If one doesn’t immediately come to mind, you’re probably scanning your life for your latest bad habit.
Is it the late-night, TV-watching snacks? Or the TV watching itself?
The addictive drugs or alcohol you’ve struggled with over the years?
Maybe it’s more like a vice, like coffee. Or your phone.
As you wade through the pile of destructive habits, I’ll wager there’s one that’s worse. A killer that lurks beneath the other habits, and one you may not have even labeled a habit:
The habit of despair.
Despair. Yup. Despite its bitter flavor, it is a particularly compelling feeling that likes to convince you that hope is futile, and that you are doomed. When things are bad, especially for long stretches, despair waits with open arms to coddle and lull you with cruel untruths: “Things will never change. I’ll always feel this way. I’ll never have what I want” . . .
Here are some childhood origins of the habit of despair: Exposure to physical or emotional trauma; devastating loss; abuse; inconsistency; neglect, and lack of being seen, acknowledged or appreciated for who you really are.
Here are some circumstances that have, over the years, evoked despair in me personally. Maybe you relate: Political corruption; the unfathomable persistence of cruelty, discrimination and injustice; being single for long stretches of time; being unable to earn enough money from inspired work to survive — even after investing thousands of hours and dollars to make it so, and so on.
See if you can isolate where and when despair became habit for you. See if you can detect what triggers despair in your life now, and like a default setting, you fall back on it in certain situations.
Remember: things don’t have to be perfect. Your life may not have all the pieces in place. You may not be able to activate all of the agendas that would make the world, your workplace, or relationship an ideal place to be. There will be pain and disappointment in life, but despair is different: it distorts temporary feelings into permanent facts and makes hope seem childish. When you take a stand against despair, big shifts happen. Suddenly, unforeseen pathways replace what seemed insurmountable. You somehow know what to accept and what to fight, and when.
When despair shows up, convincing you there’s no way out, that you are chained to an endless bleak stretch of suffering, catch it by its throat and choke it with your love. Squeeze the life out of it by imagining just how much more powerful you are than it. Remind yourself that feelings are temporary, and that you are capable of so much when you put your mind and heart to it. Trust me. If you scan your life for proof of your power, it’s there in spades. You’ve brightened someone’s day. Accomplished a milestone. Overcame a handicap. Gotten through hell and back. And if you’ve done something powerful once, in one area of your life, you can do it again.
If despair isn’t a habit for you, you’ve probably been confused and maybe repelled by others who seem stuck there. But if you experience despair frequently, then I hope this post inspires you to lead yourself out of those dark, sticky woods. If you can’t find your way out of despair’s grip, invite a person (or several) who loves you to let loose a bright spotlight on those moldy beliefs and reveal the truth of what you’re made of. They know what you’re capable of. Repeat as necessary.
Take on your secret habit — despair — and reclaim hope. Breaking habits is not easy, but the rewards are endless. You have the resources to do it. Your wellbeing – and the world – depends on it.
For more on how to shift habits, read 6 Essential Guidelines for Breaking Habits