Sh*t happens. Frequently! And the reason the phrase, “When it rains, it pours” exists, is because when bad stuff happens, it seems to happen all at the same time. And it stinks! But don’t despair! Even when the train goes waaaaay off the tracks, even when you think you will never get back on track, you can still recover, and even be happy in spite of (or maybe even because of) your bad luck.
All you need to do is step back, take a deep breath, and follow these four steps.
Step One: Find Gratitude Wherever You Can
This is not about being a Pollyanna or blindly quipping that “every cloud has a silver lining.” Finding gratitude is about noticing what’s good about your terrible situation and being grateful for those small blessings. Even when it seems callous or ridiculous to do so.
The day my grandma passed away was a terrible day, for obvious reasons. But, the timing of things was such that I was able to teach my workout class without a last minute scramble for a sub. The weather was wonderful, everyone was in town, and she passed away with quite a lot of dignity.
It was easy to overlook these small blessings, to focus on everything that was terrible and wrong with the situation, but that didn’t help. Finding gratitude did. Finding gratitude is a skill. The more you practice looking for it, the more things you will find to be grateful for. And the better, and luckier, you will feel.
Step Two: Put Your Situation in Perspective
Don’t you hate it when you are trying to tell your story, and the person you are talking to one-ups you and starts in telling you how their situation is much worse than yours? While that is one of the worst things another person can do to us, it’s an important thing to us to do for ourselves. We read the news. We watch TV. We know people who… and knowing these facts helps keep our own disaster in perspective.
Last week I experienced a major sewer-line disaster that will derail me financially for years. It has impacted my entire family and it has made for some uncomfortable and stressful situations. There are going to be serious and far-reaching consequences, but it will not impact my relationships. It will not diminish the joy I experience walking my dogs or reading my book. My finances will change, but I will still eat. I still have a home. In five years’ time, the impact will be gone.
Having perspective is similar to having gratitude, but it is more of an intellectual acknowledgement in one’s own head as to the proper scope of the disaster. Gratitude is more in the heart. Life moves on, no matter what, and having perspective means acknowledging this fact. Your life might not look how you planned, but still going to move ahead. Have perspective. See your situation intellectually and without attachment. Don’t allow yourself to miss what is, by focusing on what could have been.
Step Three: Realize What You Can Control and What You Can’t Control
You cannot control what happened to you, but you can control the result of your disaster and you can control your reaction. Ask yourself, “What can I do right now to make myself feel better?”
Right now I can make myself a cup of tea. Right now I can light a pretty candle, sit up tall, take a few breaths and smile. I can go upstairs, bush out my hair and put on some jewelry. Why? Because it will make me feel better. Nobody else is going to comfort us, so we might as well get busy making ourselves happy.
When things go wrong, it’s psychologically important to exert control over the things that we can. It keeps us out of victim mentality and it makes us feel more in control. Find what you can control and proactively choose your actions.
This extends to our actions with others as well. Take the lessons learned from your disaster and educate others through your loss. Your disaster has imbued you with wisdom. Spread the gift of this newfound wisdom to others. Some of the most beautiful things on earth have been the result of unspeakable disasters. You may have been handed some pretty sour lemons. What kind of lemonade are you going to make?
Step Four: Look for Deeper Meaning
What has your disaster taught you? Is this situation a metaphor for something else in your life? If everything happens for a reason, why did this happen to you? When I literally had sh*t burbling up from the sewer and filling my house, I started thinking about the metaphoric sh*t in my life. Was I was stuffing down too much sh*t? Did I need to clean out my sh*t? Did I need to deal with my sh*t? What was my deeper lesson here?
Whether my sewage explosion was truly a sign from the universe or not, in my mind, thinking about the deeper meaning of my disaster gives me control. I take myself out of victim mode and I regain control over my life. I see the steps I can take to reduce the amount of shi*t, both metaphoric and literal, that’s filling my life. I can be proactive, rather than reactive. And I feel better, knowing that I’m actually doing something to make things better.
Disasters happen. To all of us, all throughout our lives. Some are big, and some are small, but no matter what happens to you, you can recover. Not only that, you can thrive! All it takes is a little gratitude, a little perspective, knowing what you can and can’t control, acting instead of reacting, and looking for the deeper meaning.
In the words of Martin Luther King, “We Shall Overcome!” And overcome we shall!