A close friend recently came to me and said “So, basically I am exhausted” and she sat down in a shocking silence. The reasons to be exhausted are a few and instead of being mystical, today I will get straight to reality (as she gave me permission). This could be and probably has been any one of us.
I am splitting her story in themes and simplifying the narrative in order to show you what you can do in each area when life puts you on a rough patch. Her story goes something like this...
“I broke up with my partner” - she began – “as a joint decision for the better. It is nevertheless emotionally not easy. Part of my family is in the process of being out of my life. It will take time.” She then continued - “I also got hurt badly for an nth time by someone, who I used to think of as “the love of my life”, then gradually de-throned him to “my first love”, then to a “good friend” and years later it turned out that this important person managed to show me I was blind and stupid by treating me like a piece of common s*it. I allowed it. He executed. This whole thing resulted in incredibly strong and cheap reactions which ultimately exhausted and disappointed me as I truly wished both of us were more gracious at handling each-other. And...one more important person is out”
“I relocated. A relatively quick and needed decision. Accompanied by all the usual – packing, moving, bills, rents, deposits, cabs, new bed, no sheets, empty walls, etc. It is stressful even for the well organised me”. At this point on the verge of crying.
3. GOOD IN THE MIDDLE OF THE BAD
“I worked so hard lately to push my business up against a hill and bring it to, what it feels, a good place for now. Ultimately winning a place at discussions for a first big contract meanwhile submitting final dissertation and passing exams. All this took substantial effort and concentration at a time when frankly it was a sheer will power that made me continue.”
“I haven’t stopped working my regular job and I haven’t had a holiday in a long time. What’s more, because I am regarded as a good professional in my field this makes me a walking sign that asks for more responsibility and work … Unfortunately not a walking sign for more money” - she nervously laughed!
So, with no hidden information you now know why she wasn’t feeling at her peak. At the end of the tirade, she victoriously raised her hand in the air and said: “And I broke a nail!”
As a coach I wanted to say a lot but before we embarked on a “talk it through” journey I thought – life never gives you only one lemon to make lemonade, does it? Most advice out there are usually targeting a specific issue. A narrowed down problem. But that’s not how it works. So what can you do to make things better while acknowledging that life doesn’t stop.
In a nutshell below is a combination of THINKING PATTERNS, specific ACTIONS and EXERCISES to help you. All of the suggestions do NOT require substantial amount of time invested but they do require your willingness. Those are ideas you can use and techniques you can tailor for yourself. Taylor away!
1. RELATIONSHIPS: They impact our lives profoundly.
This is obviously a vast topic with literature and professionals building their entire careers on the back of it. Everyone would love to crack the code of course but from my practice and personal experience the advice and techniques that help people to get on the right track are just a few:
WHAT TO DO?:
1.1. THINKING PATTERN: Take full responsibility for what is happening.
How is this helpful? This powerful realization frees you from the expectation that someone will fix or break your life. You fix and you break. Full-stop. When you are aware that you invite good and bad in your life by acting and thinking in particular ways – then you know – whatever bad happens, you are likely to have invited it yourself. The good news is that bad experiences are giving you a signal. They are a feedback that something within you needs to change and you ARE in control.
You may not be able to control if someone loves you or not. However, you can manage how you are treated and in what sort of situations you put yourself. A bad experience/ treatment/ situation is a feedback. A good on can also be a feedback. Take time and think of what is it that you need to take away from a particular situation? The lessons are very personal so don’t force fit takeaway messages that you’ve heard from others. Just think of your life and what deep down you know you need to take away/ learn and ultimately address. Give yourself time. If you sit down and all lessons are crystal clear – that’s great. If, however you sit down and you just don’t know at this point why something very painful happened – let it settle, but do not give up on finding out why it happened and where your responsibility lies.
My friend for example was treated as “common piece of shit” in her words because she was disrespected and not loved. However, she allowed that to happen and it gave her a valuable feedback. Some of the lessons were: learn to let go, forgive not only others but yourself (it turned out to be more challenging for her to stop blaming herself for not being perfect and not being able to act perfectly), etc.
EXERCISE: Imagine that you are a wise, old, gracious wizard that has all the answers. You are sitting comfortably on a pile of cushions in front of a warm, gentle fire and you are looking at your current self. What would you say to you? What lessons you now easily see through the eyes of a wizard?
1.2. THINKING PATTERN: Start looking forward to…
Complete in as many as possible ways the sentence “I am looking forward to…” in a relationship context.
“I look forward to…” meeting someone that I really like
“I look forward to…” being in an exciting relationship
“I look forward to…” getting stronger and cooler myself so I can attract the person I want
“I look forward to…” falling in love
“I look forward to…” feeling butterflies in my stomach
The reason why I like this ‘exercise’ is because it just focuses you on what’s coming. Instead of thinking what is not going right start having a nicer conversation in your head. “Where focus goes energy flows” and you don’t want all your energy to go down the drain.
1.3. ACTION: Share with someone how you feel BUT, here is the trick - consciously stop putting a filter on what you are saying!
So, what clever people do is this – all of you refine the way you talk about your deepest, saddest pains. Most people actually share the factual content itself to a large extend but often the way they do it suppresses emotions. People start explaining themselves, analyzing and justifying to maintain a respectable façade. Try not to. Be open for this learning curve. I fully appreciate it is not easy! Consciously, if it doesn’t come naturally, use the words that express how you really feel. It makes a difference to say “I feel like someone kicked me in the stomach sick…” instead of “I am OK, but …”
This is also valid in regards to jokes. The ability to laugh at yourself is great. However, in this context it’s simply not needed. It is a mask. Drop it, because it won’t help you.
Finally, remember that many people feel lonely and if you are the one that calls a friend and “takes their time” to talk about yourself (god forbid) – they will love you twice as much just because you needed them.
1.4. ACTION: What would make me feel good right now? Do it.
Keeping asking yourself this question and do as many of the things that you came up with.
As simple as that. Even if it is just “a cup of tea” – well, a cup of tea it is! Get up and get a tea.
2. CHANGE: Living situation changes and you need to adapt.
Very often, unless you just bought your first luxury penthouse, decorated by the trendiest, most capable designers in the world, moving into a new place can be stressful and most people do not like it at first. This is also true even if it is better than what you had before. I am not going into the details of why our brains struggle with change in the first place, but I will jump straight into...
WHAT TO DO?:
2.1. ACTION: Invite people over as soon as you can. People and experiences is what makes a place ‘your place’
2.2. THINKING PATTERN: How this new place can add positively to my life and lifestyle?
Answer that question and list as many as you can ways in which this will work.
2.3. ACTION: Be aware that the brain needs time to adjust and give yourself 2 weeks before you officially declare that it was a mistake
2.4. THINKING PATTERN: Thank yourself and the sources of your money.
Finances are inevitably involved in any relocation and this can be stressful. To give or not to give, that becomes the question. Every time you need to take a decision around spending, before you take it just give thanks! “Thank you me for being so hardworking that I have money to spend” and then proceed. The ultimate decision you will take doesn’t concern me, but the effective stress management is now under control.
3. GOOD IN THE MIDDLE OF THE BAD: Manage your focus
I believe that there is no such thing as "everything is bad". I do believe that people have the capability to see everything as 'bad' and this becomes their reality. This is not to judge. Each one of us has been in a situation where they see only the bad. However, if there is such thing as 'reality' it surely is a blend of good and bad at all times. Time to leverage that.
WHAT TO DO?
3.1. THINKING PATTERN: Notice the good and focus on your achievements
My friend was a lovely example of a person who once she achieves something immediately asks “what’s next”. Our ‘to do’ lists are often never ending and this is not entirely bad. However, in the cases where life gives you lemons and all you can now see and feel is yellow and a bitter taste it is time to fully associate with your achievements. There is no such thing as only yellow. There are other colours around you, you need to trust that AND notice it.
EXERCISE: Think of a time when you achieved a goal of yours. Close your eyes and see the image of your success. Spend time enjoying the sensation of that image. Put yourself in your own shoes if you haven’t already and see the situation from your own eyes. Look at the surrounding and notice every detail. Slow down any movement and breathe the situation in. Associate with the pleasant feelings. Make the colours a bit brighter. Physically tap yourself on the back now. Whenever you are ready, you can open your eyes.
4. OVERWHELMED: A lot is happening at the same time.
When there is too much going on chances are you will at times feel overwhelmed and will frantically start doing everything. To avoid that and not ending up missing a critical ‘to do’ item - take a step back.
4.1. ACTION: Start prioritising according to your needs.
EXERCISE: Split a page in two. On one side write down what is important for you right now and on the other – what is important to you in general keeping in mind the particular issue/ context that currently needs addressing
“Right now it is important… "
…that I rest; ... to settle in my new house
"In general it is important …"
… that I do what I love; ... that I don’t lose the recognition of my clients
Look at the “General” column and then pick an activity or area from the “right now” column that gets you closer to meeting what’s important to you. Start prioritising activities based on what matters in general while tackling what’s important now. This approach may need a bit of practice until it works for you. However, it is useful as it blends both your values in the “Generally important” column and the “to do lists” you have.
EXERCISE: You can also use the standard Stephen Covey’s matrix and plot your ‘to do’ list accordingly:
Draw four quadrants. Where does each task of your 'to do' list fits:
Top Left Quadrant: - Tasks with High Urgency but Low Importance
Bottom Left Quadrant: - Tasks with Low Urgency and Low Importance
Top Right Quadrant: Tasks with High Importance and High Urgency
Bottom Right Quadrant: - Tasks with High Importance but Low Urgency
You are in charge. Trust that!