2 Powerful Ways to Conquer Despair and Self-Doubt
We all struggle with it at some point: doubt, and worse — despair. If you’ve ever felt the cold, clammy hands of these two monsters wrapped around your neck, here are two ways to fight back:
1) Make a Gratitude File
Whether that file takes the form of a handwritten journal, an electronic note you keep on the computer, or even a jar of post it notes, make some place to collect everything you are grateful for, and make it a habit to fill it continually.
Gratitude is a powerful force for good — both secular and religious, faith-full and faith-less people acknowledge this to be true. When you are thankful to other people, let them know, by saying so, or even better, writing them a note*.
At the same time, make a copy of that note for yourself and put it in your Gratitude File.
And when you are thankful for things not caused by other people, things like sunlight and joy and serendipity, write that down too, and save it.
Then, when things are going badly (as they always tend to do at some point or another), and you can’t think of something to be thankful for, you have your Gratitude File to look back on.
The power of gratitude
The Apostle Paul once wrote:
See that no one repays anyone evil for evil but always seek to do good to one another and to everyone. REJOICE ALWAYS, pray without ceasing, GIVE THANKS IN ALL CIRCUMSTANCES…1 Thess 5:18 (emphasis added)
This is hard for us to do.
And there are times when we may ask why God expects us to give thanks when we are suffering through miserable circumstances.
But think of it in another way:
It’s not that God is expecting or requiring us to give thanks as if He demands our gratitude and doesn’t care that we are suffering.
Rather, He’s telling us that gratitude is the tool we can use to relieve some of those sufferings. And that we need to give thanks precisely when we are going through the worst of times, because that’s when we need gratitude most.
This injunction to “give thanks in all circumstances” is not an arbitrary demand — it’s a secret escape route from the worst of our pain.
Gratitude = health
Being grateful — truly, deeply grateful — for things improves not only your mood and perspective, but also your relationships, and even your physical health.
For example: Sometimes I struggle with sleep. I can’t fall asleep easily, and I keep waking up halfway through my sleep cycle, groggy and exhausted. When I finally get up, I’m often crabby and a bit depressed.
But one night, as I was spontaneously thanking God from the bottom of my heart for a gift he had given me (I stumbled on a memoir that really resonated with me and infused me with hope all day), I fell asleep and stayed asleep, totally at peace for the first time in I don’t know how long.
So keep a list, a jar, a box, a collection of everything you are thankful for. Be creative. List the big things and the small things.
But mostly, write down the things you are TRULY grateful for, not just the things other people say you should be grateful for. If you can’t think of anything right away, keep thinking until you’ve got one. And then save it.
When you are in a really bad mood, take out your Gratitude File and review your blessings. Linger and try to recall the state of mind you were in when you wrote those things down. It will change everything.
2) *Make a Self-Esteem File
Self-esteem is not arrogance or pride. Self-esteem can include humility.
True self-esteem (not a cheaply inflated ego) simply means knowing your actual worth, and not overestimating it nor underestimating it.
And you are worthwhile, even when you don’t always feel like it. That’s why you need a Self-esteem File. To remind yourself when you’ve lost sight of your worth.
The Christmas Card story
When I was in college, I was asked to help lead a small Bible study when the previous student leader graduated in the middle of the year.
At the time, the group was miniscule — consisting of maybe 6 people on a good day, sometimes as small as 3–4. Also, a lot of the members seemed to be interested in everything but studying the Bible.
I wanted to lead well, though I really had no idea what I was doing. But I tried, and even though my efforts more often than not seemed to be doing nothing, I kept on making study guides, managing contacts, sending out emails, buying pizza, doing whatever I could to keep the group afloat.
I was a one-woman team, and it was exhausting. At the end of the year, I had no idea if I’d actually accomplished anything or helped anyone.
But a year later, one of the former members who had graduated asked a mutual friend to give me a Christmas card. This is what was written in it:
During [our] last meeting, you asked what we learned… I’ve [learned] that God gives so that we may give in return…
Better things come when people give because…we move from selfishness (the root of all sin) to selflessness (the root of all true love). When we give…our universe expands…one who only takes [is] like a black hole that absorbs everything…and collapses.
The gift I give can never equal all that you’ve given us in all the work that you do behind the scenes…Thanks for everything
This note was so powerful and meaningful to me that I immediately made a copy of it and saved it. Not only did it tell me that all of my effort meant something to someone, it was also incredibly insightful about the concepts of giving and taking. (I loved the astronomy metaphor)
Recently, someone who read some of my writing sent me another note of encouragement, saying that they have read what I’ve written and it’s inspired them to write, too.
These kinds of messages are like wind in my sails. I don’t know if their writers know how much their words of kindness and support mean to me. But I do know that when I’m feeling badly about myself, filled with self-doubt or even self-loathing, these words have the ability to lift me up.
No doubt people have given you similar gifts in the past — maybe you have emails or cards or notes from clients, friends, even strangers who have commended you, encouraged you, thanked you for something.
After you’ve thanked them for their kindness, keep their notes. Keep their words. Write them down somewhere, and collect them so that you have something to hang on to in those inevitable moments when life is hard and you don’t feel like a good or worthy person.
Prepare your lifeboat
Start these two files now, when you are feeling (relatively) good. Because the storms will come, and when they do, these two things can provide anchors, and remind you of the truth, that:
- Life is worth living, because there are things in it you truly appreciate and things for which you are deeply grateful
- And you are worthy of life, because there are people out there who deeply appreciate you
You need to hang on to these truths in the midst of self-doubt and despair.
And the thing is, sometimes other people saying these things to you is not powerful enough to change a mind bound by doubt and despair. You need to say it to yourself. You need to believe it.
Believing requires proof.
And these two files will provide that proof.
So start your files now. Consider it an investment for a rainy day.
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