The hardest days make us who we are.
Full disclosure: I set myself a challenge recently, and I’ve been failing at it.
To help motivate a group of course students 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 these students openly admitted that they struggle with getting to the gym. And 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, students to serve, a young child 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 coped with much bigger setbacks in the past: losing siblings and best friends to illness and suicide, breadwinning employment layoffs, failed business ventures, financial turmoil, having our possessions wiped out by a hurricane, health issues, and more.
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 recently. And I’m sure you can relate.
The good news for all of us: there’s hope. Angel and I have learned a lot over the years, from growing through some of the hardest days of our lives, and from working with hundreds of people all over the globe who, like us, struggle with setbacks of varying degrees. We’ve learned a lot about what works and what doesn’t when it comes to bouncing back and making progress through the hardest of days. So today, I want to share some of these lessons with you…
1. Acceptance is the first step forward.
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 you’re faced with. 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.
Forgiveness is a big part of this process too. 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. It’s healthy to be a work in progress.
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. (Angel and I discuss this in detail in the “Self-Love” chapter of our New York Times bestselling book, Getting Back to Happy: Change Your Thoughts, Change Your Reality, and Turn Your Trials into Triumphs.)
3. You need 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 gradually rise above the pain.
4. Everything in life is temporary, and you must respond accordingly.
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—at least not at the same level. Time and space heal wounds. Angel and I experienced this firsthand after losing two loved ones to illnesses and suicide, back to back. Feelings of depression would come and go for months, but eventually, with therapy, these feelings dissipated.
Of course, it’s easy to get caught up in a painful situation and think, “The world is over!” But actually, this painful 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. And you need to respond accordingly.
So remind yourself: The goal isn’t to get rid of all your negative feelings or life situations. That’s impossible. The goal is to change your response to them as time changes. Because the truth is, you can’t control exactly what happened in the past, but you can control how you respond to it today. In your response is always your greatest power. (Angel and I discuss this in more detail in the “Goals & Success” chapter of our brand NEW edition of 1,000 Little Things Happy, Successful People Do Differently.)
5. There is always, always, always something to be grateful for.
This may sound a 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 just do your best to 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 through gratitude.
And remember, it’s just an experience.
No matter what you’re going through today, that’s all it is—an experience. It’s something you’re going through right now, and it’s not infinitely bad or good. It’s just a fleeting experience. It might not feel too good, but that’s OK. Not all experiences feel good. And no feelings last forever.
Sometimes we just have to experience the reality of bitter cold, scorching heat, turbulent storms, and pain. These things are part of life, and we can’t possibly shut them all out. So just do your best to feel your present challenges fully, with as open a heart as you can muster. Find peace with whatever that experience entails.
And then, once you have found some peace, take the next step. It could be something like…
- Decide to be grateful for the feeling, the experience, the pain.
- Love the person who is in front of you… hurting, or acting out of line.
- Love the universe itself, and give it your gifts.
- Do one small thing to make your situation better.
- Do one small thing to make someone else’s situation better.
The specific action to take depends on your unique situation, but it starts with you being at peace with your experience.
In my present experience, with this small setback I’m struggling with, I’ve started off by doing my best to embrace the reality of 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 exercise 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 some kind of setback today, know that you’re not alone. I’m right here with you, presently struggling…
And this too shall pass.
We’ll get through it.
We’ll grow stronger.
In the end, the hardest days truly make us who we are.
(Note: Angel and I customize and implement all of the aforementioned points with our students in the Getting Back to Happy Course & Coaching.)
Now, it’s YOUR turn…
I would love to hear from YOU in the comments section.
What have you learned from overcoming your own hard days and life situations?
Anything else to share?
Please leave me a comment below.
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