Wouldn’t it be nice to have an endless supply of energy and optimism? The world seems to expect it, and though while it’s nice when our lives align with all those motivational videos that pop up on social media, there are days when sunshine and rainbows are just not a reflection of our situation (and there are videos for that too, I suppose, many of them involving wine).
A reason why it can be difficult to keep up a happy streak is that inevitably we will experience some set backs in life. It’s quite effortful to put ourselves out there, and when things don’t go right, or even if they do, there can still be a lingering sense of pressure, anxiety or self-doubt. Did I say the right thing? Was there more I could have done? What if nothing comes of this? What if I’m just embarrassing myself?
Behaviours are shaped by what happens before (cue) and what happens after (consequence). In therapy, sometimes I try to strengthen the salience of a client’s values in order to cue behaviours that will be aligned with the way they want to live, despite short-term hardships. However, while values can be a motivation to act, they are not an endless source of energy; they are more like a direction to focus on.
For example, someone who wants to go back to study but is full of self-doubt due to their truancy in high school may have to gather up every ounce of courage they possess to even apply. We hope that the action of applying is enough to produce a bit of a boost, however, it’s still a bit of a downer if the application is not successful. After unsuccessful attempts, there might be no more courage or positivity left to give, at least for a little while. This is the point where we usually give up, pretend we don’t care, or try and find something to blame.
It’s easier to put ourselves out there when we’ve experienced enough small wins. Wins are like currency for courage. The more we have, the more we can spend. However, there are times when we’ve had a streak of losses and our resources are depleted. In the latter situation, it’s important to build up our resources a bit before we try again.
Resource building activities are fun and contented activities. Some people listen to music. Others play games with their friends. I do something I find very exciting; I go to bed early.
If you have experienced some losses lately, and you just can’t keep up that happy streak, spend some time purposefully engaging in activities that build your sense of self, your ability, or your capacity. Purposeful engagement in a pleasurable activity is different from avoidance. Avoidance will leave you feeling more drained.
Once you have a little bit of energy to give, I would advise against leaping straight back in the fray. Instead, spend a little energy on evaluating some important losses. A good evaluation is one that leads to a deeper understanding of ourselves and our environment. The alternative, blame, can make us disheartened or reactive (doing something just to push away difficult feelings like guilt and anger).