While it might be difficult to grasp the concept that setbacks can be one of our greatest life opportunities, it is when we are forced by circumstances to stop and evaluate that we can reflect, examine, and discover what works and get rid of what hinders our progress.
When we know what isn’t working, we can replace it with a new program that gives us the tools to succeed.
How do we start over when we feel there are no solutions to our problems?
When we get knocked down, we not only get discouraged, but waste our creative energy striking out or blaming others for our difficulties or distress. Remaining in that mindset takes away our personal power, and as we learned in the post on forgiveness, we can remain in a never-ending toxic cycle of bitterness and anger. Our focus remains on what we can’t do and not on what we can do.
Bridges are incredible feats of engineering and ingenuity, rising high above deep gorges, over rivers and large bodies of water. I am fascinated by the ingenuity required to design such lofty and expansive works that are both practical and majestic; a combination of beauty and strength.
I like to use the analogy of bridges because we are constructing them every day. They make connections between couples and families. They bridge the gap between our past and future and expand our possibilities as we move from one venture to another.
We’ve been thinking about the stories we create to define what we are going through. We learned that we can change the narrative to work for us instead of against us. Setbacks do happen. But we can turn them into opportunities.
Traumatic events, whether they happened today or in the past, represent an ending of some kind. Something you valued was taken away.
Grieving is coming to terms with those losses. It is finding a way to reconcile unfortunate or tragic events. If we hurry from that ending before putting to rest emotional turmoil and unanswered questions, it can make it difficult to create a new beginning.
When I began this series on “Picking up the Pieces,” I asked you to consider the stories you tell and become aware of the narrative you use. The way we describe our circumstances can make a difference in completing an ending and beginning a new chapter in our lives.
“Of the seven deadly sins, anger is possibly the most fun. To lick your wounds, to smack your lips over grievances long past, to roll over your tongue the prospect of bitter confrontations still to come, to savor to the last toothsome morsel both the pain you are given and the pain you are giving back – in many ways it is a feast fit for a king.
The chief drawback is what youare wolfing down is yourself.
Jesus said to forgive seventy times seven (Matthew 18:22). We take it as a moral imperative.
But it isn’t just Jesus that tells us how important forgiveness is; science confirms it as well. In fact, to not forgive is putting a slow death sentence on ourselves, as the theologian Frederick Buechner so aptly describes.
Writing about our stories helps us see what happened, and our role in the outcome, from a new perspective. It also gives us the opportunity to take away nuggets of learning and wisdom.
Yet, there might be things that happened that make it difficult to let go and that continue to spark your anger. You still feel betrayed and taken advantage of.
Forgiveness is out of the question as far as you are concerned and you are not ready to acknowledge any participation on your part to what happened.
Resentments continue to burn deep within your soul and spirit and an internal dialogue repeats, “I have a right to feel angry and bitter. I was taken advantage of and made to feel stupid. If I simply accept and let it go, won’t I be admitting that I really am a fool? How can I come to terms with that?”
The words we repeat over and over again have an emotional effect on us. They can hold us hostage to everything that is going wrong. When things go well, our stories are upbeat and hopeful. When life takes a downturn, so does our narrative. The focus shifts to what we lost and how miserable we feel.
Step out of the emotional arena, take a deep breath and think about the possibilities you have. Change your narrative from what you can’t do to what you can.
Here are seven ways you can change a pessimistic narrative to an optimistic one.
Become aware of what you say to yourself.
Unexpected catastrophes and setbacks due to illness or losses result in drastic changes. Our first reaction is feeling overwhelmed and helpless.
At any moment in time within a normal day, things can happen that can disrupt your day. But we can learn valuable insights during such times.
Such an event occurred to me that was a profound teachable moment. It illustrates how a frustrating and irritating moment can teach us valuable lessons. Here is my story.
I was washing clothes, preparing for our family to leave the following day on a camping trip. The water flow going into my washing machine was exceedingly slow. I had been improvising by attaching a hose from my laundry tub faucet to my washing machine to fill it.
When the phone rang in our office, I didn’t bother to shut off the faucet thinking I would only be a minute. But the call was a business call that took more time than anticipated.
In preparing a speech and workshop for a group of writers on memoirs, I thought about how the threads of our past continue to have an influence on everything we do. Those threads are the many stories that make up our lives.
There are many stories that need to be told – stories that only you can tell. While we may live through similar times, everyone experiences those times differently and each of us will have a different interpretation of what occurred.
There will be funny stories and stories that break your heart, but all have an important message to share.
Several years ago, I did an interview with Stephanie Hill Williams, a Christian radio station host. Before the interview, I was given a set of questions to preview that would be used in our discussion. They included my childhood years, family, career goals and my aspirations as a writer and speaker.
This interview made me pause and think about who I am, what in my upbringing helped me achieve and what things continue to make me struggle. We rarely stop to consider who we are because we are too busy living life.
When facing difficulties, all the negative attributes we have placed on ourselves rush to the front and center of our thinking. We forget all the productive things we have done.
When you were little, life was exciting. Those first tentative steps as a toddler soon became an adventure as you ran around exploring your world. Before long, you were enrolled in kindergarten, then grade school, high school and on to college.
Excited about all the possibilities, you set out to conquer the world.
Then life hit. Others got the jobs you wanted. College debts mounted and your first paychecks barely covered the rent. Relationships you thought would last ended with bad feelings and the hope for marriage and family evaporated.
Each time we get knocked down, it becomes harder and harder to get up. The goals and aspirations we had are abandoned.