In our personal lives, and on a global scale, we face challenges that test our emotional mettle — injury, illness, unemployment, grief, divorce, death, or even a new venture with an unknown future. Here are seven strategies to help carry us through:
1. Turn Toward Reality
So often we turn away from life rather than toward it. We are masters of avoidance! But if we want to be present—to enjoy life and be more effective in it—we must orient ourselves toward facing reality. When we are guided by the reality principle, we develop a deeper capacity to deal with life more effectively. What once was difficult is now easier. What once frightened us now feels familiar. Life becomes more manageable. And there’s something even deeper that we gain: Because we can see that we have grown stronger, we have greater confidence that we can grow even stronger still. This is the basis of feeling capable, which is the wellspring of a satisfying life.
2. Embrace Your Life as It Is Rather Than as You Wish It to Be
The Buddha taught that the secret to life is to want what you have and to not want what you don’t have. Being present means being present to the life that you have right here, right now. There is freedom in taking life as it comes to us—the good with the bad, the wonderful with the tragic, the love with the loss, and the life with the death. When we embrace it all, then we have a real chance to enjoy life, to value our experiences, and to mine the treasures that are there for the taking. When we surrender to the reality of who we are, we give ourselves a chance to do what we can do.
3. Take Your Time
As the story of the tortoise and the hare tells us, slow and steady wins the race. By being in a hurry, we actually thwart our own success. We get ahead of ourselves. We make more mistakes. We cut corners and pay for them later. We may learn the easy way but not necessarily the best way. As an old adage puts it: The slower you go, the sooner you get there. Slow, disciplined, incremental growth is the kind of approach that leads to lasting change.
4. Practice Gratitude
It is easy to count our troubles rather than our blessings, but such an attitude undermines our ability to draw from the good that we have been given and to see our lives fundamentally as a gift. A change in perspective can make all the difference. Recognizing the good and receiving it with gratitude is a recipe for emotional health and well-being. This attitude enlarges the possibility that we can make use of the good we have been given and even use it to cope with the difficulties that we inevitably inherit.
5. Stay Close to Your Feelings, Even the Painful Ones
Often we find our feelings scary, heavy, and confusing, so we try to keep them at a distance. But we need our feelings in order to find satisfaction, meaning, and pleasure in life. Getting rid of feelings not only backfires but it also drains us of the psychological energy that makes life worth living. Feelings are the gas in the engine of our personalities. They are the source of motivation. They are the energy, the vitality, the juice of life. Without them, our lives wouldn’t have any personality, dimension, or color. There wouldn’t be any joy, creativity, or fun. There wouldn’t be you. There wouldn’t be me. Without our feelings, nothing would really matter.
6. Accept Success and Failure as Part of Life’s Journey
We are all learning: No one gets it right every time. A more compassionate attitude toward ourselves only helps us to stay in the game. The dynamic process of life—trying, succeeding, failing, and trying again—is the only way to develop lasting confidence in ourselves. We learn through experience that we can both succeed and recover from failure. We also learn to be humble and so to develop a view of ourselves as limited creatures that will always need the help and support of others. No matter how mature or successful we become, the child within always will need mentors and friends who’ll see us through.
7. Tend to Your Loving Relationships
It is easy to neglect what matters most: our relationships with those we love. These relationships don’t just happen magically; they grow and are sustained through attentive care and hard work. Mature love—in marriage, family, or friendships—is a dynamic, living experience. It is something you choose every day. It is something that is earned every day. It requires commitment to keep it working. It involves a daily process of overcoming the distance and honoring the separateness between us. It accepts the reality that we will hurt one another and be hurt by one another. It is the nature of being human. These pains cannot be avoided. We can only devote ourselves to do what we can do to weather them and to mend them. Love, then, is essentially repair work. We tend to the hurts. We try to heal them. We express our concern. We take responsibility for our mistakes; we learn to say we’re sorry. We try to make amends. We learn to forgive; we accept the forgiveness of another. As the monks do every day, we fall down and get up, fall down and get up again.
Copyright 2014 by Jennifer Kunst, Ph.D.
This post is drawn from an article featured in A Woman's Health.
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