As someone who struggles with perfectionism, I've always liked planning and predictability. I've come to realize that living life that way is so limiting and rigid. Sooner or later LIFE happens and that perfect, predictable plan you'd laid out gets completely blown up. When you don't leave room in your life for unpredictability (and isn't that the essential nature of life?!), when the unexpected happens, you become completely derailed and feel totally out of control.
I have to say that 2016 was the most personally challenging year of my life. A lot of unexpected, and not in a fun surprise kind of way, things happened. I have been told that suffering equals pain times (multiplied by) resistance. Looking back, I can now see that what made my experience during the challenging circumstances of last year even worse was my resistance to what was going on. My life plan did not include pain or hard times, so when they hit I was not ready and I tried to fight against them rather than moving with them. I realized that the only way I was going to get out of the ditch I found myself in was by making some serious changes in my mindset.
I learned so much last year, including strategies for getting back on track after I was derailed and things that helped me to cope during the challenges. Here are a few of the helpful strategies I employed:
Meditation: There is so much out there in the media these days about the benefits of meditation and they all sound so great. I have been trying to establish a daily meditation practice for years but I could never stick to it. I'd do it here and there when I remembered. But I was disappointed that I didn't feel any different and I honestly couldn't see any change in myself or my life. During my turbulent 2016, it was suggested to me that I take a mindfulness meditation class and I did. The class involved homework of daily meditation. Having the structure and accountability of the class, I was able to actually meditate daily for the 5 weeks of the class. I slowly started to experience small shifts in myself and I began to see just how applicable the lessons learned in meditation are to real life. I continue to practice meditation almost daily. I am by no means an expert, but Sharon Salzberg is. In her book, Real Happiness, she outlines many benefits of meditation. Some of the ones I'm experiencing are: the ability to weather hard times better; not limiting myself; recapturing energy that has been wasted on trying to control the uncontrollable; and learning how to relate to change better and understanding that nothing is permanent and that everything is always changing. Meditation also teaches us how to be more present. It's often the fear and catastrophizing of the future and regret and guilt about the past that make tough situations even harder. Starting to meditate can be tough and I know many people feel like they can't do it. It's definitely not a quick fix, but once you get into a groove with it you will likely find that it has a huge impact on your life!
Having a support network: I don't know how I would have made it through 2016 without my amazing family and friends. The support and love I received was so overwhelming and incredible. In the past, I used to try and muddle through challenges on my own, but in more recent years, I've learned that there's no shame in asking for help. When I realized that I was in over my head and I reached out for support, I received so much love and backup. I was touched and I am so incredibly grateful for the wonderful people I have in my life. I encourage those of you who have a support network not to be bashful and to reach out when you need to. Those who care about you will be happy to be there for you. For those who don't have supportive people around you, maybe you can start by working with a therapist or coach to provide that initial support. Later on, they can help you brainstorm about creating your own personal support system.
Self-Love and Self-Compassion: Why do these sound so cheesy and why are they so hard?? Despite how fluffy they sound and how tough they are to actually put into practice, these are some of the biggest keys to weathering the storms that often arise in life. Part of the resistance to pain that I was talking about earlier is that all-too-familiar habit of self-judgement. Not only do we go through tough times, we then judge ourselves about them. Maybe we blame ourselves for being in the challenging situation in the first place. Or we compare our handling of the situation to how others handle tough times. Or we conclude that we're failures or we're not tough enough to handle life's challenges. Whatever the self-judgement looks like, it's not helpful! Of course we don't do it on purpose, it's human nature. So what we have to learn to do is make a conscious effort to be kind and supportive to ourselves. Meditation can really help with this, but as I mentioned, meditation is not a quick fix. One strategy that can be helpful in the short-term is to talk to yourself as you would talk to a friend going through the same situation. We're often much nicer to other people than we are to ourselves. Quieting down that critical inner voice goes a long way in helping to dial down the suffering.
When a new year rolls around, a lot of people choose a word to be their theme or guiding principle for the year. I have never really felt compelled to do this before, but this year, one word kept coming up for me...PEACE. What I mean by peace is really an inner peace. This includes not fighting or resisting the tough times which are inevitable and trusting that I can get through these times. As much as I wish it were the case, no amount of planning on my part can control or prevent unexpected or hard times. This seems super obvious as I write it out but those of us perfectionists out there are like "what do you mean I can't plan enough to control every possible outcome??". I'm sorry guys, but no you cannot! The good news is, you can control how you respond to challenges in life.
The strategies that I used to cope last year are the same ones that I intend to continue to practice in my quest for peace this year. They are by no means the only strategies for creating inner peace and I'm still learning! I would love it if you would share some of your strategies for finding peace or staying on track when life takes an unexpected turn. Please leave a comment below or message me!
I wish you all an amazing 2017 filled with peace, happiness, health, love and whatever other words you want to insert :)