Fighting Despair

I am a “four” on the enneagram.    Fours tend to focus on what’s missing in their life, whether that is meaningful relationships, meaningful work, or simply meaning itself.  As a result we often feel defeated, and frequently battle despair.

Fours can be a dreary lot to hang out with.

When this fit takes me, it can be difficult to find my way back to hope.  But I have found some things that help.

Probably most helpful is to stop and open my eyes; to give thanks for the things that aren’t missing.  When I do this I am always astounded at just how remarkably blessed I am.  Savor those blessings, linger over them, and meditate on them; especially if you too are a four.  There is nothing like genuine gratitude to chase away despair.

Another thing I do is to try to keep moving, like Dory in “Finding Nemo,” just keep on swimming.  I’ll do simple things, like washing the dishes or vacuuming the floor.  They remind me that I can get something done.

Make a list of the things you have accomplished, no matter how small.

Or bring to remembrance those times you’ve been a blessing to someone.  I remember a line from The Brothers Karamazov, “I threw an onion.”  I try to be a blessing in some mundane way.  Maybe I’ll go to a rest home and just listen to an old person’s story.  Just listening to someone can be a great blessing, especially to those in whom the world no longer has any interest.

Goal Problems

All those executive functions like creating a vision, setting goals, mapping out a project, etc. just do not come naturally to me.

I didn’t begin setting goals until sometime after college, when I read Dennis Waitley’s book, Seeds of Greatness.  I found it remarkably difficult to do.

Feelings of grandiosity would lead me to set goals that were unrealistic, and feelings of inadequacy would lead me to despair of accomplishing them, and I’d give up on them.

For years I went through this cycle of goal-setting and goal-despairing.  Seeds of Greatness was only the first in a long line of self-improvement books, and most if not all of them would talk about goal-setting in some way shape or form.  But somehow I just could not seem to get the knack of it.

Maybe five years ago I started getting together for breakfast with a couple of friends.  Our conversations seemed to gravitate around certain ideas, like the Hero’s Journey, mastery, expertise, and practice.  This blog grew out of those conversations.

One of us in particular was a real goal-setter and planner.  I would listen to his planning process and began to notice differences between what he was doing and what I was doing.

First of all his goals were on the edge of belief, not beyond the pale.

Second he had a due date for each goal, but these due dates were not set in stone.  If he missed a due date, he tried to understand why he missed it, and then just moved it back.  The date gives the goal a sense of urgency, but missing the date is not a reason to despair.  This may seem obvious, but it was a real breakthrough for me.

Third, he had a daisy chain of small goals that lead to the big goal that was his end in view.  The chain of small achievable goals builds hope and confidence with the accomplishment of each small goal.

Fourth, he reviewed and revised those goals daily whether things were going well or not.

Putting these four points into practice is working for me.  I’m sticking with my goals and getting things done.  What works for you?