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5 Quick Wins When You Feel Defeated

The best way to move forward when you feel defeated is a simple process of following 5 quick steps:

  • Confrontation
  • Pragmatism
  • Gratitude
  • Strategy
  • Action

“In every battle there comes a time when both sides consider themselves beaten, then he who continues the attack wins.”

Ulysses S. Grant

1. Confrontation – Own your emotions, do feel defeated

Negativity is not something that we allow ourselves to experience very often. Not just by ourselves, but by society’s standards, negativity is considered a bad thing and should be avoided at all costs. There is no denying that maintaining a positive attitude is a really important aspect of our overall level of happiness. However, the worst thing we can do in a difficult situation is to force ourselves to be positive without facing our real feelings.

Denying our real feelings in a difficult scenario and avoiding facing them can cause an even bigger emotional turmoil as there is no problem-solving without understanding the root and cause of the problem. If we deny the existence of the issue, how do we get a clarity and understanding on what’s causing our pain?

There is a difference between dwelling on painful feelings and to assess them and face them. I am by no means advocating self pity, there is no need to use your pain as an excuse to feel sorry for yourself. Simply face your issues and allow yourself to experience whatever emotions you are experiencing in that moment. Be kind enough to yourself to allow anger, frustration, sadness or remorse wash over you. Admit that you feel pain.

Admit that you feel stuck. There is nothing wrong with that, it happens to all of us. Admitting our real feelings is the first step to get ourselves of a miserable or painful situation. If screaming helps, do it. If you want to take out your resentment, anger or any negative feelings on a pillow (never on other people though, needless to say). Take a long walk and cry your eyes out. You deserve to experience your emotions as they are. Feel the pain, you are allowed to.

2. Pragmatism – Get a more realistic point of view

Sad or stressful life events often bring negative emotions that trigger our insecurities. When our deep-set insecurities are awoken it is hardly a surprise that our situation seems hopeless, our options and abilities limited. When you catch yourself using words like always, never, impossible, awful, ruined or disastrous, you can be sure that you’re caught up in black and white thinking.

This sort of thinking that psychology professionals call splitting is a very natural evolutionary defence mechanism, a reaction to life-threatening scenarios. Back in the days of actual daily physical danger, when faced with danger, we had to make a snap decision and act on it. There is no time for evaluating ideas, there’s no ‘maybe this’, or ‘perhaps that’. We either freeze, run or fight – that is the fight or flight response. However, we left the days behind of physical danger therefore these responses a bit over over the top most of the time and not always particularly useful in situations that require calm assessment.

What is much more useful is to think rationally in stressful and emotionally draining situations. There is one quick exercise that is used in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy. Create a template (either on paper or on your computer, I personally just use Google Docs) based on the example below:


3. Gratitude – Be grateful

“Gratitude works because, as a way of perceiving and interpreting life, it recruits other positive emotions that have direct physical benefits, most likely through the immune system or endocrine system.”

There is a significant amount of space taken up on the the internet to hold all articles about the benefits of gratitude and I’m sure this advice is something you have come across before.

A quick reminder how being grateful can help you:

  • It can reduce stress and anxiety
  • It improves sleep (well that is a given as insomnia is directly related to stress and anxiety and negative, out-of-control feelings and thoughts in general)
  • Think more clearly – it is easier to make better decisions when we feel our life isn’t that gloomy after all
  • Boost creativity – forcing your mind to think about positive things can ignite your creative brain.

Be Grateful.The problem is, it is remarkably hard to be grateful for anything in stressful times. I could never quite manage to do this on my own, without any help, it simply does not occur to me unless I am reminded. I need visual aids.

I have a nice images like the one presented here printed out, put in frames or simply pinned on my cork board or held by a magnet on my fridge. It sounds a bit excessive but with all seriousness, you can’t have enough of these in your home.

Some people I know write down everything they grateful for in a gratitude journal and some put them as little notes in a see through jar that sits somewhere visible such as a coffee table. Gratitude is a useful exercise and if visual aids work better for you, there is no harm or shame in trying one of the recommended methods.

4. Strategy – Assess your situation and options

I know, I know. I can almost hear you say “But I don’t have any options!” and I get it, you wouldn’t despair if you felt you had any options. The thing is, though, you always do indeed, have options (and I know you know this but I swear it helps reading it over and over again, it re-enforces the message).

If you followed the previous three steps you’d be in a much calmer mindset now, and that is precisely that place where you can start thinking about taking actions. Before actions, there should come strategy and the first step of that is to assess your options.

In a previous post, I discussed a few useful methods for brainstorming and these could be tremendously helpful in assessing your situation and options. One of the biggest barriers in making dramatic change in our life is our inability to see how we will get from where we are now to where we want to be. We feel overwhelmed and our situation seems much more hopeless than it actually is.

Thinking about your options logically is the best you can do to move things forward – it brings control back over your situation and reduces the effects of the emotional overwhelm.

5. Action – Take action to move forward

“Action is the foundational key to all success”

Pablo Picasso

The most important step in getting over a setback is to take action. Almost any action would do, but after assessing your situation you’re almost certainly ready to make some educated decisions and start doing helpful and productive things.

 A few simple reminders to help you take action and move forward when you feel defeated:

  • Don’t listen to the negative voice – doubt is ok. Acknowledge its presence, be happy about the fact that your defence system is working. It is normal to have doubts and fear of the unknown, just don’t listen to it.  Override the system.
  • Keep positive – use visual boards, affirmations, quotes, visual aids – whatever works for you. I watch or listen to motivational speakers like Les Brown, there’s something about him I love, he’s so full of life, full of positivity, his voice and presentation is really powerful.
  • Take one step at the time otherwise you may feel overwhelmed. It’s hard to see how to get from where you are to where you want to be – be it a specific goal or just feel better about your life in general. Take one step, one day at the time. You will get there eventually.
  • Don’t compare your journey to others. It’s easy to see the highlights of others and compare with your own shortcomings. Don’t do it, it takes your mental energy away from more important things
  • Don’t be disheartened if things don’t work out straight away. Just believe that they will in the end, and if you can’t quite manage that (I find it extremely hard myself) then take comfort in the fact that you are doing something. Anything. You are taking action. As Tony Robbins once said, “Personal power is the ability to take action”. Don’t forget that.

Your thoughts?

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Hi there, I'm Anna, editor of the Practical Happiness blog. I'm a life-curious adventure lover, an aspiring social scientist and a positive psychology nerd, interested in the why behind everyday life's mysteries. I write about things that excite and inspire me.

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