What is the challenge today? Is it fallout from a divorce, financial woes, bad diagnosis, unemployment, domestic abuse, or a failing parent? Or is it something more prosaic, like a flat tire, a sick child who needs a parent at home, or an unbalanced checkbook? Every day entails dealing with one trial or another. Even if you are relaxing on a beach, the challenge may be to turn off the cacophony of worry or navigate a sudden emptiness arising from feeling disconnected from all your technological devices.
The good news? Every day you get more practice dealing with life’s surprises. By now, whether you recognize it or not, you have amassed a long list of skills in handling unexpected challenges. Unfortunately, it is easy to forget your storehouse of coping mechanisms and focus on the challenge du jour as if it will run over you like a 10-ton truck. Taking the time to think about how resilient you have been, and appreciating your flexibility, tolerance, and stamina, can be wonderfully supportive, especially when life is fairly balanced and predictable—as it provides better perspective when things really go awry.
That new appreciation for your ability to cope counteracts a natural tendency to think, “I didn’t handle that situation so gracefully,” and then feel inadequate. From there, it is only a baby step to the vortex of self-downing, guilt, remorse, feelings of worthlessness, anxiety, and even depression. Instead, you might want to try thinking, “So what if I didn’t handle this with great equanimity and poise? I managed to get through it, even though it was very tough.” Resist the urge to be emotionally perfectionist. Give yourself the gift of credit for simply slogging through something. If you demand a cheerful response to every challenge, you almost guarantee you will fall short and end up lambasting yourself for not bucking up more skillfully.
You can be sure of one thing: Life will not always go according to plan. If you have taken the time to look back on all the situations you have handled, given yourself a boatload of credit for making it through them, and reassured yourself that you have what it takes to tackle anything that doesn’t kill you, you are primed for life. Sometimes it will be messy, unpredictable, and annoying. That’s just how it is. Why add insult to injury by layering on self-recrimination?
The good news is no one singled you out for challenges. Everyone gets them. Think of them as an opportunity to practice compassion. Dip into your own experiences of frustration, loss, and pain to find a well of sympathy and understanding for other people’s trials and tribulations. This way, you use your challenges to make the world better for everyone. Lend a hand, help out financially if you can, say a kind word, give a hug, and see how your life is richer, fuller, and more meaningful.
The following is an exercise you might like to try. It is called a list of 100. You can use the topic I suggest, “100 Difficult Things I Have Handled,” or any other idea that speaks to you:
- Start by numbering a piece of paper from 1 to 100.
- Write your topic at the top of the page.
- Set a timer for 20 minutes and write as quickly as possible.
- The only way you can get to 100 is by allowing yourself to write whatever occurs to you, even if it’s the same thing you wrote 10 times before. If you allow yourself to repeat items, new ideas will start bubbling up from your unconscious mind.
- At the end of 20 minutes, stop.
- Read through your list and, if it appeals, see how many times certain themes come up. Since 100 easily lends itself to percentages, you can notice patterns quickly.
I hope this exercise helps you deeply appreciate your myriad ways of coping and dealing with life’s vicissitudes.
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