“Even the darkest night will end and the sun will rise.”
Recently I’ve been taking things gently and prioritising my well-being after what was a really difficult year. Unfortunately, those of us who work in the personal development profession are not immune to the rollercoaster of life so, in this blog, I thought I’d share with you my top tips for navigating hard times with more grace.
But what do I mean by grace?
The google definition of grace is a smoothness and elegance of movement and courteous goodwill. To me, it means being able to look back and feel proud of how I handled a difficult situation.
This is important to me because there have been many times in the past when I’ve cringed a little at my own behaviour! So if you find yourself regularly left with that ‘icky’ feeling and beating yourself up for past mistakes, I hear you!
Read on to hear what I’ve learned…
1. Be gentle with yourself
Firstly, let’s start by being gentle and treating ourselves like our own best friend.
We all play a number of different roles in our daily life, often having to juggle conflicting priorities, responsibilities and expectations. And when life gets hard, our capacity diminishes, and it can become even more difficult to fulfil all these roles and expectations.
Sadly, instead of increasing our self-care and self-compassion to help ourselves navigate these tricky times as gracefully as possible, many of us focus on others, beat ourselves up and push ourselves even harder, and then end up in a heap wondering how we got here!
Self-care is essentially a reflection of our relationship with ourselves. It is very simply caring for ourselves in the same way we would care for someone that we love.
But whilst this may sound simple, it’s not necessarily easy and this is why so many of us continue to put other peoples feelings, wants and needs in front of our own, to the detriment of ourselves.
The reality is that we cannot pour all of ourselves into others otherwise we’ll end up empty with nothing left to give. And then what?
When times are hard it’s time to give yourself permission to be human, to slow down, rest, cancel commitments and ask for or accept offers of help and support.
2. Feel all the feels
No one wants to experience negative feelings and situations. And I am no different! I can procrastinate, avoid and bury my head in the sand just as well as the rest of you can.
I have a myriad of avoidance tactics that successfully stop me from dealing with difficult things such as work, Netflix, food and booze!
Escapism is the best….until it isn’t! Because the thing is, the things we are avoiding don’t go away! Eventually, whatever we are using to avoid the unavoidable wears off and whoop there it all is!
I have learned this the hard way MANY times!
In reality, you can’t avoid the difficult stuff. You have to feel your feelings as they are signposting you towards the things that are important to you such as:
- your unmet needs
- violated boundaries
- difficult conversations you need to have
- actions you need to take to actually feel better
Yes, diving into those difficult places is not fun and probably won’t bring you any joy in the short term. And yet the joy, peace and balance you desire are usually on the other side of whatever it is you fear the most.
3. Focus on what you can control
No matter how much our inner control freak wants to be able to control EVERYTHING, the sad reality is that we can’t!
Trying to control the uncontrollable is exhausting (believe me I’ve tried!). It’s also incredibly disempowering!
When we focus our energy on those things that we can influence it enables us to make changes, builds confidence, and empowers us to move forward and become the creator of our life.
Conversely, if we are putting our energy into things we cannot change or have very little influence over we will drain our battery and other people may also start to see us as unduly negative and critical.
What can we control? Our own thoughts, behaviours, choices and perspectives. Even in the crappiest of situations we always have a choice and what you choose to focus on will ultimately shape your experience.
Read more about this in a previous newsletter – Where is your focus?
4. Have a little faith
I’m not a particularly religious person; however, I do believe in something bigger than ourselves.
Whether you call it God, Allah, spirit, the universe, fate, karma, luck or divine intervention (or a load of old crap), it doesn’t really matter.
The point is that when you acknowledge that there is a force bigger than you at play in your life, it allows you to begin to loosen your grip on things a little bit.
I’m going to use a quote from the author Jen Scincero to illustrate this point –
“Just like electricity and gravity – two things that impact our everyday lives that we don’t actually see, that few of us understand, and that, hello, everyone believes in any way – universal intelligence and the power of our thoughts are real and affecting our lives every single moment. You show your faith in gravity by not flinging yourself off roofs and your faith in electricity by not picking at a light socket with a fork. You may not understand the intricacies of how it all works, but still, you’re totally down with following the rules.
We live in a universe that is made up of energy, everything is vibrating, moving, changing, and buzzing. This goes for all that’s visible as well as all that’s unseen.”
Often tough times can feel chaotic and the instinctive thing to do is to take it upon ourselves to try and regain control in some way.
This can lead to us choosing comfort over courage and hanging on so tightly to things (our beliefs, being right, people, jobs etc) that it ends up negatively impacting our mental, emotional and physical wellbeing and our relationships with others.
Essentially we allow fear to drive our behaviour.
The opposite of fear and doubt is trust – trusting yourself to be able to deal with whatever happens. Because if you are reading this then you have a 100% success rate of making it through hard times.
The one consistent thing in all our lives is change. Nothing is certain. So sometimes the best thing we can do for ourselves (and others) is to have a little faith, trust and let go.
This too shall pass…
5. Notice your judgement
When you find yourself struggling to understand another person or getting irritated by a part of them that you perceive as undesirable, it could be because it’s something that is under-expressed in some way in your own life at the current time.
So when you notice yourself judging someone else, try using this judgement as an opportunity to get curious about why it bothers you so much.
Often you find the key to the challenges you are experiencing hidden in the under-expressed parts of yourself.
For example, if you perceive someone as selfish, maybe you need to be less selfless and start taking better care of your needs…
“We judge people in areas where we are vulnerable to shame. If you feel good about that area in your own life, you’ll have no interest in judging other people’s choices.”
– Brene Brown
I choose to embrace the belief that we are all doing the best we can with the knowledge and the resources we have at this moment in time.
Once we know better then we can do better, but often that knowledge is the wisdom of hindsight – the new knowledge and experience we gained from making that choice, in that situation, at that time.
That doesn’t mean that someones best is always good enough or that we should put up with poor behaviour or performance. It simply means that we stop ‘should-ing’ all over ourselves and others and accept what is.
Now I appreciate that those of you with high standards for yourself and others may recoil at this perspective! And interestingly, I’ve also noticed in my coaching practice that it’s the high achievers, pushers and perfectionists amongst us that are often the most judgemental and benefit greatly from this mindset shift…
“All I know is that my life is better when I assume that people are doing their best. It keeps me out of judgment and lets me focus on what is, and not what should or could be.”
– Brené Brown
6. Start sifting for gold
In my experience, every difficult or sad situation has a comforting or more hopeful aspect, even though this may not be immediately apparent.
This doesn’t mean you can’t be angry, hurt, upset or any other combo of emotions that are true for you at that moment. As I said, feel all the feels.
And, when the storm has passed, when you feel ready, see if you can sift through all that and find a few nuggets of gold. Is there anything to learn? Can you remember any good times that you can cherish?
There is an awful lot of wisdom that can come from difficult times. They can help us to know ourselves better, get clear on our values and what (and who) is really important to us in life.
Remember holding on to hurt, anger and upset is like drinking poison and expecting the other person to die. It hurts you much more than them.