“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”
Charles Dickens opening lines in A Tale of Two Cities were written for this ‘epoch’. On some measures, it’s been worst of times. Yet amid the hardships and heartaches, we’ve witnessed the best of humanity – of courage, community and compassion.
From scientists who’ve developed vaccines in record times to front line workers, there’s no shortage of examples of what’s possible when we focus our attention on how we can improve our situation rather than complain about it.
To that end, it’s a good time to think about how you can use these ‘worst of times’ to create better times moving ahead.
Focus on the future you want
Given we are wired with a negativity bias, it’s natural to focus on what’s wrong now or fear may go wrong in the future. Yet dwelling on what you don’t want works against what you do want. If you don’t have clarity about what you’d love to accomplish between now and year end, take a moment to get it then work toward it daily.
Adopt a story that fuels courage, not fear; optimism, not blame.
It’s easy to get pulled into our own little ‘pity party’, held hostage to a self-defeating narrative that fuels a sense of powerlessness or victimhood or both. But not everything you tell yourself is true. And just because you can find justifications to support your story doesn’t mean it’s serving you.
As psychiatrist Alfred Adler wrote in What Life Should Mean To You, “We determine ourselves by the meanings we ascribe to situations.” If the meaning you’re making for your situation is not making you feel more positive, powerful or purposeful, it’s not serving you. In which case, what’s another story you could tell that would?
Embrace difficult emotions
Perhaps you haven’t lost someone you love over the last year but you’ve almost certainly missed out on experiences that you valued. Graduations. Birthdays. Weddings. Or maybe you’ve lost your job or business or sense of community you cherished. So if you’ve been feeling sad or angry or hurt or (fill-in-the-blank-unwanted-emotion), beware the scourge of toxic positivity and give your emotions the space they need. Honor their validity. Just don’t get stuck in them. As Barbara Fredrickson in Positivity, “Negative emotions are necessary for us to flourish.”
Don’t wait for certainty
Embracing uncertainty expands our bandwidth to make better decisions faster, and to move forward amid the unknowns. While wanting to line up all your ducks up in a tidy row before striking out or waiting for things to ‘go back to normal’ is understandable, its faulty logic. First up, there is no ‘going back’ – only forward. Secondly, there won’t be a ‘new normal’ – because normal will always be fluid and changing. Certainty has always been an illusion.
Live your worries once
Every minute you spend worrying about what you DON’T want to happen is a minute you aren’t in action working toward what you DO want. It also fuels your stress and diminishes your cognitive functioning. So next time your mind starts racing ahead, conjuring up worst case scenarios that stoke your fear, try this little trick:
Say to yourself (out loud is fine) “There you go again insert-your-name.” Then take a deep breath, feel the ground beneath your feet and notice how in this present moment, you are totally okay (just as you’ll be in every moment that you are fully present in the now.) Doing this will spare wasting precious energy, liberating your creativity to more constructive pursuits.
Keep faith as you await the dots to connect
From evacuating bushfires, my husband’s bout with Covid-19 and launching my latest book from a 14-day quarantine to parenting kids 10,000 miles away, I’ve needed to walk my own “choose faith over fear” talk over the last year. It’s been one wobbly walk.
Tomorrow will be five months since I moved back to the US and I’m happy to report that I can see the dots beginning to connect. My lesson: just because you cannot see the light at the end of the tunnel doesn’t mean its not coming. Sometimes the dots take longer to connect than we’d like.
So if you’re currently facing a messy situation, keep faith and press on. As research shows, having faith in a brighter future transforms our problems and expands our ability to make the best of hard situations. On the flip side, operating from fear and pessimism stifles our creativity and stop us taking the very actions that would improve our situation.
You wouldn’t be half the person you are today if everything had always gone to plan. Adversity has a way of doing that; of building our ‘muscles for life’, introducing us to deeper aspects of our humanity –to strengths and talents – that may otherwise remain underdeveloped.
Remember Adler… it’s the meaning we ascribe to our experiences that determines our reality and the person we become through them.
What may at first seem like the very ‘worst thing ever’ (or worst year ever) can be used as a catalyst to create something far better. As I wrote in You’ve Got This, sometimes those storms we thought were ruining our path are really just revealing it. And sometimes the most valuable chapters of our lives often don’t get a title until much later. The one you are in right now may very well be one of them.
A courage catalyst and keynote speaker, Margie Warrell hosts the Live Brave Podcast and is author of You’ve Got This! The Life-Changing Power of Trusting Yourself.
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