When life brings you problems, the self-help gurus say, the smart course is to learn the lessons that the situation holds. Make lemonade. They’re right, of course. But how, exactly, do you go about doing that?
Life threw a whole bowl of lemons at me recently. It was a situation that would have felt devastating for me a few years ago. Now I was surprised at how quickly I was able to recapture my sense of well-being, extract the lessons from the situation and get back on track revitalized and better than before.
Looking back on the principles I used, I thought you might find them helpful, too. So here are my guidelines for sucking the juice from a situation when life seem to be going really wrong.
Remember your Prime Directive
The number one trait that the happiest people share is their commitment to a central intention to be happy. They make that intention their Prime Directive, the guiding principle of their lives. If your goal is to live a life of satisfaction, meaning and joy, the intention to live happily needs to be your Prime Directive, too. Adopt it. Commit to it. And problems spring up, let it be the first thought that enters your mind. It’s like throwing yourself a life-saver when your ship is going down.
The next step to take, in alignment with your Prime Directive, is to reassure yourself that you are okay. Remind yourself that even though you are temporarily upset, on the whole you are a worthwhile, capable human being.
However daunting your situation may seem and regardless of the impact you believe that it may have on your life, it is only one aspect of your life, and you do have the resources to cope with it.
Watch your self-talk. If you find yourself making blanket negative statements like, “I’m totally worthless,” or “Everything always go wrong for me,” imagine the loud buzzer of a truth detector going off in your head followed by the announcement, “Falsehood. Falsehood. Please disregard.” And then tell yourself, “Oh, yes; that’s not really true. I know I have value even when I have lost sight of it. And I can find good options for turning this problem around.”
Be Careful About How You Frame Your Feelings
Accept the sting of the wound, but don’t identify with it.
When you say “I am so hurt,” or “I am so angry,” you are defining yourself by the pain you’re experiencing. Instead, try describing how your body is experiencing the sensation.
“When I think about what happened, my chest contracts and gets tight, I clench my teeth; my eyes well up with tears; my breathing gets short and shallow.” Then breathe into the feeling by keeping your attention on its location in your body while you take several long, slow breaths until the physical sensation lightens.
Once it does, affirm to yourself that you are capable of dealing with your feelings and focus your attention on something other than the situation that triggered the hurt. Find a task you can complete. Go for a walk. Pull yourself into the present by describing the sights and sounds around you, by adjusting your posture or by paying attention to your breathing for awhile.
Watch The Kinds Of Stories You Build
It’s natural to replay an upsetting incident in our minds. It’s one way we have of trying to make sense of it. But danger lurks in writing stories around that trigger incident that have a poor-me plot, or that focus on casting blame.
What happens is, without our noticing it, we get drawn into connecting the pain we’re feeling right now – that constricted sensation – with all the times we have felt that feeling in the past. If we’re start telling ourselves a “he-did-me-wrong” story, for instance, about what just happened, we unconsciously link it to all the “he-did-me-wrong” stories we have ever told ourselves, adding all the past pain to what we’re feeling now.
Give Yourself Options
Instead, once you have identified the physical sensation that the current situation is triggering, give yourself permission to see that you can choose how to interpret it. Tell yourself, “Up until now, I associated this feeling with being a victim of somebody else’s actions. And it would be really easy to do that. But now I know that I have options. I can look at what happened in a different light.”
You don’t even have to know what other ways you can look at it. You can just be curious about what some other ways might be and let your curiosity guide you. Ask your mind to produce some different options and watch for the interesting answers that it will lead you toward or create.
Make the Daring Choice
One of the most daring options that’s available, always, is to accept responsibility for your part in the situation. What? Me? Guilty of having done something wrong?
Not necessarily. Maybe you didn’t do anything wrong at all. But maybe you could have been more proactive in preventing the situation. Maybe you could have noticed that a misunderstanding was brewing and addressed it in time to keep it from developing into a problem. Maybe you could have given better directions, or asked for clarification about something you didn’t understand.
The important thing—and it does take a big dose of self-honesty—is to ask what your part was in the situation, to be willing to own that you did play some part. Be daring enough to ask yourself what you could have done differently, and what you can do in similar situations in the future.
That doesn’t mean you launch into an “if only” game of self-blame, making yourself your own victim. It means you’re confident enough to look at what you could make better.
You, after all, are the only person who is really in charge of you. So commit to your Prime Directive, and then own your feelings, handling them with the respect, attention and care they deserve. Be self-supportive. Make the choice to look for options, and choose the ones that feel affirming and positive, proactive, creative and good.
It’s called adopting the Responsibility Mindset, and it’s the fastest way to suck the juice from a hurtful situation and set things back on the right track.
How do you handle upsets? Do you have a favorite technique that works well for you? What gets you turned around and back on track?