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Starting Over Again

Esther Ilana Rabi

Here are some practical ways to overcome those despairing “I’ll never achieve my goal” moments and other hurdles as we work toward self-improvement

Wednesday, December 06, 2017

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T he path to success is rarely straightforward. It’s usually littered with false starts (“Okay, I’ll start my diet after this simchah”) and setbacks (you committed to eating fruit for dessert, but helped yourself to cake instead) and sometimes total disaster (you ate a pint of ice cream after a stressful conversation).

Whether we’re trying to conquer our anger, get out of debt, guard our tongues, or become less attached to our phones, failure is part of the natural process toward growth. Yet we often forget that. When we slip up and scream at our kids yet again or speak lashon hara for the umpteenth time, we sink into that hopeless “Why do I even bother trying?” state. And therein lies the first obstacle in achieving our goals: despair.

“Some people have trouble acknowledging their despair. They feel guilty for being discouraged — they pressure themselves, thinking, ‘I shouldn’t feel this way,’ ” says Sherry Zimmerman, a therapist, dating coach, and mentor. “But it’s perfectly normal to feel despair sometimes. It’s only a problem if we lose our bitachon, if we become dysfunctional because we believe that the situation is truly hopeless.”

According to Lakewood social worker Jodie Touboul, “You can give yourself permission to have a pity party for ten minutes a day. But then you need to pull yourself out of it.” She teaches her clients to separate feelings from facts: “Staying stuck in misery can become self-validating. We get confused and think, ‘If it feels hopeless and miserable, then it is hopeless and miserable.’ But emotions aren’t facts — they’re changeable. Just because a problem feels hopeless doesn’t mean it is.

“You can work on shifting your perspective from, ‘This feels like the most painful thing that could ever happen,’ to ‘This is really difficult, but it’s not the end of the world and it doesn’t define who I am or what my life is about. There are still parts of life that I can enjoy even while dealing with this challenging situation.’ ”

Despair has a way of blinding us from the big-picture reality of how multifaceted our lives are. “When we’re feeling hopeless, we have to latch on to what gives our lives meaning — our connection to Hashem, our relationships with others, the job we love,” Sherry says.

 

“The despair you feel when you realize you’re falling short in one area can coexist with the satisfaction you get from, say, your friendships, your creativity, and from being a great speech therapist.”

“Negativity,” Jodie asserts, “narrows our field of vision. Gratitude and acceptance lift us from the dark pit of despair to a place with a better view.” She recommends keeping a gratitude journal, where you write down daily five things you’re grateful for.

Wallowing in a pit of despair isn’t much fun, so why do some people stay there so long? “People might hold on to a state of despair if they have something to gain from it,” says Rabbi Shmuel Liff*, who teaches at a yeshivah for kids at risk in Jerusalem. “My boys tell themselves, ‘I can’t do this!’ because it takes the responsibility off their shoulders.” Rabbi Liff explains that it takes a lot of encouragement from people who believe in the boy to give him the self-confidence to achieve his goals. (Excerpted from Family First, Issue 570)

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