So, how do you build the emotional and mental muscles to push through the worst times? Here are 5 principles for life – not just for the hard times, but for the good times as well.
- Acknowledge & validate your own experience
“Life is difficult. This is a great truth, … It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it. … Once we truly understand and accept it – then life is no longer difficult. Because once it is accepted, the fact that life is difficult no longer matters.” – Scott Peck
Many difficulties we face in life can cause suffering. Whether losing your job, getting divorced, or failing an exam – when you are in the midst of suffering – remember it’s okay to feel what you’re feeling.
When we can allow ourselves to be sad, angry, in pain, or alone, we give ourselves the opportunity to work through our difficulties instead of avoiding them. So, don’t get angry at yourself for being sad, or shame yourself for feeling disappointed. By accepting your emotions as they arise you become the best friend to yourself, and that is one of the most important relationships you can develop – with yourself.
- Seek support & connection
From this place of self-support, where you are your own best friend, it becomes easier to reach out to others. Studies show how important it is for us to connect with others.
Yes, we want to believe that it’s good to avoid ‘burdening’ others with our troubles. Truth is we have a better chance of overcoming difficulty if we go through it together. The strongest relationships are formed when people come together and share their suffering. This space of vulnerability encourages mutual support and trust that even if I am having a hard time, someone is there to hear me out, and willing to suffer with me.
If you don’t feel ready to trust and lean on your close relationships, why not reach out to a professional? Struggling to cope? Seek support from a counsellor, social worker or coach. It helps to have an unprejudiced ear to provide perspective.
- Learn to focus your attention on the whole picture
When faced with difficulty, most of us tend to fall into one of the following categories. Which one is more like you?
- You feel overwhelmed by the problem. Your mind focuses and overthinks, imagining even worse case scenarios. You find it hard to think of anything other than the problem at hand – and maybe you even become depressed.
- You ignore the problem – pretend it’s not there. Maybe you even hide behind ‘feel-good’ slogans like “It will be okay.” Or “It all works out in the end”. Maybe you try to ignore any responsibilities or actions you could take in the situation.
Most of us fall into either of these categories. We tend to be overly pessimistic, ‘worst-case-scenario’ minded, or overly optimistic, naïvely ‘ignoring-the-problem’.
A better way of looking at the world is to remind yourself of the WHOLE picture. If you tend to be in group A, strive to find some positive for every negative aspect of your situation. If you tend to be in group B, ask yourself: “Have I examined at the hard facts as well?” “Is there anything difficult I need to admit about the situation?”
The more we train our minds to consider both the positive and negatives, the more realistic and resourceful our responses will be.
- Frame the situation as a learning opportunity
Whether you lost your job, money, or experienced a break-up, every event in life can also have valuable lessons to teach us. Once we have:
- accepted our emotional response to the difficulty
- found support and
- looked at the whole picture,
we may be ready to consider what can be learned from the situation. Of course we can only really do this looking back – if we attempt to “learn” from a current distressing situation too early, we may just feel even more overwhelmed.
So, looking back at how we overcame past difficulties is a useful way to get perspective. Why not take a few minutes to reflect on some previous challenge and ask yourself?
What was it like when this happened to me? What did I feel, and think at the time?
How did I get through that situation?
Where did I find support during that time?
What are some of my best qualities that helped me in this situation?
If I could do anything differently, what would I have done?
What can I learn from that experience that I can apply to the next challenge I face?
When we stop and reflect on our past experiences, we will be surprised at the rich wisdom life has taught us on our journey.
- Find Meaning in your suffering
“If there is a meaning in life at all, then there must be a meaning in suffering. Suffering is an eradicable part of life, even as fate and death. Without suffering and death, human life cannot be complete.” Victor Frankl
Victor Frankl survived the Nazi holocaust. In the concentration camp he endured more suffering than any of us will face in our lifetime. When he was liberated from the concentration camp he developed Logo-therapy. One of the main pieces of his wisdom he brought to the world was the importance of meaning.
Humans are naturally meaning-making. As children learn about the world, they will ask “why” a million times a day. It is how we make sense of things, and how we put life into perspective.
Some of us draw insights from religion or spirituality to help make sense of our experience, others have philosophy, while others have relationships. Important to remember though, is that without a way to make meaning of suffering, it can be really difficult to keep our strength and push through.
Every time we make our way through a challenging season, we rise into the next season with new strength, wisdom and resilience. Just remember the five steps:
- Accept your feelings, and be your own best friend,
- Don’t go though it alone,
- Look at the big picture,
- Collect your learnings and wisdom,
- Make meaning of your experience.
You’ll be surprised at the wealth of wisdom and joy even the most painful experience can bring.
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