).

    Currently I’m facing discouragement over starting a new website for at-promise youth; what keeps me going there is remembering the struggling teens I’ve known and tapping into my passionate desire to make their lives better.

    Hanging out here and my other favorite blog communities.

  13. Danielle
    Twitter: somaphile

    I really needed this today. Thank you.

  14. Do Mi Stauber
    Twitter: dmstauber

    Hmm…off the top of my head.

    Finishing something I’m putting off.

    Creating something. Anything.

    Reading my Praises file. I’ve had it for about twenty years now, so there’s lots of good stuff in there. Recently I’ve started using the star in gmail for the same thing.

    Talking to the monsters (thank you, Havi!!!!)

    Talking to my partner, my sister, or the friend who reliably tells me I’m awesome in a way I can believe.

    Having a cry.

    I still struggle with this, though. Often I take a long nap, or two, or three first, then finally get to the stuff that works.

  15. Amber
    Twitter: AmberStrocel

    Making something with my hands nearly always pulls me through. There’s something about making something, and holding it, that justifies my existence.

    Playing outside with my children is also awesome.

    And sometimes writing about it, if I can do that, helps a lot. It’s making something good out of something not-so-good, and that’s redemptive.

  16. Qrystal
    Twitter: Qrystal

    Ohhhh I had a fairly recent realization about discouragement that really put it into a new perspective for me:

    discourage = dis + COURAGE!

    So there’s some missing courage that may be causing the feeling! After realizing this, I can ask myself what can help rebuild the courage, or figure out if the discouragement is just a temporary rough spot that isn’t really affecting my overall courage, just the momentary courage level.

    And then, when I think more about what reduced courage actually MEANS, it tells me there is some fear. As is often pointed out around here, fear always has a reason that makes sense somehow, so maybe the fear just needs to be acknowledged and reassured. Maybe the fear can be counteracted by enCOURAGEment (an injection of courage), even if sometimes that means I need to bolster my courage with a little itty bit of pretending to be more courageous than I’m feeling: switch to RAWR mode, see what happens. What sometimes happens is that the discouraging factor turns out to be afraid of its own shadow, and that I just needed to speak up by pointing out the things opposing the discouraging things before the discouragement would turn tail and whimper away.

    This is something I’ve been meaning to put into the Book of Me, but I had realized it just awhile before starting The Book, so it didn’t get in there yet. Copying pasting! (My Book of Me is part of my digital journal, with all sorts of other useful thoughts and ideas.)

  17. Sara
    Twitter: cyberdelia333

    Hi Havi,

    Been reading your blog for awhile now, and I thank you for the permission to talk to my monsters! It’s helped so much. However, I talk more often to Erma, my elephant-in-the-room that is my unrealized dream of finishing my novel. I’ve been talking to her all year and so far, it’s been great! So I’m sort of a fangirl of yours now (and will become a Shivanaut very soon—dying to, in fact!).

    I had to comment today because as I read this post, I first read the line “having conversations with…our scared selves” as having conversations with our SACRED selves…and immediately knew I needed to talk to Goddess Me. Talk about an epiphany! I’m off to have a new conversation now. :)

    Thanks so much for all you do.

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