Wednesday, March 7, 2007

Steps to Turn Discouragement into Encouragement

We’ve all heard the words, ‘into every life some rain must fall. It’s not if discouragement comes, its when.’ But what happens when a sought after goal turns sour, when the loss is so painful it’s hard to recover in a day?

“Successful people become discouraged only momentarily." These words were spoken by coach Jeff Bzdelik after his Air Force Academy Falcon BB team lost their 1st home game in 30 tries, second longest streak in the country. It was the last home game of the season, senior night—parents of players came from all parts of the country. Excitement was running high and Clune Arena was pulsating with energy. Basketball games at the United States Air Force Academy represent release in an otherwise intense training schedule.

But victory was denied these future military leaders and the agony of defeat lingered. Coach’s words soothed a little. “In all my years at the college and NBA level, I have never had more respect for the character and integrity of a team.” Still the dull ache remained the morning after.
What can successful people do to deal with discouragement momentarily and get back in the game?
Here are several simple rules to remember to encourage yourself and others.

1) Look forward not back and do the next thing to prepare. It sounds simple but is powerful. For the Air Force Falcons basketball team, The Mountain West Conference tournament begins this week and if they want to get to the big dance, their focus has to be firmly grounded on that goal. The team/individual can acknowledge the pain, learn from the loss and then let that fuel the passion to perform better next time. My husband’s famous speech to our children, ‘when the going gets tough, the tough get going. You know what you are made of inside by the way you get up and get better after the fall. And it’s not if you fall-it’s when.’ The day after any loss, do the next thing. Take a deep breath, then go to practice, hit the books,make that phone call and try, try again.

2) Listen to and learn from encouraging words spoken. What coach said about the team and each individual player was heartwarming, gentle and kind, the right words after such a loss. Tomorrow, there will be time for inspiring and motivating speeches. Today, the words were soothing and complimentary. Positive well timed words have power to make one want to continue on, to get up and try again. Although they will never forget that game, the team's disappointment will lessen with time and other struggles life brings will take its place.

3) Prioritize your performance in the big picture. Live with the end in view and know where you are going and what matters to you. It hurts to lose the game, the job, promotion, relationship—and depending on the loss, it may take days or weeks to work through. Your perspective now shapes the path you will choose for your future. But for successful healthy people it’s only a momentary disruption. How long you let the setback derail you and to what degree depends on your world view, your big picture. For this particular group of future Air Force leaders, there will be bigger battles to fight with larger consequences.

4) Learn life lessons in losing and let the rest go. Bad things happen to good kids and good teams. Down the road the team will be grateful for the discipline, accountability and structure they learn at the Academy. The same goes for the individual. I hugged my son, Wing Commander at the Academy and said, ‘Son, you have a lot of responsibility in your life, but the team winning or losing was not yours. They will deal with it on their own terms.’ 'I know' he said, 'but they are my friends, a great group of guys and they deserved to win.' The warmth and feeling in his words comforted me also.

Oliver Wendell Holmes said it this way, “ What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us.”

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