I get it … sometimes life just sucks.
Maybe a recent acquisition is forcing you out of your current job, and you feel sick thinking about how you’ll make ends meet. Maybe you’re doubting your next career move, unsure of what to do. Or you’ve gotten yourself into a shouting match with your boyfriend about how you’re not invested enough in what, for months, has been a broken relationship.
And so, on a Friday night, you find yourself all alone in your studio apartment, sobbing frantically at first. And then attempting distract yourself with a bar of chocolate and a late comedy show. But you can’t drown your sorrows … and you find yourself flooded in a deep feeling of despair and failure.
Your life is in shambles – and you know it.
Often though, it’s not as grim as it sounds …
What seems like disaster today may be no more than a sizeable setback after a good night’s rest.
It’s not that your problem has magically disappeared. But once the initial shock has passed, once you’ve gotten out of ‘catastrophe mode’, you look at the upcoming challenge with more perspective. Suddenly, your future doesn’t look quite that grim anymore – in fact, it might even be quite pleasing.
But getting to this point isn’t easy … especially if a major roadblock is weighing you down. So let me share some tips and tricks that I use be more positive, get over setbacks and reclaim control of my life.
Tip 1: Smile more
When we’re angry or scared, the muscles in our body tense up, and we bring our arms and legs closer to our torso. We may also take on a defensive stance, fold our arms and legs, and get ready to either fight or flee.
If we become super-duper angry, we might even clench our fists, square off in a fighting position and throw a few punches. This is how our body responds to our emotions.
But we can also flip this around. Instead of letting our emotions dictate our posture, we can change up our body language to improve how we feel. Researchers have confirmed this works in a study with more than 11000 participants.
So next time you’re feeling angry or upset, change that frown or scowl to a happy smile. Sit up straight instead of slouching on the sofa, and relax the muscles in your body. Or think of a time when you felt good about yourself, and appreciate how lovely that was.
Don’t worry if you’re struggling to love yourself now. All our emotions are transient. So that anger, fear and desperation WILL pass. A wave of anger is easily followed b a wave of happiness, and fear is followed by optimism.
Provided you allow yourself to feel your emotions to the max (instead of bottling them up), any negative emotions you have right now will come and go. Give them the space they need, but also create a new experience of positivity, hope and joy for yourself.
And remember – regardless of how dire a situation feels, you can always come up with something to be happy about.
Now, it’s over to you. Set a 5-minute timer for yourself, and walk around your room smiling and with an upright posture. And when the countdown reaches zero, take a moment to reflect:
How did that make you feel?
Let me know about your experience with this technique in the comments below.
Tip 2: Ditch the negative self-talk
When everything in life seems to go wrong, we often say bad things about ourselves.
We say things like:
- ‘It’s all my fault’
- ‘I’m such a failure. I never get anything right; I just always mess things up.’
- ‘No matter what I try, nothing ever works.’
We tell ourselves that we’re not good enough, and that we’ll never be.
And the more and more we repeat this story, the more we begin to believe it. Over time, our thoughts and beliefs become self-fulfilling prophecies.
Maybe we’ve told ourselves for years that we’re not a good student. And now precisely that lack of faith in our study techniques is what barely lets us scrape a pass. Or we think we’re too shy, and worry about looking stupid, so we have a hard time meeting new people and making friends.
What can we do about this?
Stop critiquing yourself
For one, stop critiquing yourself. Stop beating yourself up for past failures. Instead, be compassionate and loving with yourself, but also honest.
Sure, you might have messed up on that exam. You had a bad day, but that doesn’t mean you’re stupid, or a bad person. It might just mean that you need to figure out how to improve your study techniques, or that you didn’t spend enough time revising.
Don’t define yourself based on your accomplishments
Neither your grades, nor your other achievements and failures in life define you. And in life you will go through the motions, experience the ups and down. You’ll be forced to readjust your strategy to bounce back from failures in your life.
Everyone goes though a tough phase sometimes – and it’s only the lows that let us appreciate the highs, and the high points that give us the strength to deal with the lows.
Embrace who you are and focus on the positives
So, embrace who you are, acknowledge that life is a learning journey, and think fondly of yourself and your future. Everything will be okay, even if you’re in a tight spot right now, and feel like you don’t know WHAT you’re doing.
If you need extra reassurance, take one negative thing you keep saying about yourself, and figure out how to turn that into a positive.
For example, I often think that I’m too much of a people pleaser, because I always worry what other people will think.
A more positive way to look at this would be to say something like:
“I pay a lot of attention to what other people think, because I want to be liked and I want them to feel good about me. For me, this means I have the unique chance to learn to feel good about myself first and foremost and to focus more on being the person I want to be.’
Tip 3: Foster an opportunity mindset
We usually see external stimuli as either opportunities or threats.
For example, if a man comes running at you swinging an axe, you’ll probably run, hide or fight. But if that same man is just holding an axe in their hand and chopping down logs in the forest, you’d walk past them, totally unfazed.
How you perceived this man changed how you responded to the situation. Similarly, if you’ve just been laid off by your boss, you might worry about what you’ll do next.
Or you might celebrate that you’ve finally gotten rid of your annoying micro-managing boss and are given the chance to find someone with a less helicopter-hovering working style.
There are always multiple ways you can interpret a situation. And fostering an opportunity mindset is about seeking out the fun chances rather than looking at everything like it were a risk, threat or problem.
The easiest way to cultivate an opportunity mindset is to ask yourself: ‘How can I benefit from this?’
Say you just got shouted at by your housemates for not taking out the trash and leaving the kitchen in a state. You could use that as a chance to revisit your standards on cleanliness, and uncover what’s holding you back from cleaning up after yourself.
Or if you’ve been at home for weeks without seeing your friends due to the coronavirus restrictions, you can appreciate all that newfound ‘me-time’ and use it for some self-care. If the past year has taught us one thing, it is that regardless of how dire a situation seems, there is always a way forward.
You just need to find it.