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7 Steps to Fight Fatalism

Updated: Jul 2, 2020

Discouragement can derail us. Routine and radical challenges come standard with life this side of heaven, but it's what I tell myself about them that matters. Used to be a flat tire on a cloudy day was enough to send me into an emotional tailspin of doom and gloom. My mind would weave anything into a negative narrative that spanned a day or even a lifetime. At some point I decided this was unacceptable. Life is just too short and precious to magnify misery when there's plenty of good stuff to enjoy. Now, when those cloudy days or pandemic problems strike, I have reliable tools to combat discouragement. I can't exhaust the topic here, but this is a good start.

Life shows up.

I woke up on the wrong side of the universe the other day. I had a lousy night's sleep after binge-watching Netflix and disturbing dreams triggered by one episode's tragic storyline. I strolled into the kitchen in the pre-dawn hours to make my first cup of coffee, stepping into a splash-worthy puddle in front of the Keurig. Uggh. What's up with that? I Google'd a prognosis I couldn't fix myself, but did find the shut-off valve to stop the flood. My normally abundant quiet time was cut short and I didn't have time to run. These are the (potential) makings of a bad day. By 9 am, my whole life was all wrong.

Couple routine detours with a few legitimate, larger scale challenges (like unemployment, sickness, divorce, or world pandemic) and discouragement can snowball, overtaking us and preventing forward movement. Panic can cause us to make impulsive decisions that waste time and energy, or make matters worse.

Screech. I willed myself to stop and put the brakes on my spiraling thoughts, drawing on my arsenal of helpful rerouting.

Life shows up. Stuff happens. As a friend says, "Sometimes a flat tire is just a flat tire." It doesn't define your existence. Deal with problems as they arise. Move on.

1. Be grateful.

I've had a decades-long practice of exchanging gratitude lists with four friends around the world. When I first started, I'd scrounge for five items that included things like breathing. Even on my recent lousy morning, I could easily come up with a solid 15 tangible things to be grateful for, including finally cleaning behind the refrigerator and finding a quick fix to avoid a Sunday service call.

In the past, I've made entire gratitude lists on the very thing that was troubling me. Pandemic anyone? Every. Cloud. Has a silver lining.

2. Look for the positive.

On a highly related note, look for the positive...or at least the neutral. I used to catastrophize, imagining the very worst about anything. Friend didn't reply to my text? They must hate me. That letter from IRS? I'm being audited. Car breaks down? Probably a $2000 repair. I was always wrong. Always. Didn't stop me from doing it for a long time. But I was always wrong.

Even in the face of rising Covid cases, we need to keep a balanced perspective so panic doesn't set in, creating an entirely new problem of its own. Fear also gives rise to anger, as we've seen played out everywhere these days.

When bad things do happen, generalizing them to infect your entire day or life is unhelpful at best. A neutral or positive attitude is just more effective.

Also, don't use worse case scenarios as a comfort measure, as in, "If I prepare the worst, I won't be disappointed." This sounds sensible but it's actually a misery-making machine, feeding anticipatory anxiety. This is fine segue to:

3. Remember.

As in, remember that time I thought my friend hated me because she didn't text me back in 11 seconds and she was actually getting a massage? Remember that time my lymph nodes were swollen and I mentally planned my burial attire and discovered I just have big lymph nodes? (True story.) Remember that time I thought having a kid with Down syndrome was the end of the road and it turned out to be a big giant gift that keeps on giving? (Also true story.)