In many of our life endeavors, we will often face this thing we call the wall. For long-distance runners, this is that moment when they’re so tired that they feel like they need to slow down or stop running altogether. Writers experience this wall in the form of “writer’s block” where they feel like they’ve lost the ability to create.
I hit a wall earlier this week. But it wasn’t the wall I expected.
You see, language learning involves cramming a whole bunch of new information into your brain. It also requires you to think a different way. This can all be mentally taxing, leading to a similar type of exhaustion that the average university student might encounter in the middle of finals week. At some point, your brain starts to feel so “full” as if you can’t take in anymore new information. This was the wall I had anticipated.
But what I experienced just a few days ago was a little different. It was like that sinking feeling you get when you realize that your 20-page paper is due tomorrow morning and you’ve barely begun writing.
It can’t be done. You’re not good enough. There’s no way you can do it.
For me, I couldn’t let go of this feeling of sheer incompetence with my speaking ability. Where I wanted to be after two months of studying didn’t match up with where I currently stood. I felt like a failure. I’ll admit that I got stuck in this pessimistic mindset for several hours.
This was a wall of discouragement.
If you’ve ever experienced lingering feelings of discouragement, you’ll know that it can be very difficult to overcome this kind of wall. Negativity is self-replicating. It continues to build unless you deal with it right away.
The good news is that there are ways to knock this wall down.
Focus on Something Else
I think one of the biggest mistakes in our attempts to get past any sort of wall is that we spend spend far too much time focusing on it. If I’m up against the wall of discouragement, I can’t be saying to myself, “I gotta stop thinking negative thoughts. I just need to stop it.” (Although this might help cure irrational fears. Haha.)
We also often end up focusing too much on what we can’t do. What helped me overcome my discouraging thoughts about my language ability was listing out the things that I could do. I thought about the things I had accomplished so far and compared myself with where I was at two months ago. I reminded myself of the 6 lessons that I had learned after 6 weeks of language learning.
Invite a Trusted Friend to Share the Burden
Have you ever tried to sort out your thoughts by internally processing? Sometimes this is good, but other times it just makes things worse. I believe this is especially true when experiencing discouraging thoughts. While I was trapped inside this cage of negativity, I spent so much of my energy trying to fix it on my own.
I ended up sharing my feelings of discouragement with my wife and she helped me to process things externally. Though it didn’t happen right away, I did feel better after opening up to her. I’ll admit this is one of the more humbling steps in overcoming negativity, but it is also one of the most effective. When confessed to the right person, I believe there is strength in admitting weakness.
Now obviously don’t go telling a random stranger on the street about your issues. Find someone close to you who you know is on your side. Maybe it’s your spouse, a peer, or a mentor. Get your negative thoughts into the light and expose them to an outside opinion. This will also help you with the next step.
Identify Lies and Speak the Truth
One of the most devastating effects of discouragement is when you start believing lies.
There’s a big difference between thinking, “I need to work on my language because I’m not very good at it right now” versus “I’m terrible at learning languages and I will never be good at it.” Once we hit the wall of discouragement, the shift in our thought process can happen so quickly that we sometimes jump to these extreme conclusions without even realizing it.
Remember how I said negativity is self-replicating? It’s also self-multiplying. Things begin to seem worse than they actually are. The longer you remain in the “pit of discouragement” the easier it is to start thinking things that aren’t true. And if you accept things that aren’t true, then you’re essentially believing lies.
Thankfully, there is an antidote. First, identity the lies. With the help of your trusted friend, determine which of your negative thoughts aren’t true. Second, replace the lies with truth. I believe our spoken words carry power. Speak out what you know to be true. It can be something as simple as, “I am capable.” If you want, write the statement down somewhere or post it some place where you will regularly see it.
Reject the lies and hold onto what is true.