4 Tricks for Surviving Hard Times4 Tricks for Surviving Hard Times https://www.bodywhealth.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Thunderstorm-Shutterstock-1024x819.jpg 1024 819 BodyWHealth https://www.bodywhealth.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/03/Thunderstorm-Shutterstock-1024x819.jpg
One of my core beliefs is that your future is predominately in your own hands. It’s easy to thrive when the going is easy. Occasionally, the storms of life rage, and you may need creative strategies to get back on track. Several mantras have helped me do this.
First, I try to sit the storm out. I have found that, like the real weather, emotional turbulence passes, and sometimes quickly. When a storm persists beyond a couple of days, I shift my focus to myself. Even under adverse weather conditions, I believe that we hold the future in our own hands.
Some time ago, I was watching my children compete in a swim championship. One of the coaches wore a plain white T-shirt with a slogan intended to help his athletes endure the grueling hours of training required to be a successful swimmer.
At a superficial level this seemed so intuitively obvious that I almost overlooked it. Then I remembered the many occasions when I had been lost in a severe life storm, fighting seemingly insurmountable barriers to move forward. Of course, simply understanding hardship through this lens is reassuring. To know that the difficulties we face are temporary obstacles in our path rather than crippling disasters is helpful. More valuable is the reminder to lift your gaze deliberately away from the obstacles, and re-set your sights firmly on your goal. Neuroscience supports this simple trick. We know that cognitive pre-occupation with hardship can entrap us in that very hardship. The road forward always requires positive thinking, lifting your gaze to what really matters. When your mind is on the prize, magical things happen.
Occasionally this approach is not enough. The wind seems to blow in your face relentlessly, impeding your progress, and eroding your humor! Sustained resistance can be exhausting, sapping your emotional and intellectual energy. When this happens, I reach for another metaphor (perhaps by accident, also the product of Henry Ford genius).
It’s good to remember this when you still have some emotional energy left. If you’re able to find a way to accelerate towards the wind, you may be able to achieve what airline pilots do every day: to take off into the wind. I can remember as a child being afraid of the dark. My primitive brain centers were warning me of dangers that lurked unseen in the darkness. I knew that the unknown also held adventure and excitement, but my protective brain dominated my thoughts with its fearful voice.
One day, I decided that there was no other way forward than to rush at the dark, at speed. Terrified at first, I forced myself to explore the deepest darkest recesses of our back yard after nightfall. I did it every night for two weeks. Nothing ambushed me, and nothing bit me. Instead, as I charged headlong towards the howling winds of fear, I started to notice the thrill of adventure. The wind rushed under my wings and started to lift me above the scary creations of my mind. Today I love the dark, not only because it evokes the sense of victory I achieved as a little boy, but because it provides a fertile solitude where my imagination and creativity thrive.
And then there are those storms that are so powerful and persistent that all forward progress is arrested. All effort is unrewarded, and continued exertion appears not only futile, but frankly dangerous. These times invite my third mantra.
Experienced sailors know how to tack their boats away from a headwind into new directions – even in a manner that delivers them to their original goal if this is their desire. I have resorted to this salvage mantra only a few times in my life. By shifting the angle of your sails, you are able to channel the power of the wind in your favor. When all else fails, this can be a useful strategy for avoiding potentially devastating personal, professional or financial conflict. When the headwind beats ruthlessly in your face, you can still determine your own destiny.
There is one other simple tool that you can use under all circumstances, even the most dire. It’s a simple, but not necessarily easy, approach. Gratitude is an immensely powerful mindset that both invites WHealth and overcomes obstacles. If you can find a few tiny little things to be thankful for, even in life’s most extreme weather, you will find a path forwards. You have control over your cognitive brain, so every one of us can say thank you for something under all circumstances. If it doesn’t feel right at first, that’s OK. You can fake it until you make it, because biology is on your side. Gratitude triggers chemical changes in your brain that enhance your mood. Each tiny elevation in mood increases your ability to be grateful, and helps you to withstand and then triumph over hardship. So, regardless of the nature of your struggle, be grateful. Starting with tiny steps, you will build a giant stairway out of the clouds and into the sunshine. Your future is always in your own hands.
The road to WHealth will contain many challenges and obstacles. I wish you the wisdom, patience and creativity to tackle them all fruitfully. The destination is worth every ounce of energy you put into achieving it.