Last night I met a tired and weary soul at a local charity event. We struck up a conversation after I helped her pick up some papers she had accidentally dropped on the floor. She said she was volunteering at the event, and several other charity events over the next few weeks, because she didn’t really have anywhere else to be for the holidays. Details aside, she basically told me she struggles with a lack of healthy relationships, a lack of self-confidence, and a lack of purpose in her life.
I consoled her as best I could during our 10-minute conversation, and assured her that the volunteer work she’s doing is making a difference. Then we hugged and I handed her my business card before departing. Hopefully she reaches out to me, because there’s so much more I’d like to share with her. I know what it’s like to feel tired and weary, to feel down and depressed, to have no one to talk to. I have desperately struggled with anxiety and self-confidence issues numerous times in the past.
So I’m writing this short post for her, and all my fellow souls out there who are tired and weary and struggling to find happiness today.
You are struggling, maybe even heartbroken, and this state of being is hard to deal with. It can feel lonely, draining, and even downright hopeless sometimes.
How do you motivate yourself when you feel defeated? How do you heal when you have little hope? How do you connect with others when you don’t feel the self-confidence needed to put yourself out there?
I know you want answers. And I’m so sorry you’re struggling and hurting inside. But please know that you are not alone. It might feel like you are, but you’re not. I, for one, am with you because I’m thinking of you right this very moment. I’m with you because I too have agonized and ached in very similar ways. We have shared feelings of exhaustion, uncertainty, anxiety, heartbreak, loneliness, and hopelessness.
Yes, I am deeply connected to you, and my heart is filled with compassion for you.
And it’s not just me who understands what you’re going through either – every living, breathing human being on this planet has felt similar feelings at some point. We are all going through life’s struggles together – we are connected through our shared adversity. We may feel alone on the inside, but in our inner loneliness, again, we are connected.
Truth be told, the feeling of being broken and alone, cut off from the rest of society, is a delusion. Sure, it’s a delusion that feels real. But it’s not, I assure you.
Questions to Turn Your Day Around
While I can’t dissolve all your pain in an instant, I can offer you a few perspective-shifting questions and annotations that have helped me get through some of the toughest days of my life. Angel and I have also subsequently used these questions and annotations in different coaching exercises to assist our course students with mentally overcoming various forms of suffering.
1. What expectations about the past are you still (hopelessly) holding on to today?
In general, letting go of your expectations is almost always a good idea. If you have few expectations etched in stone, you will rarely be devastated by disappointment. Of course, it may be tremendously hard to let go of certain expectations. Because you still expect your personal values to be respected, you don’t expect to get a debilitating illness, and you may even expect that most people mean well. Still, the more expectations you can let go of today, the better.
But what happens when one of your expectations is tied to an unchangeable past event? What happens when you still subconsciously expect an outcome that never came to be, and the time and place for it to transpire has passed? You’re hopelessly stuck, that’s what!
It’s time to let it GO!
Letting go isn’t about having the ability to forget the past – it’s about having the wisdom and strength to embrace the present.
You can’t use past experience to change past outcomes, but you can use past experience to change present outcomes. Right now you have a priceless opportunity … to practice acceptance, to let go of old expectations, and to make the best and most positive use of this moment.
Knowing when to expect and hope for outcomes – and when to let go and shift with the times – is the central challenge for spending your limited resources sensibly. The solution to this challenge is wisdom, and wisdom doesn’t just fall from the sky. To attain wisdom, you need life experience, including negative experiences such as heartbreak, failure, illness, loneliness and loss. These aren’t the kind of life experiences you actively seek out, of course. But when they find you unexpectedly, you might as well learn from them, and use them to your advantage.
2. What could you be positive about right now, if you really wanted to be positive?
Unless you’re deeply depressed, sadness is just a feeling. And as with all feelings, you choose it. Yes, you actually make a (conscious or subconscious) choice to feel the way you do. If you wanted to be positive and smile right now, it would be on purpose. And if you wanted to frown, well, you could choose to do that too.
A smile is indeed a choice, not a miracle. And smiling is a choice that actually makes you feel better. The simple act of smiling sends a message to your brain that you’re happy, and then your body pumps out all kinds of feel-good endorphins. This reaction has been studied by dozens of positive psychologists and has been widely discussed in their field.
But, of course, even if you choose to be positive and smile often, sadness is still a part of life. Although it’s a chosen response, it’s a natural response to an adverse life experience. And it’s generally not a bad feeling to have in the short-term, as long as you don’t allow it to consume you. The key is to keep things in perspective, and then shift your perspective when you must.
When life doesn’t work out the way you want it to, it can feel like you have nothing at all. But that’s not true. The desires of our ego are often in conflict with the realities of life. Find your balance between planning and presence – between expecting and accepting. Work for what you want, but don’t go looking for something better every second. You must be willing to loosen your grip on the life you have planned so you can embrace the life that is waiting for you in this moment. It may not be everything you desire, but it’s everything you need right now. Experience it and find the positive.
A recent scientific study discussed in The Happiness Advantage showed that doctors who are put in a positive mood before making a diagnosis consistently experience significant boosts to their intellectual abilities when compared to doctors in a neutral state. This allows them to make accurate diagnoses almost 20% faster. The same study then shifted to other vocations and found that positive-minded salespeople outsell their pessimistic counterparts by over 50%. Students primed to feel positive and joyful before taking exams substantially outperform their neutral peers. So it turns out that our minds are literally hardwired to perform at their best not when they are negative, or even neutral, but when they are positive.
Give yourself this gift today. Put yourself in a more positive mood, so you can put your best foot forward. (Angel and I build actionable, mood-shifting daily rituals with our students in the “Goals and Growth” module of Getting Back to Happy.)
3. What meaning have you assigned to your present challenges?
Even when you’re being positive, you still have challenges to deal with – there’s no escaping this reality. But how you feel about your life has little to do with the challenges in it or what has (or hasn’t) happened to you. The meaning you assign to these challenges controls the quality of your life. And you may be totally unaware just how often your subconscious mind is assigning negative meaning to every little inconvenience. So check-in with yourself…
- When something happens that disrupts your life (an illness, an injury, a loss, etc.), do you tend to think that this is the end or the beginning?
- If someone confronts you, is that person insulting you, coaching you or trying to care for you?
- Does a problem mean that God is punishing you or challenging you? Or is it possible that this problem isn’t really a problem at all, but an opportunity?
When we shift the meaning we assign to our challenges, there’s no limit on what life can become. A change of focus and a shift in meaning can literally alter our biochemistry and the trajectory of our lives in a couple seconds flat.
So take a deep breath and remember: Meaning equals emotion, and emotion equals power. Choose wisely. Learn to reframe your challenges. Find a positive, empowering meaning in every event, and the best path forward will always be yours to travel. (Angel and I dive deeper into reframing at our annual conference, Think Better, Live Better. The next one is taking place February 18-19, 2017. Get a discounted early bird ticket here, while they last. Note: you can watch short clips from our 2016 event here and here.)
4. What do you NOT want others to know about you today?
This question cuts right to the heart of your insecurities. Let it remind you that problems, flaws, and challenges are a part of everyone’s life. Don’t be ashamed. Don’t worry about being judged or rejected.
What other people think of you doesn’t define you. Set yourself free from their judgment. What they see in you is their opinion and a reflection of what they see in the world. Some people might perceive you as smart, funny and talented, while others might think you’re average at best, or even undesirable. To some, you might look beautiful, and to others you might look too fat or skinny. No matter what other people’s thoughts about you are, it’s about their standards of beauty or intelligence or awareness, and it really has very little to do with YOU.
Yet, all too often we let the rejections we experience dictate every move we make. We literally do not know ourselves to be any better than what some opinionated, uninformed person told us was true. The truth is, a rejection doesn’t mean we aren’t good enough – it just means that some person, under some circumstance, failed to align with what we have to offer.
Rejections do NOT matter.
Let them go and refocus your attention on what DOES matter.
What does matter is how you see yourself.
Always make a habit of staying 100% true to your values and convictions, regardless of what others think. Never be ashamed of doing what feels right.
To help you implement this positive habit, start by listing out 5-10 things that are important to you when it comes to building your character and living your life. For example:
Having a short list like this to reference will give you an opportunity to consciously invoke and uphold your handpicked traits and behaviors in place of doing something random simply for the purpose of external validation. While it may sound overly simplistic, most people never take the time to actually decide what is important to them when it comes to their self-image – they let others decide for them, especially when times are tough. (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Self-Love” chapter of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
Closing Thoughts (to Turn Your Day Around)
All details aside, the greatest key to turning your day around when you’re in a funk is to focus on TODAY ONLY – just the immediate steps you need to take. Because no matter what’s happening, anyone can resourcefully fight the battles of just one day. It’s only when you add the battles of those two abysmal eternities, the past and future, that life gets overwhelmingly out of hand.
So remember that it’s not the experience of today that holds you back, but the regret and resentment about something that happened yesterday or the fear and dread of what tomorrow might bring. It’s necessary, then, to live just one day at a time – just today.
Be here now.
And just do the best you can.
We would love to hear from YOU.
So let’s revisit the second question I presented above:
- What could you be positive about right now, if you really wanted to be positive?
Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
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