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Seven Ways to Thrive Through Difficult Times in Life

It's easy to thrive when conditions are optimal. But how do we thrive through difficult times?

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You may wonder, is it even possible to thrive during difficult patches in our lives?

Difficult can mean various things for people — it could mean a depressive episode, an issue with your health, an injury, a loss, a transition in your life, relocating, a breakup, a rejection of any kind — the list is endless. The word difficult is an ever-changing variable, but the constant is our commitment to deal with it, and hopefully gain strength and wisdom from it.

Our experiences in and of itself — are just that, experiences. But the meaning we give to these experiences is what determines the outlook we have moving forward.

I look around me and see countless brave souls in my personal network who defy obstacles every day. I also remember Victor Frankl’s 1946 novel, A Man’s Search for Meaning — which sold ten million copies by 1997 and was translated in 24 languages — talking about how he endured the torture and pain of Auschwitz during WWII; I remember Paulo Coehlo’s novel, The Alchemist, where the main character, Santiago, kept moving to find the treasure despite the countless heartbreaks he endured through the journey. I remember Jordan Peterson’s book, 12 Rules for Life and learning about the difficult times he endured through his daughter’s autoimmune disease and his advice for us all, derived from multidisciplinary subjects; I remember Najwa Zebian’s videos and poetry, and how she translated the difficult times in her life into a breeding ground for positive energy, healing, and a medium of inspiration to millions around the globe  — all through her poetry.

Thus — it is evident that suffering is universal, but enduring and thriving during these times is another challenge.

Here are some tips to help you keep the momentum when you encounter difficult times in life, some I share through personal experiences, some I read or watched, and many I’m still practicing.

Keep the big picture in mind.

What you’re going through is just a chapter in your book, not your entire book. Maybe it’s just one paragraph, or maybe even a sentence. The rest of the story is still unwritten, and once the difficult patch leaves you, you will have a blank page — which means a new chapter to change the record, a new beginning awaits you. There is so much to your life than this moment that you feel time has stuck upon. At the moment, everything feels confusing and blurry, but I promise hindsight will be 20/20, and you’ll see how little of this time is compared to what’s to come.  This is what I repeatedly told myself when I would wake up in the middle of the night just to ice my face to help stop the burning and itching from my horrible eczema flare-ups last year.

Define your success. 

I remember watching Matthew McCougahney’s speech to University of Houston’s 2015 Graduating Class and one thing he said really stuck with me — defining your success. He said defining success was critical to know yourself. He defined success by his health, career, friendships, being a good husband, and fatherhood. If we are the architect of our lives, we must know how we want our life to look, right?

Difficult times in life require us to redefine many objectives have, to re-modify them to fit our new situations, so we must define what betterment looks like for us. If we cannot define it, we cannot resource it. So what do betterment and success look like to you, is it better emotional or physical health, healthy relationships, better grades, a strong career? It’s okay to modify your priorities as they’ll likely change from time to time, but having this framework at every phase in life can really help you stay focused in the game, irrespective of what is happening outside.  I suggest writing down your priorities and working towards them every single day, even if it is one small thing you do for one priority — don’t lose the momentum.

Recall your priorities.

You know how you set reminders on your phone for an important meeting, phone call, you name it. It’s the same way with the human brain — we are in constant overdrive, and sometimes a reminder for your priorities keeps you in the game. It is easy to have a thought pop up in your mind, but it’s just as easy to let that thought slide onto the slate of the information overload we process each day. To help move that thought to the center stage of your mind, practice engaging in an activity or habit that makes you remember what your priorities are. Keeping my health in check is probably at the top of my list of my priorities, so eating clean and working out empowers me and helps add order to my life, and during the process of working out, I recall all the other priorities in my life that require my attention, just like my health does.

Aim for small victories. 

This one is my favorite.  Write down at least the most important 3 tasks of the day and complete them. You can always do more, but an easy way to remember and set the bar is by the rule of 3. They can be as simple as doing your laundry, getting groceries, and even getting out of bed.  How difficult or simple you make them is dependent on your circumstances. During hard times, even some of the simpler tasks feel overwhelming, so be compassionate to yourself.

Sometimes, most of my important tasks were sending out important emails, sometimes delivering paperwork, submitting an application — and sometimes, to just get my laundry done, and reply to my friend. The truth is, any given day, most of us have a lot that we want to accomplish, however when we evaluate our tasks for that day, we can categorize the urgency of those tasks, in other words, evaluating the opportunity cost of not accomplishing a said task that day — if the cost is too high, then that task should be on your list for the day, and if not, consider getting it done after you take care of the most urgent tasks.

We only have so much energy each day, so deligating the energy for the most vital tasks of the day is important in preventing burnout. When we set realistic standards for ourselves, we are able to see evidence of small victories — and small victories are like fuel in the growth process; one small victory translates into energy to accomplishing more victories. You think, if I am capable to do these small tasks, I can do so much more! The goal is to accomplish something, anything.

“Treat yourself like someone you are responsible for helping.”

This rule is from Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules for Life: An Antidote to Chaos, which by the way, is a life-changing book that sold 3 million copies since it’s publication date in January 2018.

Peterson notes that people are much better at taking care of their pets than they are of themselves. They feed them timely, comfort them, play with them, make sure all their needs are met, and when something does not feel right, they take them to the doctor immediately to correct the situation. This is a paradoxical situation— your pet would not be able to be in good health and spirits if you are not in good health and spirits; by taking care of yourself, you are able to assist others better.

“To treat yourself as if you were someone you are responsible for helping is, instead, to consider what would be truly good for you. This is not “what you want.” It is also not “what would make you happy.” Every time you give a child something sweet, you make that child happy. That does not mean you should not do anything for children except feed them candy. Happy is no means synonymous with good. You must get children to brush their teeth. They must put on their snowsuits when they go outside in the cold, even though they might object strenuously. You must help a child become a virtuous, responsible, awake being, capable of full reciprocity —able to take care of himself and others and to thrive while doing so. Why would you think it acceptable to do anything less for yourself? What might my life look like if I were caring for myself properly?”

From Jordan Peterson’s 12 Rules For Life; Chapter 2, Page 62.

To take care ourselves as somebody we are responsible for means taking extreme ownership of our lives and making sure we are not adding more chaos into the order we are so desperately trying to create and mold into our lives. I’ll give you a short example.  

Over the course of the last two years, I have progressively eliminated many food items to improve my health. The list included white flour, trans fat, high fructose corn syrup, red meat, most junk food.  And most recently, I had to cut dairy, nuts, and chocolate from my diet, of course with occasional exceptions — all with the broader goal of decreasing inflammation in my body. Cutting these items means improving my eczema, improving digestive health, hormonal functions, and nurturing my cognitive abilities. My diet now more-or-less mimics a Medditerean/Anti-Inflammatory Diet. It is hard giving up a lot of food, but it’s even harder accepting the fact that you are knowingly compromising your health every day by consuming certain foods. I no longer crave almost all the things I gave up — and finding healthy substitutes for all the foods I gave up has helped me understand my body and its cravings. The change did not make me happy in the beginning, and I struggle on many days when I want a snack, but to take care of myself is to continuously work on my health, and that is what I’m committed to doing.

Talk to someone. 

Relationships are a critical component of living a life with meaning and joy — one of my biggest influencers, a renowned relationship psychotherapist, Esther Perel, says it best.

The quality of our relationships determines the quality of our lives.”

Esther Perel

By confiding in someone, you engage in trust and open communication and that opens a doorway to a respected, mutual and honest relationship. It helps you improve the quality of an already existing relationship because you show them you trust them — and that makes you less of a threat and more of a friend to them, and more often than not, that trust will be repaid back to you. Some of my best connections with others were made when either of us took the first step to confide in the other. When you are going through a hard time, it is the natural reaction to shut everyone off, go in your own little hole — and I completely get that. But healing and improving require support, so don’t go at it alone. Arianna Huffington shared a post on Instagram on July 6th, on which she included a tweet from author Maggie Smith that said —

“Today’s goal: Be brave enough to ask for help when you need it. There is no merit badge for Doing All The Hard Things Alone. Reach out. Keep moving.”

Maggie Smith

 Talk to someone, even It is just one person. They might have a helpful perspective that enables you to thrive even further through this difficult time.

Practice compassion and self-care.

What would you tell a friend that was going through a hard time, and was taking steps to heal, but hit many roadblocks along the journey? You would likely say a version of “You are doing the best you can, give yourself a break, you’ll get back up again.” Now you must tell yourself that if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed on your journey to healing, focusing, and thriving. It’s hard knowing yourself, it’s hard making sacrifices, and It’s really hard committing to the betterment of your life — so if you’re doing the best you can, and you get exhausted sometimes — it’s okay, take a deep breath, take some rest, but don’t lost the momentum. Try doing small things that uplift your soul — eating a healthy meal, going for a walk, watching a movie, talking to a friend or loved one, taking a nap, a skincare routine. Small victories.

So yes — to answer my own question at the beginning of this article — it is possible to thrive in difficult times, bearing in mind that thriving in these times in synonymous with the phrase “follow through the motion.”

In tennis, we learn the forehand follow through — in other words, this is everything you do after you hit the ball with your racquet. A good follow through reduces your chance of injury, and helps you direct the ball to the target location. At first, it takes practice, but then the motion becomes natural.

When conditions are optimal, thriving is a lot easier. When conditions are bleak, thriving is a pipe-dream, but if we redefine how we thrive, and just think to ourselves, ‘follow through the motion,’ you are already thriving by reducing your chance of future emotional or physical injury and hitting the target of betterment.

Keep the big picture in mind, define your success, recall your priorities, aim for small victories, treat yourself like you are someone responsible for helping, talk to someone, and most of all, practice compassion with yourself.

Let’s not minimize the effect our individual pain in efforts to standardize it — we all have our own unique stories, so let us use our unique abilities to become stronger.

Its time to empower yourself. Its time to thrive.

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