Most of us will go through difficult and trying times at some point in life. Times that will throw us off balance. Things that will change us. Things that will sometimes make us feel almost as if we’re slowing losing everything that makes us the person that we are.
Going through one of those major life changes, feeling like your life and growth are at a standstill, can be very disheartening. Especially when it seems like you’re the only one going through it, while everyone else seems to be growing, improving and moving up in their lives. It takes a toll on your confidence, motivation, your drive.
I’ve always been very goal-oriented and had a huge passion for all things self-growth, personal development, self-improvement, whatever you want to call it. I mean, this is pretty obvious, given the content that I publish.
When I found myself witnessing just how “real” life can get and experienced things that we tend to think would never happen to us, happen to me, I wasn’t ready. I found myself having to deal with a lot of things, for the very first time. You have people like doctors, nurses, lawyers, friends, and family walk you through most of these things. What I wasn’t prepared for, was my self-growth not just losing its momentum, but finding myself feeling as if my life was moving backward. I wasn’t prepared for my never-ending need for progress and improvement to remain strong, while at the same time being unable to get through the simplest of things, like finishing a book. It felt like something inside broke and I didn’t know how to fix it.
After experiencing those setbacks, you’re left thinking: so where do I go from here? How do I start over?
STOP LOOKING BACK…
… cuz bitch, you ain’t going that way! Always thought that this was one the corniest “motivational” quotes, albeit very true.
If you’ve ever experienced a major “setback” in life, at some point you probably found yourself thinking “I just want things to go back to normal.” Well, most of the time, when life hands you a shit sandwich, you kind of can’t help but think back to those better days.
I’ve wasted so much time over the last two years, visiting those memories. Looking at photos of myself from two years ago, remembering how healthy and happy I felt. I was so desperate to go back to those times, that I’d try to trick myself into… I don’t know, feeling like my old self again? I would try to fill my life with the things that used to be a part of my daily routine. I would obsess and think: “which candle did I usually burn on Saturday afternoons?” “what shows was I into?” “which recipes were my favorite?” “which day of the week was my grocery-run day?” I won’t lie. At first, it felt like my attempt at tricking my mind into traveling back in time was working. But, there were also days when I’d burn that favorite candle and the familiarity of that scent was enough to bring me to tears. Another day wasted crying over the “old life” and “my old self.” It felt like it just became this strange, exhausting and unhealthy obsession.
Throughout all this time, I kept thinking: “I need to go back to the way things were before;” “I have to get back to my old self.”
This thinking, as it turns out, was a problem. A big one.
It took me a very long time to realize that things will never be the way they were before. Because things change, and that’s just the way life works. At least most of the time. I finally understood that my obsession with getting back to my “old self” was hindering my growth and recovery. How can I go back to my “old self” if life has made me a different person? Why not look at those experiences as lessons, as things that made me stronger and maybe a little wiser than I was before? Instead of going back to your “old” self, why not try to be even better than before? Whatever it is you’ve been through, whatever you’re working on overcoming, stop looking back. Whether it’s the “good old times” or past failures and mistakes- you can’t continue to grow if your days are filled with you reliving the past.
FORGET THE BIG PICTURE (JUST FOR A MINUTE)
Breaking up bigger goals into smaller, daily tasks has always been my favorite approach to self-growth. Looking at the “big picture” can often feel overwhelming, and sometimes even impossible. This is why focusing on small, actionable tasks works so well. It’s less intimidating.
Well, when shit hits the fan and you feel like you’re losing control over everything in your life, you kind of can’t help but only think of that big picture. Things then go into a downward spiral and you end up in a nasty, vicious cycle of negativity and discouragement. So, please, forget about the big picture for a minute.
Shift your focus to those smaller, attainable goals; things you can get done and accomplish today. This is a really powerful way of bringing yourself back on that track of habit and routine. After losing my Gran and having my accident happen just six months later, everything became a small battle.
Getting out of bed.
Going to work.
Talking to others.
Taking care of myself.
Things that once came effortlessly, became dreaded errands I was constantly putting off for another day. Things that once brought me joy, happiness, and fulfillment… were things I had zero energy to engage in. That is why for me, these small goals I’d set for myself started with really small things that would help me get back some of that control over my daily routine. Things like “today I will get up early.” When your life, your self-growth is at a standstill; when it feels like you’re actually moving backward in life, even those small things, like being able to once again get out of bed early, can feel like big accomplishments. Learn to celebrate every one them.
MEET YOURSELF EXACTLY WHERE YOU ARE
There are days when you feel strong and motivated enough to work on your goals and make progress; days when you feel unstoppable. There will also be days when you feel drained, defeated and weak. You can’t always give that 100% to everything you do. Especially when you’re trying to get back on track with your self-growth or goals.
This is why you need to meet yourself exactly where you are.
Take time to check-in with yourself; pay attention to your feelings and emotions. Make this a daily habit, especially when you’re getting ready to work on specific tasks. Once you make that effort to tune in with yourself more often, you will be able to recognize the difference in your mindset or attitude. Subsequently, you will learn when it’s okay to push yourself a little harder, and when it’s necessary to be gentle with yourself. Nourish the relationship you have with yourself as this is something that no one else can walk you through.
GET SOME PERSPECTIVE
Gratitude is one of the things that helped me get through some of those toughest moments. Even when it seems like life is falling apart, you can still find things that make this life a little better, easier, more pleasant or joyful.
I know that it’s a cliché thing to say, and I know that saying it’s a cliché is… well, cliché.
The point is that it works. As you spend more time paying attention to the “good” things and people in your life, your perspective will begin to shift. The trick is to make gratitude a daily habit. Just as you ruminate over bad and negative things, more bad and negative things come to your mind, switching your focus to those positive things and parts of life, will attract more positive emotions. This is why it’s important to make this a habit- you have to do it daily to train your mind to focus on those brighter things in life.
I’ve had days when I was in crippling pain, unable to do much else, other than rest on the couch, glued to my laptop. I’d come across a documentary, a video or an article about a person whose circumstances are much worse than mine- usually in terms of physical health. Most of the time, those stories highlighted the strength, courage and incredible drive that these people have, despite their painful struggles. Almost immediately I’d feel overwhelmed with feelings of guilt and shame. How can I let my health issues take over my life in this way, while I can still walk, work on most days, and still do a lot of the things I once used to?
Other people have it worse.
Yup, there it is. The kind of “you need to get a grip on yourself” argument, I’ve told myself many times before. An argument other people often brought up to me as well.
Perspective is very important for continued self-growth and usually, when going through small challenges, this alone can be enough to help you get over yourself and see things through a different mindset. This isn’t as simple tough, when the challenge you’re facing is not only life-changing but can potentially end up being a lifelong struggle. There are so many people in the world who face very unfortunate, often heart-breaking circumstances. Remembering this can, and really should help you put things into perspective. This does not, however, make your own feelings, struggles and pain invalid or unimportant.
The whole process of self-growth, personal development; the process of making your plans and goals a reality, is incredibly fulfilling. It’s also complicated and challenging. Personally, I think that growing, learning, improving and discovering yourself is one of the most amazing parts of life. Seeing yourself grow and make progress- whether it’s learning to cook, becoming a better partner or friend, or growing your career- is very gratifying. When you suddenly find yourself facing a great deal of doubt, hopelessness, and uncertainty, it’s very easy to start feeling lost. If you find yourself needing to get back on your feet, (for whatever reason) remember that it takes time. Celebrate every single small victory, every small achievement- whether it’s finding enough strength to get out of bed, or finding the courage to leave a toxic relationship.
My “story” or, experience, involves not just losing a loved one but also going from a young, healthy fitness fanatic with a huge passion for self-growth, to living out my days in pain, endless tests and doctors’ visits, feeling desperate for answers. Most of the time, all of that can stop me from doing things I want to do. During the past two years, I’ve also been known to have been an insufferable, miserable bitch at times- which, btw, helped me confirm my previous suspicions that my husband is, in fact, a saint. :) I don’t feel sorry for myself and I stopped asking “why me?” I no longer waste my time, wishing I could bring the “old” Paula back. I mean, she was pretty alright, but right now I’m kind of excited for the 2.0 version. Isn’t this what self-growth is all about? Your story might be similar to mine, involving health struggles- mental or physical; maybe you’re trying to get back on your feet after a divorce or a job loss. Maybe you’re feeling stuck and lost but don’t exactly know why? Whatever the case may be, I think that the things I talked about here, the steps I’ve taken to gain back that control and strength to continue my self-growth, can help you as well. It all starts with taking that first, small step. One small goal, one small victory. One day at a time.