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ninjacolin's avatar

When things have to be difficult for a long time, how do you minimize bouts of self-pity and despair and get back on course?

Asked by ninjacolin (13674 points ) February 4th, 2014

Sometimes endurance is needed to get from one place in life to another. Eventually, you will get to the other side of the course but along the way sometimes the task feels hopeless, slow, too difficult, meaningless, or impossible. Sometimes it feels like you don’t deserve the end goal. Sometimes you feel bad for not being further along by now. Sometimes your mistakes come back to haunt you, even if only in your mind.

In every sober moment, however, you realize that you will eventually get to your goal, that you will make it to the end just as you have so many times before. When you consult with your peers, even they believe in your imminent success.

Still, some time passes and you find the bouts of despair return again and again. While immaterial perhaps in retrospect, in any present moment these feelings quite materially suck away precious minutes or hours or days from your attention and focus on the prerequisites of your goal; They extend the already difficult course.

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When a bout of anxiety, self-pity, doubt, despair, or self-deprecation is slowing your progress how do you navigate it to minimize the inhibiting effects? How do you overcome it and regain perspective and focus quickly? How do you turn it around effectively?

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21 Answers

josie's avatar

Go to a VA hospital and check out some of guys with no arms, or legs and a permanent catheter where their dick used to be. I used to work with some of them before they got hurt. They would love the company plus it will put things in a proper perspective.

marinelife's avatar

One. Go through all of the successful steps you have already taken toward your goal. Look back at how far you have come, and take pride in it.

Two. Get in touch with nature and/or your body. Have a workout or take a walk outside. Put aside your slog for the moment.

El_Cadejo's avatar

Whenever it gets really bad for me I find myself thinking, this fucking blows and it can’t get shittier than things have been going for me lately. I think that “realization” of it can’t get shittier makes me start to look at things more positively when they go right. It usually gets me out of my funk.

talljasperman's avatar

Enjoy the journey and not the destination. I’m sure that if some university were to grant me a doctorate in Law that I would not love it as much had I not fought for it… I’m not saying that I don’t want a honorary doctorate, I’ll take what I can get.

Cruiser's avatar

Appreciate what good you have in your life however little it may be and don’t let your past get in the way of your future.

ibstubro's avatar

Honest answer?

I think about killing myself. Not the abstract, but the details. How when and where.
I’m 53 and it’s not happened. I go longer and longer periods where I don’t give it serious consideration. Might be over a year, years now since I thought of it.

Really, it depends on your center. Mentally, either destiny controls you, or you control your destiny.

funkdaddy's avatar

Had a couple year period where things just kept going wrong. Not things I had control over, and not trivial things that go away after a while. I just got really numb to it.

I don’t know if it will work for everyone, but for me, a few realizations helped

- Parts of my life that I did have control over were still there, and the decisions that put me on those paths were still valid. Those parts were just as real as whatever was dominating my thoughts at the moment. Switching to those “other things” can quiet your mind until it’s ready to be objective.
– No matter how bad the day before was, the next day really could be good, don’t be so buried you can’t appreciate it
– I really could handle it. Once you realize that I think the panic and anxiety disperse and you can move forward, even if it’s not perfect.

From your tone here, you can handle it too. Good luck to you.

ninjacolin's avatar

@Cruiser can you elaborate on that verb? “Appreciate”.. what does that look like as a process? How do I go about appreciating the good things in my life?... Is that a method you do? Is it like a meditation? Have you had good results? Can you give an example from your memory? (Thank you!)
@marinelife made a similar suggestion: “Go through all of the successful steps you have already taken toward your goal. Look back at how far you have come, and take pride in it.
The “Go through..” part of the process I get, that makes sense.. but what does that “Take pride” part look like in practice? this seems like a silly question even to me but I realize it’s somehow important. What is the method for taking pride in something you’ve done in the past?

@ibstubro sounds like you focus on the new task (killing yourself) until you get distracted by other things and therby procrastinate yourself back to work!

kevbo's avatar

What you describe is an ebb and flow of good times and bad. But there is a observer or point of observation of this ebb and flow that does not change and is not changeable. It somehow continues unfazed regardless of the disposition of what is observed. If you shift your attention to this place, you can rest in a constant flow of peacefulness.

9doomedtodie's avatar

In such times, this beautiful quote helps me alleviate the pain.

Frodo: I wish the ring had never come to me. I wish none of this had happened.
Gandalf: So do all who live to see such times. But that is not for them to decide. All we have to decide is what to do with the time that is given to us.There are other forces at work in this world Frodo, besides the will of evil. Bilbo was meant to find the Ring. In which case, you were also meant to have it.

stanleybmanly's avatar

I switch on the tv and dial up Fox. Nothing surpasses a parade of fools for snapping one from self pity.

Symbeline's avatar

I don’t do much. I adapt, and let it roll. I mean what else am I going to do? Anyways I figure, if it doesn’t kill me, shit will go on. It has before, and surely it will do so again. Maybe I’ve not suffered big things in my life, or I’m just that awesome. I don’t know. it’s Fluther’s job to tell me, anyway
My analogy for this is that everyone is in a river. Then you survive how you can. Go with the flow and try to grab on to a log or branch to help out. It’s what I do. Or try to swim up the waterfall and become something, or wait for some guy in a kayak to save you, or maybe mysterious men with hooks on lines will capture you and you’ll never be heard from again. Everyone wants to reach the shore, problem is, you’ll only reach it when you’re dead, so might as well enjoy the ride.
I do not see my defeatism as a weakness, because I highly doubt that anyone who would contest this are much stronger than me. Unless they have a child, or several of them. But this is a river I know nothing of. Want no part of it, either.

I don’t believe that things happen for a reason unless it has to do with science and survival, and at that point you don’t have much say in anything, I guess. Not that said reasoning is what I go by when dealing with things, it’s what comes after lol. When something happens, truth is I don’t really think about what’s happening, I just either rush through, or hide. Then some day I will be dead and won’t have to deal with anything, but until then I can only do my best. I don’t really have any goals anyway, nor do I care to have people in my life. I won’t fall, at least not until I do, no?

Cruiser's avatar

@ninjacolin It can be as simple as taking a piece of paper and writing down the good things in your life, anything no matter how small. You can start with any friends you have, or family members, a pet, the hobbies or good things you like to do, songs you like to hear on the radio, food you enjoy to eat. Be the optimist and fill your cup half full with the things that make you smile or you look forward to happening in your life. Truly it is the small things in life we overlook and take for granted that are the foundation of our happiness and they do add up…you just have to take the time to appreciate them.

Cruiser's avatar

@Symbeline You are just that awesome!

thorninmud's avatar

There’s an old record in Zen literature of an interchange between a monk and his teacher, Tozan. Back then, monasteries were unheated and poorly insulated, and the monks had few warm clothes. Winters were long and punishing. Summers posed their own challenges. So this monk asked Tozan, “Cold and heat descend upon us. How can we avoid them?”. Tozan said, “Why don’t you go where there is no cold or heat?”. The monk asked, “Where is the place where there is no cold or heat?”, and Tozan answered, “When cold, let the cold kill you. When hot, let the heat kill you”.

Even though the monk’s question was about cold and heat, it’s really broader than that: “We’re always coming up against one obstacle after another. How can we avoid them?” Maybe he had become a monk in the hope of learning some mental discipline that would put him out of the reach of difficulty, away from cold and heat. Tozan’s first answer must have perked his ears up: “Why don’t you go where there are no obstacles?”. “Where’s that?”. Tozan’s second answer must have dashed the monk’s hopes of escape: “When cold, let the cold kill you”. What did he mean by that?

Consider the nature of obstacles: They’re impediments that stand between where you are now and where you want to be. You’ve set a goal, imagining a “future you” that’s in some way better off than “present you”. But here’s this unpleasantness standing in the way. Our first instinct is to slay the obstacle, figuratively speaking. But, as the monk has discovered, another is right down the road. We love stories about heroes who vanquish obstacle after obstacle on the way to their goals, because they nourish our fantasies about getting to be that upgraded future you. “I can realize my dream, leaving a trail of slain obstacles in my wake”. That’s compelling imagery. How many of our favorite stories have that theme?

But Tozan suggests another way. He suggests that the “obstacles” aren’t obstacles in themselves. They become obstacles by virtue of this little mental game we play, where we separate ourselves from our present circumstances and project that self out into the future. That self that exists apart from present circumstances is just an idea. There’s no such thing. With the idea of such a self, obstacles appear, They go together. This raises an interesting possibility.

What if the “place where there is no heat or cold” is also the place where this idea of a self separate from circumstances has been dismissed? What if the way to vanquish the obstacle, this unpleasant circumstance, is to stop seeing it as something separate from you, standing in your way? To do that would mean to radically shift your understanding of who you are, and the nature of goals. You might well find that your idea of self doesn’t survive that process. And neither will the obstacle.

ibstubro's avatar

That’s pretty close, @ninjacolin.

ninjacolin's avatar

@thorninmud that’s an amazing bit of thought. I don’t know what else to ask you except.. could you tell me more about this somehow? Seems like you’re only scratching the surface. Either that or maybe I totally get the implication.. I’m not certain which one it is.

funkdaddy's avatar

@ninjacolin – sounds very much like Buddhism’s Four Noble Truths (more).

One of the things that wasn’t immediately apparent when I read through some buddhist thinking was that the word “suffering” is used a lot, but doesn’t exactly equate with the term “suffering” in English. It’s more like “unease” or “discomfort” or even “turmoil”. Probably a combination of those.

I keep trying to write you a one liner to sum up Buddhism and can’t. Better just to study. I think if the Four Noble Truths and the Eightfold Path ring true for you, then it may have some of the answers you’re looking for.

thorninmud's avatar

@ninjacolin There’s a poem by Wallace Stevens that gets at this more elegantly than I ever could:

The Snow Man

One must have a mind of winter
To regard the frost and the boughs
Of the pine-trees crusted with snow;

And have been cold a long time
To behold the junipers shagged with ice,
The spruces rough in the distant glitter

Of the January sun; and not to think
Of any misery in the sound of the wind,
In the sound of a few leaves,

Which is the sound of the land
Full of the same wind
That is blowing in the same bare place

For the listener, who listens in the snow,
And, nothing himself, beholds
Nothing that is not there and the nothing that is.

@funkdaddy English translators have had fits trying to translate dukkha because of its breadth of meaning. “Anxiety” covers more of the bases than “suffering” does, I think. Anxiety has the element of projection into the future that takes garden variety pain and upgrades it to the level of dukkha. Talking about dukkha, the Buddha said that even joyful experiences are dukkha, because they’re accompanied by the anxiety that the joy won’t last.

ninjacolin's avatar

Is dukkha comparison?

thorninmud's avatar

Not really. Dukkha is a sense of disharmony, of friction, of resistance, of things being amiss. As @funkdaddy said, Buddhism is entirely about what dukkha is, what causes it (and comparison does enter into the causes) and how to resolve it.

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