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Anticipating Hardship Doesn’t Make it Go Away

How Waiting for the Other Shoe to Drop Robs Us of the Joy of the Now

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It’s easy to become accustomed to chaos or high stress situations. As a culture we are getting dangerously good at normalizing burnout and overwhelm. We’re also great at setting up unrealistic standards and expectations that keep the depression comparison wheel spinning or keep us in the shame of “I’m not enough.”  

Ironically, this is especially difficult when things start to balance out or feel good for a while. 

Our knee jerk is to stay in hypervigilance and anticipate disappointment or struggle again soon. 

But waiting for the other shoe to drop only robs us of the joy of the now. 

I explain to my clients that waiting for hardship is denying yourself the opportunity to be present to the good that’s right in front of you. The good that you’ve been wanting and wishing for. It’s finally here and you’re missing it, standing over there, gazing out the window at the sunset wondering when it’s going to be over, anticipating how sad you’ll be when the party ends and everyone is gone. 

This tendency is held by fear. We are good at magical thinking. The kind of thinking that suggests if we don’t anticipate the sadness or pain, it will hurt more.

That’s one of the biggest myths. 

No matter how much you try to create a dress rehearsal of future difficulty, it will STILL be difficult if you have to cross that bridge someday. The problem is, while you’re dress rehearsing, you’re missing the goodness that’s right in front of you.

What helps? Acceptance.

If we can accept that life has its ups and downs; that if we are human, we will suffer, then acceptance can support us in letting go of the need to control future pain by anticipating it all the time. Acceptance helps us frame and compartmentalize our lives into chapters. It invites us to live inside the good chapters while they’re here and marinate in the now as much as we possibly can with the knowing that at some point in the future things could be hard again, but right now – they’re not. 

I’ve worked with many clients who’ve lived through a lot of pain and struggle. When they reach a certain point in therapy where they’ve learned coping strategies, self-care practices and techniques to help them reframe their thinking patterns, they find that life starts to feel easier.

Their entire outlook, perspective and reactivity is different. Things start to feel lighter and more balanced which is wonderful – but new. The newness of it feels so foreign and different that they have a hard time believing it’s possible or could last. Or they have a hard time letting go of the comfort of their old patterns of struggle and stress. 

Shifting into joy requires more than just awareness and acceptance. It requires courage, confidence, willingness and surrender. 

Change is hard. Even when it’s towards things we want. 

There’s always an element of loss in all transitions. When we allow ourselves to accept the joy of the now, at the same time we’re letting go of the comfort of our worry and the need to control for the hardship we anticipate to come. 

Let this be the year you lean into joy. 

To do this effectively, stay present, accept that life is fluid and it’s normal to vacillate between the highs and lows. Know that anticipating future stress doesn’t make it any easier and give yourself permission to live in the good while it’s right in front of you. 

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