Discouragement is experienced by all of us who are pursuing a worthy objective, whether as a young child trying to master riding a bike, a student working towards a diploma, a man or woman striving to further their career, a business person competing in the marketplace, or a couple seeking happiness in their marriage.

In early childhood—when learning to eat with a spoon, say—our response to failure and parental encouragement is often one of frustrated anger, manifested by crying and throwing the spoon. This response is not the result of conscious thought but of emotion that boils to the surface involuntarily. Usually, it’s not the determination of the young child but the ongoing encouragement of a caring adult that ultimately leads to the mastery of eating without spilling.

Unfortunately, some of us have not outgrown the childish spoon-throwing reaction to difficulties; we let feelings rule rather than thought. I’ve been there, so I know what I’m talking about. I’ve found that anger, crying, and spoon-throwing don’t help to resolve a discouraging difficulty; they simply exacerbate it, producing more feelings of discouragement.

Here’s the grown-up cure:

  • Get a piece of paper and write the problem down, as well as your thoughts on how or why it is triggering the gloomy feeling(s). This forces you to reflect and get some perspective.
  • Share it with someone and ask for help or advice.
  • Develop one or more action steps to tackle the problem in a fresh way.
  • Ask God’s blessing on your action steps, and do them.

You’ll be amazed at the results. Let me share a couple of personal experiences with you.

Discouraged by ongoing marital difficulties, I used to withdraw—or sulk, as my wife called it—feeding the anger and hurt and entrenching the feelings of discouragement. When I wrote the problem and understood how it triggered discouragement, shared it with somebody, asked for advice, and prayed about it, I came up with the solution: quit sulking, put the problem on the table, talk it over with my spouse, and get counselling. I did those things, and it worked!

Another time, discouraged by an overwhelming business problem, I felt helpless and defeated. My feelings said, “What’s the use? Give up.” I almost did; but then, using my head instead of being guided by my feelings, I resorted to the method described above: writing and identifying, sharing and asking for advice, coming up with actions to address the problem, and praying while carrying them out. I and those who helped me were able to defeat discouragement and replace it with renewed hope and positive action, which produced continued corporate growth.

Very often, until you write it down—which requires reflection—you can see only the problem that feeds the discouragement, and not the solution that defeats it.

Why, my soul, are you downcast? Why so disturbed within me?
Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise him, my Saviour and my God.   —Psalm 42:5