You’re doing it. You’ve been working on your mindset, taking the actions you want to be taking and feeling, dare I say, pretty good about yourself. You’re exercising, you’re practicing gratitude, and you’ve even built up some consistent positive habits. Heck, maybe the scale agrees with you and you’ve lost a few pounds. J
Then…life BLOWS up. Your job changes, your old root canal starts to hurt A LOT, your best friend tells you she’s moving away, your son gets his heart broken, and to top it all off, you catch a cold. Seriously, just how much LIFE are you supposed to handle? As an optimist, and someone who constantly strives for self-improvement, you’re stuck between knowing what you want to do and feeling suddenly very unmotivated. How do you keep your positive habits going when unexpected and difficult things just…keep…happening.
Here are a few things that might help…
- Be compassionate and curious with your thoughts.
When life takes you by storm, and all of a sudden you go from feeling pretty good, to feeling really bad; allow yourself some grace. Don’t add on to your suffering by beating yourself up for feeling bad. Take time to write your thoughts down—all of them. Examine what are the real circumstances and where you are applying judgement or opinion to a circumstance. Many times we believe that the thoughts we have about an event in our life are the facts. And in fact, they are only “true” because we are choosing to believe that thought. For instance, one of my best friends is moving away. She’s been my walking partner and bestie for the last almost 20 years. When she first told me, I literally dreamed about her telling me and I sobbed in my dream. I was so sad because all I could think was “I’ll never see her, I won’t have anyone to walk with, I will miss her so badly.” These thoughts just didn’t serve me at all. All they did was make me really sad. And I was acting like everything I was thinking was a fact. When I really took the time to separate out my thoughts and start to CHOOSE some different thoughts I could see that the circumstance: She’s moving (in October) was the fact. If I didn’t want to be sad about it—which really, why would I want to spend the next four months being sad??—I needed to think different thoughts about it. At first, the best thought I could come up with is “I’m working on being happy for her” I couldn’t get to “I’m happy for her” straight away. I wanted to be happy for her, but needed to do some work to get there. I also had to see that thoughts like “I’ll never see her” and “I won’t have anyone to walk with” weren’t truths. They were simply thoughts my brain was throwing out and I could just as easily choose thoughts like: “I’ll get to travel to Arizona more” and “We’ll have some great walks in Arizona”—both of which make me smile.
- If you need to buffer for a couple of days, go for it.
I’m not sure every self-help guru or coach would agree with this, but here’s my take. Being self-aware and understanding where your actions are coming from is HALF the battle. A lot of us don’t really take the time to figure out WHY we do what we do, and why we aren’t getting the results we want in our lives. Eventually to make true progress with things like over-eating, over-drinking, over-watching, over-playing we have to see these actions for what they really are. Buffering. Numbing. Distracting. We don’t want to deal with how we’re feeling and so we choose to dull it by looking for something that gives us a temporary respite. Whether you find that respite in food, alcohol, tv, exercise or you name it, let’s at least be conscious that we’re doing it. Let’s not just blindly eat a bag of potato chips, but when we do, let’s take the time to figure out what it is we’re trying to buffer away. And name it. Say to yourself, I chose to eat a bag of potato chips (my go-to poor buffering choice) because of the thought: “I’m worried about my son’s happiness.” Write it down. Then write down how you can do better next time. Don’t spend one MINUTE, adding judgement to the buffering…”Why would I do that when I KNOW that’s not good for me, I’m weak, I’ve got no self-control” Simply acknowledge that you’re doing it and that you’re working on making better choices. Over time, you will feel less of a need to buffer as you truly manage your thoughts, and allow yourself to feel everything. Realize that life is going to be 50/50 and that’s OK. You are going to have amazing wonderful beautiful moments and you’re going to have some downright awful ones. Buffering isn’t a long-term solution, and you’re improving how you handle negative emotions. In the meantime, buying a day or two of mental distance with buffering doesn’t mean you have to start over from the beginning on whatever self-improvement path you on.
- Don’t allow obsessive thinking
We’ve all done it, no scratch that, we all do it. But stopping this behavior quickly when life feels like it’s unraveling, is so important. When your brain wants to play the “would’ve, could’ve, should’ve” game simply say out loud—NO, STOP. And if that doesn’t work, say it again, change your body position. Stand up, walk around and tell yourself NO, STOP, that’s ENOUGH. This is kind of like Mel Robbins’ 5-second rule in reverse. Instead of motivating to do something, you’re jumping right on the negative spin cycle and breaking it off. You have to do it quickly, right when you first start feeling yourself doing it. Saying STOP actually interrupts the obsessive thought process and can break the cycle of pain. When you do stop yourself, give yourself a “thought vacation”. Spend 60 seconds thinking calm thoughts and verbalizing calming statements. Try “I am calm. I am safe and I can handle this.” Add in lighting a scented candle, or petting your dog for even better healing.
- Surround yourself with good vibes
I’m not saying to force yourself to be a party person, or to even hangout with friends if you’re an introvert. I am saying, however, that you need to input some positive associations into your brain. Do you love animals? Go to the zoo. Do you like learning? Listen to a new podcast or audio book. Maybe you love nature? Then it might be as simple as driving to a new spot and taking a walk. Whatever feeds your spirit, do something that will make you smile, or even better—laugh.
If you do like to spend time with friends or other people just make sure that they are the ones who help lift you up and not unhappy types. We need to protect ourselves during times of struggle, and not reinforce negative thinking.
- Get back in the habit saddle as soon as you can.
The very first moment you notice that weight lifting off of your shoulders, put your plan in action. Re-start your system and build those positive habits happen again. Habits are literally the bedrock of your life and getting derailed happens. What we’re aiming for is to have the positive habits be 80% of our lives and the buffering behavior be 20% or less. Now don’t get me wrong—I’m not saying that life is going to be 80%-happy and 20%-struggle. Go back up to point #2 and you’ll see that I fully expect emotions to be 50/50. The difference is working toward handling life as an emotional adult and sticking to the positive habits that build a HAPPIER, longer life. So get moving again, get adequate rest and nutrition, write down plans for the day and keep those promises to yourself. Start small, build on your success and change will happen.
If you want better results, you have to change your actions. And your actions come straight from your feelings, which always result from your thoughts. When life seems to be hurdling difficulty after difficulty in your direction, it’s hard work for even the most dedicated self-helpers to process negative emotions. Don’t panic. Nothing’s wrong with you and you will get through it.
Then one day, very soon, you’ll wake up and say, “Hey, I feel pretty good about myself.”
We put together some additional resources for dealing with stress that you might find helpful.