Ever get discouraged as a leader?

It’s kind of like asking if you have a pulse.

If you’ve led anything for more than a few months, you’ve been discouraged.

Progress isn’t happening as fast as you like

Or may it is happening quickly but you still feel like it’s not fast enough

You’re coming off a great season but you wonder if a slump is right around the corner

The voices of the critics are getting to you

In fact, some of you are discouraged enough right now that you’re thinking of packing it in.

That’s what happens if you don’t face discouragement head on.

A discouraging day becomes a discouraging week. A week becomes a month, becomes a season, becomes you quitting—or at least never realizing your potential if you stay.

Most of the time, it’s not worth quitting just because you feel discouraged. (I wrote a couple of posts on when to leave and when not to: 5 Signs It’s Time to Move On. and Jump Or Grow: What You Lose When You Keep Switching Jobs.)

It's not worth quitting just because you feel discouraged. Click To Tweet

But for rainy-Monday, tough-meeting, bad-week, garden-variety discouragement (which every leader faces regularly), there are some things you can do. At some point, I’ve done all these, and they help.

So, in random order, here are 21 ways to overcome personal discouragement.

1. Remember some past victories

In the Old Testament, the people of Israel set up markers and God created feast days to remind them of his past faithfulness. If God was faithful in the past, we can be certain he’s being faithful now and will be in the future. We humans need reminding.

2. Keep an encouragement file 

When someone sends you a kind note, file it. I keep a folder in my email client called “encouragement’. If I ever get discouraged, it helps to read through thanks from people I’ve been able to help in the past.

3. Get moving

Our sedentary lives have an impact on the mind. Get moving. Go for a walk. Hop on your bike. Go for a hike. Go for a run. Hit the gym. Or at a minimum, stake a stroll down the sidewalk or around the office.

4. Take a break

Even a 5-15 minute break can refocus you or break the negative string of thoughts that tie you down. 

5. Grab lunch with someone who encourages you

Being around positive people makes you more positive.

Grab lunch with someone who encourages you. Being around positive people makes you more positive. Click To Tweet

6. Don’t spend too much time with people who discourage you

While you can’t eliminate time with draining people entirely, limit it.  Positivity and negativity are contagious.

7. Work on something new

I love this tactic. New always refreshes me. Sure, you have to get your core work done. But adding a new project into the mix is exciting.

8. Clean up your workspace 

Most people feel better in clean spaces. Organize your desk or cabinet. Run your car through a carwash and vacuum the carpets. Being in a clean and orderly environment impacts mood for most of us.

Most people feel better in clean spaces. Organize your desk or cabinet. Run your car through a carwash and vacuum the carpets. Being in a clean and orderly environment impacts mood for most of us. Click To Tweet

9. Download some new apps

This one’s so trivial, but I like it. Don’t waste your life playing games, but if you find a new app for your phone, it can make you more productive and lift your mood. At least it lifts mine.

10. Confide in someone

If your discouragement lasts more than a day or two, talk to someone. Sometimes just talking about how you’re feeling can make you feel better.

11. Learn something new

Read a book. Take a webinar. Chase down some Twitter links. Learning helps break mental stalemates and is almost always a positive experience.

12. Encourage someone else

Get your mind off you. Encouraging someone else can leave you feeling better. That’s not why you should do it, but sometimes it will snap your funk.13.

13. Serve someone

Do something kind for someone else. Help them with a task. Buy them lunch. Run an errand for them. Cut their grass.

14.  Get some sleep

Don’t miss this one. I agree with the axiom that a good night’s sleep is 70% of discipleship. Take a nap. Go to bed early. Our culture is so sleep-deprived. Few things impact mood more than sleep.

15.  Accomplish a short term win

Look at your list of things to do and knock a couple of things off the list.  At least now there’s something small to cheer about.

16. Get some time alone 

Sometimes you just need to be alone. Especially if you’re introverted. So do it.

17. Pray

I always say prayer is implied in my posts, but I want to make it explicit it for handling discouragement. Of course Christian leaders pray, but make sure you pray about your discouragement. God knows, and He’d love to hear from you.

18. Read the bible

Ditto. I assume Christian leaders are reading Scripture, but when discouraged, hang out in places like the Psalms. Or read a story like Moses’, Joseph’s, Jesus’ or Paul’s and you’ll soon realize that almost every biblical character faced discouragement. You’re not alone. It’s part of the journey.

19. Listen to some great music

Music can really impact mood.

20. Watch a comedy

When was the last time you laughed hard? Don’t wait much longer.

21. Get some help

If the discouragement persists, sit down with a good Christian counselor and talk about what’s going on.

Discouragement is something every leader faces, but it doesn’t need to be fatal or something you give into every day.

Discouragement is something every leader faces, but it doesn't need to be fatal or something you give into every day. Click To Tweet

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What helps you?

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21 Ways to Overcome Personal Discouragement


  1. foxdownload on May 1, 2019 at 2:20 am

    I like to read this kind of information and i appreciate your thought.

  2. Rachel Blom on October 18, 2013 at 3:13 am

    Number 2, keeping an encouragement file, has helped me through some pretty bleak times. Whenever I doubt my work, my impact, my calling, I read through these and know that I’m exactly where God wants me to be.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on October 18, 2013 at 10:08 am

      So glad to hear that Rachel! Such a powerful thing to do.

  3. Joe Lalonde on October 8, 2013 at 6:26 pm

    I try to do #1. Remembering past victories lets us focus on better times and remember that we’ve done well before, we can do it. again.

  4. Lawrence W. Wilson on October 8, 2013 at 8:04 am

    A variation on #5 is my go-to. In my case, it’s my wife, who is the most encouraging person I’ve ever known. Couldn’t do this work without my at-home cheerleader! I feel for those who lack that support. In such cases, I’d say a trusted mentor is a necessity.

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