September 30, 2009

the challenges of encouragement

With MS, it's so easy to become discouraged. It is the easier path, the one that comes most naturally as bits of your body fall apart, or cease to function reliably, or just plain get cranky. It's the same with most of life - looking at debt, or looking at career aspirations that go wonky, or trying and failing as we all do each and every day. MS adds a layer of mystique onto the regular challenges, making the chance of success entirely outside of our control.

There's a wonderful website,, that markets posters and "motivational" things that play on our ease of discouragement. I love their stuff. It makes me laugh. But when I looked at their calendars, which I tend to buy every year and use as a cynical backdrop to my life, I realized something had changed.

I don't want to be cynical anymore. I want to be fresh as a daisy, cheered by a raindrop, looking forward to each new day with the hope of wonderment. I think I've always been a bit that way, but now I find I am rejecting the cynical side of me, focusing more on the optimistic side. There's no real reason for this, except that, really, most of my life has turned out wonderfully. I've even been rescued from a potentially damaging management career by physical illness. Before I could do much harm. I'm thankful for that.

But encouragement is tough. 'Buck up, buckaroo!" is inadequate, and all those posters exhorting us to let up and let God are just plain annoying.

When I was trying to encourage my children, I had the same difficulty as I have now, encouraging myself. Pasting encouragement on too thick destroys motivation. Telling myself I did well to get up and get showered this morning seems stupid. Not encouraging myself enough leads to feelings of failure - what? You only did that today? What were you doing the rest of the time?

Getting the balance right is tough. Our self-expectations are our toughest critics. How to get them on-side and helpful?

Tools to Life, an online web self-help program, touts the message that there are few things we can actually control in life - the chief one being our attitude. "My attitude is my decision" is a frequent statement, and it IS true. But how to maintain an attitude of self-encouragement without becoming a mockery of oneself? It feels silly to tell yourself that you are wonderful, but in reality, who else can do it effectively? If any external person says this, the immediate response (in my head anyway) is to say, "oh, but they don't know about...." Maybe part of accepting encouragement is learning to shut that denying part off. Maybe I'll try that.

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