It’s your choice… To be positive and free or to be imprisoned by your own negativity. To live in the past or to be hopeful about the present.
Full disclosure: I set myself a challenge recently, and I’ve been failing at it.
To help motivate a private coaching group Angel and I have been working with, I set a goal to exercise for one hour every day for 90 days straight. I chose this lofty goal because several of the group members struggled with motivating themselves to get to the gym. They were inspired by my willingness to stretch my limits.
But I’ve struggled far more than I had anticipated. With a business to run, clients to serve, a baby in the house, family occasions, and travel, I’ve missed three days in the first month.
It’s such a minor setback, but it’s made me feel a little depressed at times.
Now, as you may know from previous posts, Angel and I have had much bigger setbacks in the past: losing breadwinning jobs, failed business ventures, financial turmoil, having our possessions wiped out by a hurricane, losing siblings and best friends to illness, health issues, and so forth.
What recently caught me off guard, however, is that all these larger setbacks from my past felt somewhat similar to this much smaller setback I’m dealing with now. This may seem odd at first, but the truth is all setbacks, big and small, burden us in the same ways:
- Our ideals and expectations don’t materialize. – When we start a new project, a new habit, a new business, a new relationship, etc., we have a picture in our heads about how this venture is going to play out once we get started. This idea often turns out to be entirely inaccurate. Life does not go as planned, people don’t behave the way we expect, or we’re not as disciplined as we thought we were when we signed up. We had a fantasy and mistook it for reality, and we’re left in disappointment. This letdown can be really discouraging. Our lives are not what we hoped they would be, and that hurts!
- Self-doubt overcomes us. – The setback chips away at our ego and causes us to doubt our abilities, our goals, and ultimately our self-worth. We start asking ourselves questions like: “Why am I doing this? Is it worth it? Am I good enough? Am I worthy?” This self-doubt never helps, and is really just an additional setback compounded on top of the setback we’re already facing.
- Feelings of helplessness settle in. – Yes, it’s unfortunate that sometimes things don’t work out, but what’s even worse is being stuck in a victim mentality that prevents us from moving forward with our lives. Because when we’re stuck feeling like a victim who can’t make it through a few small challenges, we begin to question our ability to do anything worthwhile at all. And of course, this is just another setback.
So that’s the basics of what I’ve been going through during my recent setback. And I’m sure you can relate.
The good news, for all of us: there’s hope. Over the past decade Angel and I have worked with thousands of people all over the globe who, like us, struggle with setbacks of varying degrees. Through our work, we’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to bouncing back and making progress. So today, I hope I can save you some trouble…
Here’s what works:
1. Accept reality and detach from fantasies.
There are two kinds of pain: pain that hurts and pain that changes you. When you roll with life, instead of resisting it, both kinds help you grow.
To move forward in any situation, you must first accept the reality of what it is. This acceptance provides you with an important starting point from which you can move in any direction you choose. To deny this reality or to fight against the past will merely waste your time and energy. To wish that things were different, or to pretend that they are, gets you nowhere.
Acceptance is letting go and allowing things to be the way they truly are. It doesn’t mean you don’t care about improving the realities of life – it’s just realizing that the only thing you really have control over is yourself in the present moment. This simple understanding is the foundation of acceptance, and only with acceptance can there be peace and growth in your life.
Forgiveness is a big part of this process. Forgiveness is the acceptance of the present moment, as it is, without attachment to any other time, place or circumstance. Almost all negativity is caused by a lack of forgiveness and denial of the present. Unease, anxiety, guilt, tension, stress, worry, and resentment – all forms of unhealthy attachment – are caused by too much past or future, and not enough presence.
2. Embrace who you are and all your humanness.
Self-doubt plagues us because we desperately want to be somebody we’re not. I often want to be perfectly disciplined, for example, and when I’m not I come down hard on myself. The key, I’ve found, is to remind myself that although not perfect, the person I am is pretty darn great. I just need to embrace the reality that I’m not always as disciplined as I’d like to be. And I also need to remember that I have had many successes in my life. (Just like YOU.)
So I challenge you to walk beside me on this journey…
Accept your humanness. You can stop pretending. It feels good to own up to stuff – to admit that you’re human – a work in progress – a beautiful mess. Wanting to be someone or something else is a waste of your beauty. You’re fine. If you feel like you aren’t, you’re blowing things out of proportion. Having a little anxiety is fine. Making mistakes is fine. Being a little fearful is fine. Your secrets are fine. You’re a good person. You’re intelligent. You’re fine just the way you are. (Read The Gifts of Imperfection.)
3. Allow yourself to feel emotional pain, so you can grow beyond it.
Never apologize for being sensitive or emotional when life knocks you down hard. There’s no reason to be ashamed for feeling something or for expressing pain if it’s real to you. It’s a sign that you have a big heart, and that you aren’t afraid to be honest about it. Showing your emotions is a sign of human strength. The people who judge you for being human, and not being modest, emotionless, and “in line,” are the ones who need to apologize.
By trying to hide your pain, and not wanting to feel bad, you make your bad feelings worse. But by allowing yourself to feel bad, and realizing we all feel bad sometimes, you give yourself space to deal with the truth. So give yourself this space, and embrace it. Too many people want to feel happy all the time, and positive every single second, but that’s not reality. We all feel bad sometimes, and that’s OK. When you accept this, and embrace the growing pains of living, you rise above the pain. It happens, then it fades, and you’re stronger than you were before.
4. Remind yourself that everything in life is temporary.
Your big breakthrough will come when you recognize that all your inadequacies, all your limitations, and all your failings, losses and setbacks, are only temporary. And once they pass in the real world, they’re prolonged existence is simply an artificial reality you cling to with your thoughts.
Yes, there may be pain and uncertainty for a while, but it never lasts forever. Time heals. Even when Angel and I unexpectedly lost loved ones to illnesses, feelings of depression would come and go for months, but eventually it went away. It’s easy to get caught up in a bad situation and think, “The world is over!” But actually, this bad feeling and situation are just passing clouds. They’re just part of an ever-changing experience, and while it’s not always pleasant, it will pass like everything else has passed. Life doesn’t stop for anyone.
So don’t allow your temporary wounds to permanently transform you into someone you aren’t. A strong person is not the one who doesn’t cry. A strong person is the one who cries for a moment openly, and then gets up and fights again for what they believe in. (Read A New Earth.)
5. Find gratitude in the present moment.
This always sounds at bit cliché – promoting gratitude as a universal solution – but the reason it’s always mentioned is because it works. Every time.
Even after a loved one passes, the actual present reality of our lives without this loved one isn’t unbearable unless we compare it to the impossible fantasy of them still being alive. The reality is, we still have our own lives and our health and passions to explore… we still have other wonderful family members and friends who love us… and that’s just the start of things to be grateful for. Now, this reality isn’t always full of happiness – sometimes it has unpleasantness – but you can embrace that too, instead of wishing it matched up with a stressful fantasy.
So keep your head up. Take a deep breath and be grateful for everything that remains and everything that’s growing stronger in your life. When it feels like everything is falling apart, remind yourself that you can either let it define you, destroy you, or let it strengthen you.
When you finally let go of what did or didn’t happen, something equally as amazing comes along. And oftentimes what you’re looking for comes when you’re not looking at all. Gratitude will help you discover it.
6. Clear the unnecessary clutter and complications standing in your way.
As Einstein once said, “Out of clutter, find simplicity; from discord, find harmony; in the middle of difficulty, lies opportunity.”
Sometimes we make life more complicated than it is. We attach our happiness to achievement and then look for it in all the wrong ways and in all the wrong places. Of course, you don’t have to live like this. If you feel like you are, it’s time to simplify things. It’s time to clear the air and get back to the basics.
Simplifying is not seeing how little you can get by with – that’s poverty – but how efficiently you can put first things first, and use your time accordingly to pursue the things that make a difference and mean the most to you. Less truly is more. Instead of adding, improve your life by subtracting. Get rid of unnecessary clutter, negative influences and toxic relationships. There’s a big difference between what you want and what you need, between what’s excessive and what’s essential. (Angel and I discuss this process in the Simplicity chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
7. Reach out and help people.
Our setbacks are often mostly about us, wallowing in our own self-pity. This doesn’t sound great, but we all do it almost every day to a small extent without noticing it. When you catch yourself doing this, know that the best antidote is to get outside yourself, stop being self-centered, and re-focus on the people around you. Try to find a way to help someone else. It will inevitably, infallibly, make you feel better.
When we realize that helping others is the key to realizing our own happiness, it saves us a lot of trouble.
Truth be told, the closest thing to being cared for is to care for others. We are all in this together and we should treat each other as such. Use your voice for kindness, your ears for compassion, and your hands for charity, always. No exercise is better for your heart and mind than reaching down and helping others up. Happiness and success in life doesn’t come through selfishness, but through selflessness. The best way to feel alive on down days is to get up and do something positive for the folks around you.
And remember, you don’t need a reason to help someone. Just do it. The reason will come to you.
In my present situation, with this small setback I’m struggling with, I’ve started off by doing my best to embrace the reality of ME and my humanness, and the reality unfolding all around me.
And over the last several days I’ve also opened my awareness to passing strangers who are struggling, just to see how I can help them. After all, that’s why I committed myself to that 90-day workout challenge in the first place. Not because I’m super-human or super-disciplined, but because struggling with it might teach me something that will help someone else through their struggles.
So, if you’re struggling with a setback today, know that you’re not alone. I’m right here with you, struggling – we’re in this together. And this too will pass. We’ll get through it. And this ‘getting through’ will make us stronger. It isn’t easy now, and it may take us awhile, but it will be worth it in the end.
What helps you persevere and bounce back from life’s setbacks? How do you motivate yourself through difficult situations on a daily basis? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts and insights?
Photo by: Daniel Smith