Five Empowering Responses to Doubt, Fear, and Discouragement

Have you ever thought of quitting your job, abandoning a dream, or giving up on a relationship?

Have you walked away from something you once declared was important, and later come to realize you were defeated by your own doubt, fear, or discouragement?

At some point, haven’t we all been overwhelmed with doubt, fear, or discouragement in the pursuit of great visions, aspiring dreams, and important goals. It is silly and irrational to think we won’t experience these feelings.

It is just easier to stay the course, accept where we are at, and take what we think is the safe route.

I know all about the safe route. I have taken it many times, and was recently reminded of an example. I wrote my first book, “How to Win the Achievement Game” in 1988. I hadn’t given it too much thought until I was reconnected with someone who told me they were still using the book. They asked me why I had not kept writing and speaking.

Good question! It is disappointing to say I simply took the safe route. I let doubt, fear, and discouragement sidetrack me.

“Do what you fear and fear disappears.” 

— Dr. David Schwartz

Fear and belief are two sides of the same coin. Fear is good when it alerts us to real and imminent danger. Fear is bad when it keeps us from taking action and persisting in the pursuit of our dreams and goals.

If we do not believe we can do something, we won’t invest ourselves fully in its accomplishment. If we fear we can’t do something we most likely won’t try. Doubt and fear crowd out the personal belief that fuels the courage to act.

“Discouragement clouds purpose, gives rise to fear and ultimately keeps us from striving…You can make some mistakes, even big mistakes and still prevail.”

— Jim Collins, “Good to Great”

Rick Warren, Pastor at Saddleback Church, one of the largest churches in the world was asked if he ever thought of quitting. He replied, “Yes, every Monday morning.” When asked what causes doubt and discouragement, Pastor Warren pointed to four contributing factors.

  1. Fatigue. When you’re physically or emotionally exhausted, you’re a prime candidate to be infected with discouragement. Your defenses are lowered and things can seem bleaker than they really are. This often occurs when you’re halfway through a major project and you get tired.
  2. Frustration: When unfinished tasks pile up, it’s natural to feel overwhelmed. And when trivial matters or the unexpected interrupt you and prevent you from accomplishing what you really need to do, your frustration can easily produce discouragement.
  3. Failure: Sometimes, your best laid plans fall apart — the project collapses — the deal falls through — no one shows up to the event. How do you react? Do you give in to self-pity? Do you blame others? As one man said, “Just when I think I can makes ends meet — somebody moves the ends! That’s discouraging!
  4. Fear: Fear is behind more discouragement than we’d like to admit. The fear of criticism (What will they think?); the fear of responsibility (What if I can’t handle this?); and the fear of failure (What if I blow it?) can cause a major onset of the blues.

Choosing to pursue our potential and make the contribution we are capable of making guarantees we will come face-to face with fear, doubt, and discouragement. In these moments we get to choose our response.

Here are five empowering responses to doubt, fear, and discouragement.

  1. Seek out and surround yourself with encouragement. Coaches to help you develop specific skills and capabilities. Mentors and friends to encourage and support you along the way.
  2. Revitalize your thinking. Jason Selk, author of “10-Minute Toughness,” coaches premier athletes how to perform under pressure. Selk says, “The most helpful method to stop self-doubt and negative thinking is thought replacement.” Selk offers the following suggestions.
    • Effective thought replacement occurs when you decide what you want to have happen and then think more often about what it will take to make it happen.
    • Whenever unproductive thoughts (thinking “don’t” or mental clutter) infringe, replace them with productive ones.
    • Replace all thoughts of self-doubt or negativity with thoughts of what it is that you want, and it will be much more likely to have those things occur.
  3. Take the next best step. Our next move is always our choice. Make the next move, however small, a positive one in the direction of your desired goal. Refocus, reorganize, and reprioritize by:
    • Making a list of everything that is keeping your from moving forward.
    • Taking a red pen out and cross off each item that you do not control or cannot act on.
    • What remains is what you can control and do something about.
  4. Focus on improvement versus perfection. Research presented by, Dr. Heidi Grant Halvorson, in “How We Achieve Our Goals” points out two important benefits.
    • First, when things get tough—when you are faced with complexity, time pressure, obstacles, or unexpected challenges—you don’t get so discouraged. You’re more likely to believe you can still do well if you just keep trying.
    • Second, when you do start to have doubts about how well you are doing, you are more likely to stay motivated anyway. Because even if you think succeeding will be difficult for you, you can still learn.
  5. Get your sleep and watch what you eat. Less than 5% of us can perform at peak effectiveness and efficiency on less than 7.5 to 8.5 hours of sleep. And we all know we would be better off reducing the consumption of simple carbohydrates, refined sugar, and caffeine.

“Twenty years from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do. So throw off the bowlines. Sail away from the safe harbor. Catch the trade winds in your sails. Explore. Dream. Discover.”

— Mark Twain

Question: Which of these strategies would help you most? You can leave a comment by clicking here.