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.
(Finally, if you haven’t done so already, be sure to sign-up for our free newsletter to receive new articles like this in your inbox each week.)
Devon Lanner says
On the hardest days, or just when I’m struggling to achieve something substantial to me, I try not to worry too much. I just do the best I can, one small step at a time. This is probably the most important tip I picked up from your book (although there were many) – a tip I use almost every single day of my life.
In fact, I try to keep this quote from your book in mind: “Worry will not drain tomorrow of its troubles, it will drain you of your strength today.”
And I also love this one from the Dalai Lama: “If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.”
The first line of Scott Peck’s The Road Less Traveled (a great book I found through a recommendation on your blog) is “Life is difficult.” He goes on to say that once one accepts that life is difficult, life no longer becomes difficult. This thought has carried me through many setbacks and challenges, and I am grateful for these words.
Monica Gonzalez says
As hard as it is facing the biggest setback of my life, number 5 Gratitude is seeing me through each and every day now.
Cancer hit hard and fast last year and I lost my husband of twenty years. Waking up and facing the world is brutal some days but if I can just find and focus on the tiny little gratitudes I still have.
– I am still alive.
– I still have my amazing son who fills in the silence.
– I still have my husband’s wonderful family and friends.
– I still have now.
And I still have hope it will get a little easier.
Ann C says
I lost my husband before our fifth anniversary. Being grateful for the time we had helped. Sitting with other grieving widows helped me realize #1 I wasn’t alone with these feelings, #2 I had much to be grateful for because he had planned for my future security, #3 helping others helped me, #4 I’ve always believed there is a lesson to be learned in experiences especially painful ones.
May you find peace.
Monica, I am so very sorry for your loss. A friend of mine is in the identical situation although her husband is currently still fighting. I hope that she can find support from people like you who have so much to offer in understanding and comfort and hope.
I have been trying to regularly workout since feb. Some days i cant due to mental blocks, other days physical issues, and some days i lack motivation. I pinterest motivation posts for fifteen minutes before working out. It helps keep me get going.
Steve Smith says
Thanks, Marc, for your beautiful sharing today. And thanks to Dia for the comment about pinning motivation posts before a workout – great idea. Your blog is a foundational element in our journey forward; thank you for your wise, thoughtful words.
Hola Dia, hola chicos, no suelo escribir pero hoy lo haré. Los logros en el entrenamiento son de a poco así q a ser constantes, yo hace 3 años entreno y mis metas han ido creciendo a través de los logros pequeños (tengo 46 años y entreno por y para mí salud y concepto estético) así que todos sus artículos son muy motivadores hay día mejore y peores en esos no tan buenos hay q ponerle más ganas hasta q se haga un hábito el entrenar, cambiar hábitos de mala alimentación etc. A seguir adelante. los sigo leyendo con amor, desde Argentina.
Hello Day, hello guys, I do not usually write but today I will do it. The achievements in training are little by little to be constant, I trained 3 years ago and my goals have been growing through small achievements (I am 46 years old and I train for and for myself health and aesthetic concept) so all of your articles are very motivating there are better days and worse in those not so good there is to put more desire until it becomes a habit to train, change bad habits etc. Keep going. I continue reading with love, from Argentina.
Vernon Layne says
Hi Marc and Angel,
The most rewarding thing I have ever giving away was my experience.
Our past is valuable, in fact priceless.
God works through us when we honestly share our past.
I no longer regret my past because I know it helps save lives.
You are an inspiration, Vernon! It takes guts to help others through sharing our own experiences honestly.
Vernon Layne says
Yes, it does take guts but the freedom everyone gets is priceless. ?
My reply is for Marc and Angel. I cannot begin to tell you how much you have helped me over the years. I bought your happiness book also. I must say that you two are really special people to give all this help every day on the internet without charge. Thanks a trillion!
And this too shall pass.
We’ll get through it.
We’ll grow stronger.
Whenever I feel that life is getting too much, or I am simply feeling down, these three phrases help me look at the brighter side of life. Sometimes what we are going through is not as bad as we think it is. Believe in yourself and don’t take yourself too seriously.
I love those 3 statements! Fortunately, over the past years I have developed that mode of thinking, and also “If I let go and let God”, it always works out fine and this has been proven over and over in my life, but as I get older I believe it more and more strongly!
That is truly, exactly what I needed to read right at the very moment I read it. Thank you. Life has been tough, as it is sometimes and tonight I fully broke down at the realisation of just how out of control I have been for such a very long time now. Every choice was mine and every decision I made on my own. I guess that was the hardest part for me to accept. Although there have been many negative factors influencing me to behave in the unsatisfactory way I have been, I really cannot put the blame on anyone else because I am and should have been in control of myself, my thoughts, my actions and the decisions I’ve so poorly made.
But like you said, it is not the end of the world. I will wake up tomorrow and it is entirely up to me, no one else, to do what’s right for me. And so I plan to do just that and drop some of the baggage I’ve been carrying around to lighten my load. I’ve suffered long and hard enough to continue the negative cycle I’ve found myself in.
So thank you for the kind, caring, exactly what I needed to read, words.
Deanna Day Young says
There are days it doesn’t feel like what we are going through is temporary but I know you are right. This is a great article. Thank you for the encouragement! We must keep moving forward, putting one foot in front of the other and not just surviving but actually THRIVING in the face of evil and sadness.
Thank you so much Marc for an inspiring article and acknowledging your personal feelings about missing a few days of exercise. I recall what a friend said to me years ago “When you wake up feeling you don’t want to the gym – that’s when you need to go”. I think of this when I have my “down” days and force myself to do exercise – and I feel heaps better later. I either go for a long walk encouraged by my fitness tracker watch or do my Body Combat class which is set to loud intense music!
Thank you for writing this today. It spoke to me so profoundly and could not have been more timely. Your words of wisdom are so helpful and reassuring, and make me feel better. Thank you for all you do!
i’m wondering how people feel about the idea of accepting the reality of one’s situation. i totally agree with this, but what if someone struggles with the process of zooming out and looking at things as objectively as they can? what do you do when someone is convinced that their perception is the truth? when the idea of objective truth is more important than the truth of one’s experience? and their anxiety of being wrong is stronger than their self-love and compassion? i know that zooming out takes practice, but i’m just wondering if anyone has thoughts on how to practice it, or how you would explain it to someone who is struggling with accepting the idea of accepting 🙂
Mikala Huebner says
As I read this blog I felt for a second that I was reading my own. I could relate so much to the lessons learned in life as I have shared in my personal blog as well that “everything is temporary,” and that, “everything happens for a reason even if we don’t see the significance right away.” We are constantly learning and growing and as my Dad has always told me, “Wisdom is healed pain.” Through our experiences we become stronger and therefore become smarter if we are able to acknowledge our journey we have traveled through life. As we learn to accept and be grateful we are able to share and help others. I enjoyed reading your blog, and cannot wait for more.
Thank you for your thoughtful and inspiring words – yet again!!
Dear Marc and Angel,
Can you please write a blog about setbacks in recovery of depression? I fixed my issues and willingly decided to be happy after a relationship ended roughly. I found new friends, new life and felt grateful in a real sense. But things been falling apart again. What should I do? Please reply.
I’m so sorry you’ve had a tough time. I completely understand how hard it must be to claw life back only to have it fall apart again. I’ve had that happen to me. However, you did it once and you can do it again. You have to believe in that and keep focusing on that. There will always be setbacks but we have to keep going forward. One moment at a time. One step at a time. One day at a time. You had the mindset to transform your life once. You can do it again and each time you will learn something new about yourself… you will also grow stronger.
How’d you know? I needed to read this today. My Fridays have been quite lonely lately. I miss having a companion, someone to spend time. By reading what you wrote, a light bulb went off! I have me, what better company! The alternative may be out there but I still have me! So thank you, Marc. Me, myself and I are going to enjoy ourselves and be grateful.
I understand how you feel. I’m glad you feel better after reading the article. Marc and Angel’s articles have helped me at low moments over the last few years. I’ve been separated from my husband for almost 3 years now. We are most likely heading for a divorce. Last year, was such a tough year. My father became very ill and my daughter took an overdose after being bullied. She survived but we still feel the repercussions as she has many mental health issues. It was an excruciatingly lonely time for me. I really needed someone in my life to help me through those dark times. Just to share my pain. My dad passed away in January and I miss him every day.
I feel really lonely. It doesn’t matter how many people are around, there is this sadness I can’t shake off and l feel lonely. It’s ironic that in my loneliness it is loneliness which keeps me company…
Very beautifully put, each and every point! Reading your posts makes me so much aware of all the good and happy things around me, which we all tend to forget often. Thanks a TON guys for sharing such enlightening and wonderfully written posts 🙂
Life happens when you’re making other plans , is what missing several days of going to the gym reminds me of. Thinking about your missing being at gym, Marc , how about making up for it with some bicycle rides and fresh air or putting on an exercise or dance video . We may have times when we can not get to the gym, but there are creative ideas that we can do in and around home to make up for it. Even a brisk walk , walking up and down stairs. The main thing is to do something in form of exercise and this is what counts.
Thanks for writing this!
What caught my attention the most is the part where you mentioned that you set a goal to exercise for an hour daily for 90 days.
If I may be honest, that’s quite tough to keep up with, even for myself and I’d consider myself a fitness nut!
I exercise for just 15 minutes every day and it’s been the best strategy for me in terms of sustainability and getting in an effective workout in a short amount of time.
You can email me if you’d like to see my progress over the years!
I’ll be happy to share pictures of my transformation.
Thank you Marc! What a great reminder!
I just realized I need to change my life as well, as I’m so focused on money and not on happiness 🙁
Keep up the good job!
I moved to Nicaragua a little more than a year ago. I sold my home, quit my well paying job of 15 years and jumped in, all in, and bought a surf camp here in Nicaragua. All signs pointed to yes. Lots of infrastructure coming to the area. Very promising. 1 month later a revolution started. It’s been very difficult. Definitely not as planned. But when we stop and sit to watch the sunset over the Pacific Ocean and see the local staff we are employing smile every time we confirm an incoming guest, it all feels better. It is not going as planned. But it is such an adventure. Such a gift.
Keep on, keepin’ on.