Today, I want to talk about the “chasm of despair,” what it means, how to overcome it, and what awaits when you win.
What Is The Chasm of Despair?
“My beerdrunk soul is sadder than all the dead christmas trees of the world.” – Charles Bukowski
If you’ve ever tried to improve yourself, you usually experience a brief rush of excitement at the idea. First, you visualize a better life. Then, you create a plan to help you navigate the process. With a vision and a plan, you start working on bettering yourself. However, as you move forward, you may begin to feel scared, stressed, and anxious.
I call this the “chasm of despair.” The abyss is the point between where you were and where you want to go. For example, if you want to eat less sugar, the chasm is the middle between “eat all the sugar I want” and “a healthier lifestyle.” You may rationally recognize how beneficial and healthy a sugarless life would be. However, as you progress, you will physically, mentally, and emotionally suffer as you try to improve your health and habits. This suffering is the chasm of despair.
Today, I want to explore how to navigate the feelings of doubt, despair, and fear that come from going through this abyss.
Why Do You Experience Despair When You Attempt To Self-Improve?
Primarily, you are human. Thus, you are designed to blindly pursue comfort for the sake of security, normality, and safety. Disrupting this comfort will produce anxiety as your mind believes something is wrong, and your environment is changing for the worst.
Furthermore, self-improvement means leaving behind a comforting reality. When you improve, you lose coping mechanisms for dealing with challenges in your life. For example, instead of grabbing a bag of candy to deal with stress, you have to find other methods for engaging with anxiety. Finding different coping mechanisms can be daunting and discomforting.
Lastly, self-improvement is painful. Leaving behind comforts means having to grow. Growth involves abandoning your weaknesses as you embrace new responsibilities. Whether you want to overcome an addiction or get in better shape, trying to improve your life will be a painful, challenging process.
However, it is possible to get through the chasm of despair and earn your character improvement and personal success.
How Do You Overcome The Chasm of Despair?
- Always keep the ideal in mind – When you focus on who you are trying to become, you can push yourself through bouts of pain and discomfort.
- Give your past self a persona – Defining who you used to be will allow you to converse with yourself. You can ask questions, pose solutions, and engage with your past and future.
- Find safe substitutes – Sometimes, a slow burn helps better than going cold turkey. Whenever advantageous and safe to do so, find alternatives to the substances, ideas, or people you are leaving behind.
- Keep track of your progress – Seeing yourself grow and mature will give you the inspiration you need to keep going.
- Embrace positive voices and ignore negative ones – A few negative words can break your willpower. Avoid pointless criticism and seek inspiration views.
The process of self-improvement is not easy or straightforward. However, the chasm of despair is constant. Thus, it is crucial to master the techniques above to push yourself forward when you want to give up.
1. Always keep the idealized self on the brain
“The greatest hazard of all, losing one’s self, can occur very quietly in the world, as if it were nothing at all. No other loss can occur so quietly; any other loss – an arm, a leg, five dollars, a wife, etc. – is sure to be noticed.” – Søren Kierkegaard
A foolish individual is one who does not know where they are going or why. Therefore, you must create an idealized version of yourself. Who would you like to be? Where would you like to go? What would you like to accomplish?
By having an ideal established, you create a beacon in your mind. When you feel ill, uninspired, or depressed, this beacon can remind you of what life can be.
Always push back against your fatigue or demons by reminding yourself of who you could be if you gave one more push. Therefore, reflect on the ideal once a day or whenever you feel weak, tired, or lonely.
2. Give your past self a persona
As you seek self-improvement, your mind will be flooded with doubt, fear, and shame. You can personify these negative thoughts and voices as the villain or antagonist in the grand narrative of your life.
The “past self” wants us to return to the realm of comfort and half-realized dreams. This voice expresses itself in doubts and fears but can also manifest in feelings of physical pain. As you travel the chasm of despair, the past self will relentlessly taunt you.
Therefore, continuously communicate with this negative voice. Is it telling you you’re no good? Really? Would a terrible person seek self-improvement, let alone start the journey in seriousness? Does this voice tell you how you’ll lose? Remind this voice of how much you’ve overcome in the past.
The goal is to converse with your past self. Talk to it by highlighting where you want to go and how determined you are to get there. You must always remind yourself of what you could be, where you’ve been, and how hard you are trying now.
3. Find safe substitutes if you need
We all have our vices, and you’ll accomplish more in life if you’re able to discard them. However, going cold turkey is tough. Furthermore, some vices, such as drugs, are hard to overcome without professional help and medical care.
Additionally, you can adopt substitutes for your vices. For example, try nutritional snacks such as candied strawberries to make up for the junk food you’re leaving behind.
Lastly, my advice is relevant to more “harmless” vices such as watching too much TV or gossiping. However, I believe all individuals should avoid tolerating destructive vices such as adultery, alcoholism, and the like. If a vice makes you dangerous to yourself or others, then you need to go cold turkey, find help, and overcome your trauma.
4. Keep track of your progress
“Oft hope is born when all is forlorn.” – J.R.R. Tolkien
The less you see how much you’ve overcome, the more hopeless you become. Every day of your life is a small victory. Brushing your teeth, going to work, eating your greens, and so on are small actions pointing to a larger narrative. These events are not insignificant, and if you were more aware of them, you could see how durable your willpower is.
Therefore, you need to keep track of your small and big victories. Seeing your progress will keep you focused on maintaining momentum.
A few ways to keep track of your day, include:
- Keep a calendar
- Keep a “win” book and tally small and big victories
- Track your activities for the day
- Set clear time blocks for your activities
Track all your achievements, so you can remain inspired as you travel the chasm of despair.
5. Embrace positive voices and ignore negative ones
Inspiration is crucial when you seek self-improvement. Your actions, thoughts, and virtues will foster most of your inspiration. However, you will need external validation of the value of your journey towards a better self.
Therefore, seek out positive voices, including:
- Real people in your life who have overcome issues similar to yours
- Public speakers and historical individuals who have overcome vices and problems
- Stories with protagonists who win and succeed in virtue
Additionally, keep gratitude on the brain. You are in the abyss, but self-improvement is a blessing. Whether you’re going on a diet, improving your skillset, or overcoming a bad habit, most humans do not have the luxury to self-improve. Self-improvement primarily requires willpower but also requires wealth, free time, and relative freedom. We are lucky to have these elements when most people do not.
Lastly, avoid negative voices. Ignore abusive, unmotivated, and weak individuals. Additionally, ignore cynical, “realistic” art. You are vulnerable while you travel the chasm. Therefore, avoid anyone who would attack you and undermine your efforts.
You Can Overcome The Chasm of Despair
“Do not let your fire go out, spark by irreplaceable spark in the hopeless swamps of the not-quite, the not-yet, and the not-at-all. Do not let the hero in your soul perish in lonely frustration for the life you deserved and have never been able to reach. The world you desire can be won. It exists.. it is real.. it is possible.. it’s yours.” – Ayn Rand
If you want to be your best self, then you have to deal with the chasm of despair. Self-improvement is a challenging, painful process. On one side are the comforts you’ve always known and enjoyed. On the other side is the better version of yourself. In the middle is the abyss, where you have neither comforts nor greatness.
Become an individual. Travel the chasm.
- When was the last time you tried to improve yourself? What did you hope to accomplish? What were the results?
- When was the last time you gave up? Why did you give up? How did you feel? How do you feel about it now?
- What voices, people, or ideas make you feel low? Why do you engage with these people and voices?
Please remember that it’s important to do the actionables. You’re not on this earth to simply read but to do. To become an individual, you must act more than you consume.
*Image credit to Unsplash.