Everything was going wrong that could go wrong that morning.
First, I dropped a contact lens and spent 10 minutes looking for it. Then I received a warning about an unpaid cell phone bill. After my attempt to pay online failed, I hurried into town to pay in person. But the office was closed. I returned home and tried again to pay online and finally after a lot of resets the bill was paid. The morning had been spent frantically trying to resolve problems that seemed to come out of nowhere.
As I fixed myself a late breakfast, I found myself in a funk, frustrated for not being more careful putting in my contacts, angry with technology that seemed to make the simplest things more difficult and at myself for forgetting to pay my bills on time. I had planned on completing some writing projects that morning and instead my time was spent taking care of unexpected emergencies.
Life is full of challenges. Some challenges will be fairly straightforward while others will require major adjustment and reframing to meet the demands within them.
Years ago, when I was helping design and write a class on Chronic Illness, we reviewed a book by Arnold Beisser titled, Flying without Wings: Personal Reflections on Loss, Disability and Healing. Arnold was a young man ready to conquer the world. He was an athlete and tennis champion and had just completed medical school when polio struck. He found himself in an iron lung instead of in an office taking on new clients.
As he lay there unable to move, paralyzed from head to foot, he asked himself, Now what? His life seemed over. But he decided to take it back and gradually began to reframe his situation.
Before I returned to school to get my master’s degree in psychology and counseling, I had the privilege to work for a company that provided two-week training workshops to injured workers in chronic pain. The participants were mandated to attend before their workman’s compensation expired.
When they arrived, they were angry and combative. Yet over the two weeks, we saw a profound change in individuals – they had hope again. They began to focus on what they could possibly do rather than what they no longer were able to do. It was an amazing transformation I witnessed many times.
However, some participants refused to consider such an option, and remained locked in bitterness over their injuries. When we believe we are limited or have no choices, we experience hopelessness, helplessness, resentment, anxiety and fear.
What situation do you find intolerable or unbearable – job, marriage, family concerns, health, etc.?
Perhaps you are trying to become more flexible as you age, adjusting to life as it is today instead of what used to be.
I listen to the poignant stories of people who are struggling to make ends meet, or overcome the loss of a loved one, or are re-fitting life to meet new health concerns. I include myself in many of these stories. And I tell myself as I tell others:
Nothing will change or get better until we first accept.
People’s first response when I say let go and accept is, “You must be kidding. Accept that my life is falling apart – accept that I have run into another setback?”
Life is going great when bam! The earth quakes and a landslide comes tumbling down, burying everything you had worked so hard on.
And without warning, as if on some internal cue, you are assaulted with doubts and misgivings. Buried under an avalanche, hidden from view, out of sight are all the things you have accomplished. You no longer consider and appreciate all the things you have done and are capable of doing. The rubble is not just life happening, it is a reminder of the bad choices you made and how inadequate you are.
In the blink of an eye, an old and unwanted visitor has just returned.
The voice is loud and clear. “You just won’t learn – you will never amount to anything, no matter how hard you try.”
Taking charge of your time and your life requires not only being aware of your current habits, but knowing how to replace habits that aren’t working. Taking charge means putting in place a new time management schedule that meets your purposes and goals.
It will require self-regulation and self-discipline. The word “discipline” often triggers a negative response based on our childhood interpretation of discipline. But now it is a positive tool allowing you to do the things you want to do.
Self-regulation doesn’t mean every moment is regulated in some way or that we lead a regimented life with no pleasure or down times. In fact, when you put a time management plan in place, you will find you have more time than you did before. You are able to schedule in fun and pleasant times as well as the accomplishment of tasks and chores.
But habits and behaviors have consequences. They might make us feel good in the moment but have a negative long-term cost.
To make habits work for you, it is important to know which ones keep you from maximizing your time and efforts.
For example, you may decide that this is a good time for you to go back to school and get an advanced degree or training. Before you do, it is helpful to know how you currently use your time and what you do on a regular basis.
What wasted time can be redirected?
What current habits would interfere with completing your course work?
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.