“I’m stronger because of the hard times, wiser because of my mistakes, and happier because I have known sadness.” ~Unknown
It’s happened to most of us.
Despite our best intentions, something goes dreadfully wrong.
You suffer a heartbreaking loss, make a terrible mistake, or get blindsided by an injury.
In disbelief your mind cries, “Wait. What?”
And then, “No, no, no, this can’t be happening.”
After the initial shock, when the surge of stress hormones has subsided, you realize that yes, this is happening.
And you can’t help thinking: “But how could this happen? It’s not fair. I can’t bear it. Why me? Why now? How will I ever get through this?”
Your mind is reeling. You feel anxious and dejected.
Well, something like this just happened to me too.
After eight days away and a grueling fifteen-hour return trip, my husband and I were relieved to finally arrive home at 1:00AM on a Wednesday.
But as soon as I opened the front door, I knew something was terribly wrong. My beloved cat Tiffany had come to greet me, but she wasn’t purring in her usual comforting way.
She was yowling in distress in a way I had never, ever heard before.
“Wait. What? What’s wrong, what’s wrong?”
And then somehow I just knew. I ran further into the house and discovered evidence that confirmed one of my worst nightmares.
My trustworthy, longtime pet sitter had not been in to care for Tiffany.
My sweet, sixteen-year-old cat had been home alone with no food, water, or heart medication for eight days. How was she even still alive?
As a devoted animal lover, witnessing Tiffany’s trauma and subsequent physical and mental decline has been heartbreaking for me.
I’ve had plenty of negative, angry, and despairing thoughts vying for my attention over this. And I definitely felt weakened by the experience.
But as soon as I could, I consciously returned to the habits I’ve created over time that keep me strong no matter what shows up in my life.
1. Use your power of choice.
No matter what your circumstances, you have the power to choose your direction and how to use your energy. You can choose to use your energy in positive, productive ways or in negative, destructive ways. Either way, the choices you make now determine your future.
As soon as I opened my front door and saw Tiffany’s suffering, I had some choices to make. I could choose to stay devastated, distraught, and depressed.
Or I could choose to embrace the miracle that my cat was still alive and empower myself to give her the loving attention she deserved.
Practice choosing to focus your energy in positive directions until it becomes a habit. Once it does, you will be more empowered and experience less trouble in your life. You will feel like you are living on purpose, taking charge of your direction rather than viewing life as something that just happens to you.
2. Accept what is, no matter what.
Practice not mentally labeling what happens as good or bad; just let it be.
Accepting what is, instead of judging it, puts you in a state of inner non-resistance. You can still want to change things, but you have a calmer attitude, and any action you take to improve your situation is more effective.
I definitely rated my Tiffany’s circumstances as terrible at first. But by quickly accepting the situation instead of raging against it, all my mental and intuitive energy was available to discern what she needed most so that I could help her right away.
Allow things to be as they are rather than resisting them. Once this becomes a habit, you’ll find yourself calmly thinking of effective solutions for problems that used to be overwhelming.
3. Be grateful.
Besides enhancing your everyday life, finding things to be grateful for can help you cope during hard times by giving you a wider perspective that helps you feel less overwhelmed by difficult circumstances.
An eight-pound, sixteen-year-old cat with a heart condition could easily have died from such a trauma. So I had three things to be grateful for that night.
First, Tiffany was still alive. Second, I got home just in time to rescue her.
And third, I was grateful that my pet sitter had taught me to leave extra water out when going on a trip. This is probably what saved Tiffany’s life.
Practice focusing on what’s going right. Notice things to be grateful for every day. Soon, finding something to be grateful for will become your automatic response to anything that happens. And eventually you’ll find that your gratitude habit brings more joy into your life.
4. Neutralize the negative.
Sometimes our thinking is directed by our inner critic, who can say some harsh things. But when you pay attention, you can recognize unhealthy thoughts and change them to more positive statements.
My inner mean girl definitely spoke up that night. “Tiffany counts on you to keep her safe. How could you let this happen?”
I immediately cut this off by replacing the unhelpful thoughts with words I often say out loud to my sweet cat: “I love you, Miss Tiffany.”
Always question your negative thoughts, and practice changing them to positive, helpful statements. Once this becomes a habit, you’ll find that negative thoughts lose their power to upset you. Over time, you will be able to more easily let them go, and your mind will become more peaceful.
5. Return to the present moment.
As human beings, one of our favorite mental activities is to get lost in thinking about the past or the future.
Remembering to bring your attention back to “now” sweeps the debris from your mind and returns you to a state of simplicity.
Throughout that long night, I did my best not to get lost in thoughts of how this could have happened or what Tiffany’s health would be like from then on. I just kept bringing myself back to the present moment with, “I love you, Miss Tiffany.”
As you go about your daily activities, keep your full attention on whatever is happening here and now rather than getting lost in thought. Once this becomes a habit, you will be more connected to your inner wisdom. You will notice that decisions are easier to make, and life begins to flow more smoothly.
6. Trust yourself.
It’s better to trust in your own feelings and intuition—even if you make mistakes along the way—than to look outside yourself for guidance.
Even though this felt like an urgent crisis, I took my time considering the options.
I could put Tiffany in the pet carrier and go for a forty-five-minute drive to the emergency veterinary hospital. Or I could quietly care for her myself for a few more hours until my local vet’s office opened.
It was the middle of the night, and she had already been through so much. My intuition said that keeping her home would be less stressful, so that’s what we did.
Remember to always tune in to your inner wisdom for help. Once you make this a habit, you will feel less stressed and more positive. You will have a sense of inner security and self-contained confidence that is not based on the approval of others.
True forgiveness means that you accept the reality of what happened without an emotional charge. You recognize the healing and growth you have achieved from working through the upsetting experience, and you wish healing and growth for the other person.
My pet sitter was distraught by her scheduling mistake and begged me to forgive her. I knew she would never intentionally cause harm to any living thing. I also knew how devastated I would be if I was the one who had made such a mistake.
And so I did. I forgave her.
Practice forgiving others and releasing the toxic resentment that hurts your heart. Forgive yourself too; we all make mistakes at one time or another. Making a habit of forgiveness frees you to move on with your life and experience higher levels of inner peace.
You: Calm, Clear, and Confident
Life’s hard when things go wrong.
Feeling shocked, anxious, and dejected is no fun.
But practicing these habits when times are fairly good will enhance your life and help you stay strong during the hard times.
Imagine being in the middle of a disappointment or a crisis and being able to move swiftly through the shock and stress rather than getting stuck there.
Imagine feeling calm, clear, and confident during difficult circumstances instead of confused and overwhelmed.
Imagine even reaching a state of inner peace as you take action to make things right again.
Some of these concepts are easier to turn into habits than others, and they all take time to master.
But if you will pick even one and start practicing, you will become stronger, wiser, and more resilient no matter what life throws at you.
If I can do it, you can too.