By: Marc Chernoff
You start your day, and you’re immediately worried about all the things on your plate, all the things you have to do, and all the people you will see.
You’re anxious about what other people – family, friends, colleagues and strangers alike – might think of you. You pass people on the street and, without even realizing it, you worry about how you look in their eyes.
You worry about your responsibilities at work (emails, meetings, paperwork, etc.), and all the obligations you have in your personal life (family, meals, bills, etc.). And you have this constant aching feeling that you’re not doing enough… that you’re not as good as you ‘should’ be, and you never will be.
You worry about how you compare to other people, about how far behind you are, about how good or bad you’ll be going forward, about all the things you don’t have, about what you’re missing out on, about how guilty you feel for not being better, skinnier, stronger and smarter than you are right now.
And so it goes…
But you’re not alone. We all get caught up in our own heads sometimes.
What you need to realize is that, regardless of what’s going on in your life, there’s a good chance you’ll be just fine.
The world will keep turning, and life will be OK.
We’re always obsessing over things that might go wrong, about the disheartening things people might think about us, and so on and so forth. In a nutshell, we’re focused on the negative possibilities only.
But those negative possibilities are just a few small possibilities out of a pool of many. So the chances of them becoming a reality are slim. And even if one of them does become a reality (let’s say somebody thinks poorly of you), the negative impact of this reality is rarely as disastrous as we imagine.
The truth is, even if our fears transpire, 99% of the time we’ll be fine.
Try to envision all the little things you’ve worried about recently. You survived every single one of these possibilities, right? Life didn’t fall apart, and even when you were forced to struggle for a while, you learned some useful lessons that ultimately made you stronger.
If you simply make a positive ritual of telling yourself that you’ll be fine – and that you are fine right now – you can gradually let go of your worries the moment you notice them arising.
You can think better and you can ultimately live better…
You can start your day with a sense of peace in your mind, a genuine smile on your face, and then you can put your best foot forward.
All of this is true and worth practicing.
What about the tough times when a disaster actually does strike?
How do you cope then?
Let me share a quick, relevant story with you…
“Today, on my 47th birthday, I re-read the suicide note I wrote on my 27th birthday about two minutes before my girlfriend, Carol, showed up at my apartment and told me, ‘I’m pregnant.’ Her words were honestly the only reason I didn’t follow through with it. Suddenly I felt I had something to live for, and I started making positive changes. It’s been a journey, but Carol is now my wife and we’ve been happily married for 19 years. And my daughter, who is now a 21-year-old university student pursuing a degree in medicine, has two younger brothers. I re-read my suicide note every year on the morning of my birthday as a reminder to be graceful – I am grateful I got a second chance at life.”
That’s the opening paragraph of an email I received recently from a course student named Kevin. His words remind me that sometimes you have to die a little on the inside first in order to be reborn and rise again as a stronger, happier version of yourself.
Circumstances and people will occasionally break you down to the lowest of lows. But if you keep your mind focused on the positive, your heart open to love, and continue to put one foot in front of the other, you can recover the pieces, rebuild, and come back much stronger and happier than you ever would have been otherwise.
Angel and I have dealt with our fair share of adversity too – losing siblings and best friends to death, financial and business turmoil, etc. – and we’ve written a lot about it over the years. But today, let me remind you of some clear signs that you will be just fine, even if you don’t feel fine right now…
1. Right now everything is changing again, nothing is certain, and you are free.
Everything in life is temporary. Nothing lasts. Every moment gives us a new beginning and a new ending. We literally get a second chance every second.
Every time it rains, it stops raining. Everything that goes up comes down. After darkness there is always light – we are reminded of this every morning, but somehow we don’t see it.
People all over the world are constantly telling their one heartbreaking story, about how their entire life has turned into an exercise in coping with one particular unfair event from the past. Every present opportunity they have is then burned at the stake to fuel a fiery obsession with something that can’t be changed. The key is to realize that YOU don’t have to be one of these people.
You are a product of your past, but you don’t have to be a prisoner of it. You become a prisoner when you cling to what no longer exists. So remember that if you’re brave enough to say goodbye, life will reward you with a new hello. It may be hard, but you CAN let go… and to a certain degree, you must.
You have to let go and accept the feeling of not knowing exactly where you’re going next, and train yourself to love and appreciate this freedom. Because it is only when you are suspended in the air, with no destination in sight, that you force your wings to open fully so you can fly. And as you soar around you still may not know where you’re traveling to. But that’s not what’s important. What’s important is the opening of your wings. You may not know where you’re headed, but you know that so long as your wings are spread, the winds will carry you forward.
2. You have some incredible choices to make.
Oftentimes we yearn for just a tiny range of life experiences – the good times, the comfortable situations, the experiences that make us happy. And yet, the reality we’re faced with every day is quite different. Life gives us a broad range of very different experiences that gradually wrap our emotions up in anger and love and heartbreak and joy and frustration and excitement and loneliness and confusion… one after another. These are all part of our reality – our collective human condition.
The question is: How will YOU choose to respond?
You can revolt against the unfairness of having to deal with not getting everything you want. You can be angry at the world for the pain and struggle you’re faced with. You can attempt to resist and deny the experiences of sadness, frustration, confusion, and so forth. Just beware that all of these choices will ultimately lead you in spiraling circles of deeper and darker despair.
A more effective choice, perhaps, is to fully embrace reality and the broad range of life experiences you encounter, taking the good with the bad. This includes all of your emotions, all of your ups and downs, all of your blissful moments and painful ones, and the entirety of everything in between. Life is not just rainbows and butterflies. It’s intricate and remarkable.
Fully embracing life in this way means opening yourself to unimaginable possibilities, being vulnerable to unexpected changes, being compassionate with yourself when times are tough, giving yourself some extra love and kindness no matter what happens, and being grateful for the opportunity to experience it all.
It means not expecting to always be the perfect human living the perfect life, but instead accepting reality as it is, and accepting yourself as you are, and then making the best of it.
3. There is at least one tiny, positive step you can take right now (because there always is).
Don’t build mountains in your mind. Don’t try to conquer the world all at once. When you seek instant gratification (big, quick fixes) you make life unnecessarily painful and frustrating. When you choose instead to treat each moment as an opportunity to make a tiny, positive investment in yourself, the rewards come naturally.
When everything is broken, it’s easy to find plenty of little things you can fix. When nothing seems to be going right, even the most fundamental positive effort can make a significant difference. Times of great adversity are also times of great opportunity. When there are problems in every direction, there is also great value waiting to be created. When everything is going well, it’s easy to get lulled into a routine of complacency. It’s easy to forget how incredibly capable and resourceful you can be. Resolve to persevere one small step at a time.
Small steps, little leaps, and tiny fixes (very small repetitive changes) every day will get you there, every time, through thick and thin.
If you’d like to get started now, challenge yourself to do so. Choose a specific area of your life that you want to improve, and then…
- Write down the specific details about your current circumstances. (What’s bothering you? What’s wrong? What do you want to change?)
- Write down your answer to this question: What are the daily rituals that have contributed to your current circumstances? (Be honest with yourself. What are you doing that contributes to the situation you’re in?)
- Write down the specific details about your ideal circumstances. (What would make you happy? What does your ideal situation look like?)
- Write down your answer to this question: What are the daily rituals that will get you from where you are to where you want to be? (Think about it. What small, daily steps will help you move forward?)
The bottom line is that every moment of your life builds upon the next. This moment is the bridge between the reality of where you are and the vision of where you want to be.
Reality is indeed approaching you every second. And the great thing is, you’re able to alter it as it arrives. You just have to decide what you want to do with it. The greatest of all mistakes is to do nothing simply because you can only do a little right now. And again, it is far more productive to take many small steps in the right direction than to make a giant leap only to stumble and fall and never get up again. The path to what you want most in life requires a ritual of a thousand small steps spread out over time. Figure out where you want to go, take the first step, and keep on stepping. Diligence and persistence will get you there.
Afterthoughts… On Being Fine & Loving Yourself
Most of us are familiar with the practice of loving and caring for our parents, children, or significant others. And although we do so imperfectly, we do our best to practice this love for them on a daily basis.
But do we attempt to practice the same level of love and care with ourselves?
Oftentimes the answer is NO. Think about it…
- How often to you criticize your physical appearance?
- How often to you tell yourself you aren’t good enough?
- How often do you unfairly compare yourself to others?
- How often to guilt yourself into doing things?
- How often do you put your own needs last?
- How often do you berate yourself for making mistakes?
I’ll be the first to admit that I still struggle with all the above. And I know I’m not the only one. For many of us, there’s an underlying feeling of being less than we think we should be. This isn’t something we consciously do to ourselves, but it happens, again and again. And we CAN choose differently!
YOU can choose differently!
Today, what if you started practicing a little more self-love, self-care, and self-acceptance? What if you took a good look at yourself, your body, your feelings, your situation, and told yourself, “You are perfectly fine! You are enough! You are worth it”?
How would doing so change your attitude and life?
Seriously think about the possibility of accepting everything about yourself, just as you are right now, without yearning to change yourself in any way.
It’s important to note, too, that accepting yourself the way you are is not about complacency and inaction. It’s about realizing that you can’t hate and berate yourself into a better version of yourself. Positive growth is built on a foundation of love and acceptance. The person who loves herself (or himself) is more likely to take positive actions that move things forward for all the right reasons.
In the end, you will change no matter what. Nothing lasts. You simply can’t avoid changing with the times. The question is whether the change you experience in life comes from a place of love and acceptance, or a place of self-loathing and resistance.
I vote for love and acceptance.
But the choice is YOURS to make.