How to Avoid the Depression Caused by Repeated Failure?
I’ve been thinking a lot lately about the concept of moving up in life, not by getting bigger house, better car, better pay-check, prettier family, etc. But moving up in life by pushing forward, continually, to improve yourself.
Improving your own habits, goals, skills, lifestyle, so forth.
A key concept I keep hitting is what doesn’t work: it doesn’t work to try making huge leaps from point a: where I am now to point z: where I want to be ultimately.
That’s where so much discouragement and depression comes from.
Leaping into Depression
We try to improve, but we try to improve across a vast distance.
We try to leap tall buildings in a single bound, and we’re not up to the task, either in willpower or muscle power or skill level or appropriate systems.
There’s a lot that goes into success at higher levels, across all fields/areas. We often don’t discern those details when we’re way down below, looking up.
We read about ‘X habits of successful people’, and jump to some silly conclusions:
Okay, X person is making X money and succeeding in X area, and she does Y and Z habits, so I’ll add those habits and then I’ll get the same X success in X area.
We forget that what we see is only a little piece of a very large picture. It’s not the whole picture.
Those Y and Z habits aren’t telling us the story of her long hours of deliberate practice, her conscious choices to eliminate distractions, her hard-won ability to focus, her dedication, her mastery of certain skills gained by rather a lot of work, so forth.
So we work really hard on those two habits and then…
…we fail, because we can’t even achieve the two habits, because we’re asking too much of ourselves(run a marathon when you haven’t exercised in a year), or
…we fail, even though we establish the two habits, because we’re working on a false premise (if I achieve the two habits, I will achieve a similar success).
Loss of Purpose, Loss of Hope
This kind of failure quickly leads to depression. We feel worthless. We feel like it’s hopeless to try. We feel like we can’t achieve the things that we must achieve. Or we feel like even when we do achieve something, we don’t get the desired end.
So, we ask ourselves, what’s the point?
And we find it a difficult question to answer.
Without an answer to that question, we can’t come up with a reason to try again.
With no reason to try again, we find ourselves slipping down, losing ground we’ve already gained, and feeling more and more like it’s all hopeless, it’s all worthless, we’ll never achieve, there’s no point in trying.
We can avoid this spiral of depression with two simple moves:
- We focus on moving from Point A to Point B, and
- We adjust our expectations to match our achievements.
Point A to Point B
Moving successfully from Point A to Point B is the alternative to attempting, unsuccessfully, to teleport from Point A to Point Z.
It starts with humility.
It starts with recognizing that Point Z, that high-achieving, mastery level, simply isn’t in the realm of possibility for me right now. It’s a future, way-off, maybe-one-day-I’ll-get-there mountain peak to gaze at.
It can inspire us, if we see it as a pinnacle, a distant point of possibility, a beacon of promise.
It will beat us down if we see it as an obligation, a requirement, a thing we must do/be right now.
The goal must be the very next step. The next level. The short little climb right in front of us. Point B.
Adjusting What We Expect
We let go of the false premise that grabbing a couple of good habits will guarantee us a similar success to someone else. Instead, we recognize that success is cumulative and involves factors we may not see.
It starts with defining our own success.
It starts with looking realistically at the outcome of any given habit. A habit of writing 500 words a day will, at the end of a month, give me 15,000 written words. It will not give me a published book, an expert status, a popular blog, or a writing career.
I can take those 15,000 words and keep adding to them.
And I can get to those other goals. But 500 words a day x 30 days = 15,000 words. No more, no less.
And you know what? 15,000 words is great. It’s the stepping stone that will help you climb to Point C.
Pursue the Small Wins
We’re after an ongoing series of small wins.
What’s the next step?
What’s the next level?
How do you take your current skill forward just a little?
What’s the point of improvement for you, right now?
There’s your small win. There’s your next success.