9 Guidelines to Get Through Challenging Times

“Life is 10% what happens to you and 90% how you react to it.” ~Charles Swindoll

I’ve recently dealt with numerous challenges that range from the ridiculous to the life-threatening. I’ve had friends telling me they “can’t bear to hear any more” about illness, financial loss, and an array of physical and emotional accidents that have broken parts of me, but not all.

Every aspect of my life is changing: career, relationships, health, and beliefs. I have to make the most of every situation and so I’ve created my own set of rules to keep me focused and to remind me that all will be well.

If you’re also dealing with a challenging time, these guidelines may help you, too.

Rule #1: Assert your goals.

When everything seems to have fallen apart, realize you still have options, and then assert exactly what you want for yourself.

I want to live my life using my natural gifts. I want to create, write, teach, paint, and inspire, and to use my skills to generate the energy to live and love well. I’m working toward my goals, but I understand they might not all come to fruition. If things don’t pan out exactly as I hope, I know I can deal with it positively.

I’ll give myself a break, discuss it with a friend, and do whatever I need to do to get clarity, and then I’ll re-assess. The important thing is that I know my ambition has to make my heart soar and excite me.

Where are your instincts guiding you? Assert it to yourself, the people who support you, and the world. This is the first step in creating a life you’ll feel passionate about.

Rule #2: Focus on everything that’s working.

Don’t dwell on everything you think your life lacks. Instead, pay attention to what’s going right.

I have the life that I want: I write every day. I take risks. I seek opportunities to use my skills. I’m sowing the seeds. Other people might not recognize the abundance in my life because on the surface, I have challenges—but I recognize it.

I use my natural gifts and enable all that I have to grow, strengthen, and come in to light. Focusing on lack is not an option. Negativity is not constructive. The important thing is that I know what I want and I can make it happen.

There are few things in this life that are impossible and we always have a choice. We don’t have to live in the shadow of what could have been if we shine a light on what’s working to allow it to grow.

Rule #3: Take action.

“Do all that you can do in a day.” Simple and pro-active. I repeat this to myself during highs and lows.

This doesn’t mean setting unrealistic expectations about what you can accomplish in a day, and ultimately feeling dissatisfied. It means using the time you have well—and more effectively with each passing day.

I find it helps to start the day with a prioritized to-do list, and aim to complete at least five important tasks each day.

Rule #4: Create balance.

Do something for your mind, body, and soul every day. Read, solve a puzzle, or learn another language. Get air, light, and space; walk, run, dance, stretch. Meditate, listen to soothing music, and laugh with friends. Attend to all of yourself on a daily basis.

Take time to do things just for you, whether it’s going to a gallery or singing loudly. Make time to do things for people you love, like cooking an extravagant meal for a group of friends. And leave a little time to do something for the universe.

Greeting a stranger on the street is just as significant as donating possessions you no longer need to charity. Give and enjoy it. Remember in the times when we feel that we have very little, we can still give in some way. You’ll feel better for it, and more useful.

Rule #5: Embrace fear.

Do something you fear every day. It can be as small as phoning someone you don’t want to talk to or as big as speaking in front of a crowd. Let that fear become a positive energy that moves you forward.

Be bold. You are capable. You are brave. Don’t allow other people’s fear to bog you down, and if it does then find a way of letting it go. Write it out; burn words in a bowl; see the person you know will lift you. Don’t hold onto fear.

Rule #6: Release.

If you feel restricted then ask yourself in what way. Explore what you can do to change the situation, and see who or what might be able to aide you. Seek. Ask. Share. Sometimes letting go and redirecting your attention elsewhere can be the most useful action to take.

Rule #7: Practice Gratitude.

Look back on your day and highlight five things that made it brighter—people, treats, realizations. Remember to thank the people who have supported you.

If it’s been a testing day do a Gratitude A-Z. Write something for every letter and see how you feel after you look back on twenty-six things you’re grateful for.

Rule #8: Improve on yesterday.

Do something that will make today better than what’s come before. What do you feel you missed out on? Can you do something about that now? Yes? Do it!

Re-affirm verbally, physically, mentally, creatively, and socially all that you have and energize it so that it continues to develop. Present tense and positive communication leads to progress.

Rule #9: Don’t give up.

You might stumble but know that you’ll be okay as long as you learn, act, and remember that you already have all that you need.

Live in the now. View yourself as other positive people view you. Recognize what you’re doing well, instead of dwelling on what you wish you did better.

I know a lot of people may think I haven’t “reached” the place where I need to be yet. I’m not in denial, I need money, good health, and love, but I am optimistic, and I move forward and trust.

I have felt guilty, desperate and exhausted. We all do sometimes. But I know it’s getting better. I also know that my present experience will ultimately enrich my life.

Yours will enrich your life, too—the life that will be, and the life you have right now.

Photo by mrhayata

About Sandy East

Sandy East is a writer, artist, & teacher. She runs uppityupgoodnews.tumblr which focuses on sharing & creating #GoodNews stories everywhere (@Zzzzzandy). She also looks after The Old Curiosity Shop of Writing Tips, & collects people’s favorite memories for What the Dickens? E-zine.

See a typo, an inaccuracy, or something offensive? Please contact us so we can fix it!
  • André Vieira

    Inspiring words! Thank you 🙂

  • Good post, Sandy. My free course I am giving away on y blog discusses these very same principles and in my own personal life they have made a huge difference in how I live my life. Keep it up. =)

  • Sasssandy5

    Glad to hear that! Thank you. 

  • Sandy

    I will be sure to check out your blog. Sounds great. 

  • Aloha

    Thank you Sandy!!

  • Al

    Hi Sandy, enjoyed your post, but what if you’re the type of person that has no idea what they want out of life, and lacks that confidence to say what it is (if they really know what it is). Do you think most people know what they want and do it, or mostly, just make up their life as it is “unfolded” to them?

  • Sandy

    Hi Al, I think that deep down we all know what we want and it’s often the fact that we’re afraid that we can’t have it or don’t feel that we’re good enough that we tell ourselves that we don’t know. At times like this I would say speak to good friends who will always be honest and positive with you or do some free-writing and see what comes out of that. If you lack confidence look at the ways that you can overcome that. Reach out for the support and guidance that you need to move forwards. There have been a few times when I’ve battled to achieve something by myself and then a friend has turned around and said, ‘I could have helped you with that if I’d known…’ 
    Often we want more than one thing too. I’m very much a person who has various goals because I love learning and developing and there have certainly been some things that I’ve only started to recently want because of changes I’ve been through so I relate to the ‘unfolding’ idea as well.  
    Then of course there are times when we convince ourselves we want something and then we realise that we don’t want that either.
    At the end of the day, trust YOUR instincts. They’re yours and they are strong and real and there for a reason. What stirs you? How can you make it happen? What’s the worst thing that’ll happen if you get it or don’t get it? ‘Trust yourself and you will know how to live.’ I hope that helps.  

  • i honestly have no clue what i want… i get “stuck” there a lot. 

  • I would also add, “acknowledge what’s not working.” It’s important not to run away from the negative, but to accept it and adjust yourself.

  • It’s too bad your friends have reached their limit in hearing about your challenges.  I hope you still have a support system!  I wish you the best through all of your changes – I have definitely experienced extremely difficult times and I know it can feel very lonely.  Thanks for sharing your tips!

  • Joyous108

    Ditto Alannah!
    I face many challenges healthwise and understand about people not hearing any more.  I find that I have been isolating myself much more.  If it weren’t for my kitties entertaining me, it would be very depressing.  Thanks for writing this as I needed to read something to get me motivated or at least out of my funk and try to do something.

  • Heather

    Thank you so much Sandy.This is exactly where I am right now.I know my life has broken down in all areas to rebuild anew but sometimes I panic .It looks a mess from the outside.Im too old, tired,weak to rebuild.But Im not and I know this is the right path.I will print this and put it on my fridge in my new place.Im moving home in 4 days,I have decided to leave a relationship.My finances are a mess.But Im living from the heart,trusting and developing a sense of self.

  • Alimanning

    Great post – thanks Sandy!  I particularly like #2 – focus on what is working.  It’s easy to become bogged down with what’s not working in our lives.  I focus a lot on improving myself, but acknowledging what is working and giving myself credit for the progress I’ve made, will make me both grateful for the present moment and help to propel me forward.

  • Jodi

    I too enjoyed your number 2 bullet, on dwelling on what is working. It is so hard to see all the positive when there are major negative issues surrounding you. You are right though, they ARE there and we need to slow down enough to see them, appriciate them, and let them help improve our outlooks and mood. I have SO many things to be thankful for but when one thing gets out of my control or goes wrong, I get very frustrated and feel overwhelmed! Even though there are both good and bad stressors we learn from both kinds! Learning from our experiences is so important too! I have had some insane, what I like to call bad luck, on this recent military relocation and I constantly question myself as to how we ended up in situations like these. Even though there will be things that are not within our immediate control, there is still something to learn. 🙂

    I wouldn’t call myself an anxiety ridden person or someone that has to follow rituals in an ability to cope but I DO talk to myself a lot! Maybe it’s because I don’t have the time to make any new friends in my current location and I have yet gotten the opportunity to network with a deployed husband and small child. But I have to learn to stop revisiting past situations that make me angry and live in the moment. Festering and digging up the past, revisiting it, questioning about what went wrong, wondering about “what if”, can be so unhealthy; especially if you have already learned a lesson from it. We have to move on.

    I try and sit quietly every day and really read these blogs, they are so helpful! I really appriciate all the different perspectives and ideas 🙂

  • Sandy

    I’ve been stuck in a similar way in the past and something that helped me was to focus on all the good aspects in my life. Recognising what was I enjoying, learning, discovering, etc in all areas of my life (relationships, work, health, creativity, etc) helped me a lot and focussing on all that I have rather than lack is a great boost. Remembering that life is to be enjoyed and to make sure you’re laughing one way or another every day is essential and trusting that the answer to ‘What I want’ will come. It will. Live, love, and laugh well and trust.  

  • Sandy

    I completely agree! If something isn’t working then why? Is it right for you? Are you approaching it in a strange way? Is it healthy? Are you trying to convince yourself that you want something that you don’t actually want? Or is not working just to really test you? Research. Ask. Communicate. Share. Reflect. Be open. 

  • Sandy

    Hi Alannah, most of my friends have been absolutely brilliant. Some have amazed me; others have baffled me. In some cases some of my friends couldn’t bear to hear any more simply because so many almost unbelievable events came one after the other in quick succession and it was all a little bit bizarre. Thank you for your good wishes! I wish you the very best too. 

  • Sandy

    I can relate to the isolation aspect. It sometimes feels safer and easier to close in and hide away but…human beings are brilliant (as are kitties!), we surprise each other all the time, we care, it’s in our nature so… do keep communicating with people. Letters, texts, phone calls, emails, face-to-face if you feel up to it and welcome the support that WILL come your way. You are needed and loved. 
    I run a project called UppityUpGoodNews where I deliver secret gifts, messages and cards to people and it’s been lovely and so good for me. I’ve had some great responses and it’s great to know the positive impact you can have on someone and in return the impact that has on you. There’s a lot of love out there. 

  • Sandy

    Hi Heather, 
    BRILLIANT! Instincts and self-belief are everything. Know that you deserve the best and let other people know too, and then see how the world steps in to support you in various ways… Take a note of all the small (and big!) good things that happen every day to make your life richer, brighter and more joyful, and then see it grow. All will be well! Wishing you the very, very best. 

  • Sandy

    I talk to myself too and I think that’s fine! It’s good to verbally affirm to yourself where you’re doing well, that you’re ok, etc. It might feel a bit odd but so what? Another great thing to do when you feel a little overwhelemed (I can relate to this too!) is to look for the opposite most positive emotion to that so I guess serene or peaceful and focus on that feeling and tell yourself you feel that way too be it through a mantra or writing it down on paper. It really helps. If you’re struggling to find that feeling then look for a memory of when you felt felt serene or peaceful and focus on that and find that feeling and hold on to it. 
    I don’t know the full extent of your situation so forgive me if I’m being unrealistic of tactless but could you communicate with other people in other ways? (A blog of your own, letters, emails, phone calls) It’s important to connect and express yourself (a journal) even if it’s just 20 minutes a day.
    Thanks for your feedback and for sharing. You’ve reminded me about the importance of quiet time too – I really appreciate that. Thank you. 

  • Sandy

    Thank you! 
    I completely agree with you: it is easy to become bogged down with the ‘nots’ in our lives. I was with a brilliant friend today who is one of the wisest, calmest, most self-aware people I know and she was giving herself a hard time about not having done ‘enough’. I reminded her about the self-acknowledgement deal and she soon realised she’d done more than she realised which is great. Wishing you the very, very best. 

  • Designher

    Did I mention that I LOVE The Tiny Little Buddha!! Always timely advice…thanks for making my day so much better. Elaine.

  • Diana

    Loved the article.  My life would be more rewarding if I did  some of these everyday.

  • Aloyisus

    I feel like I’ve had these guidelines imprinted in my mind since birth!!

    Even as a child, it was like I knew I had to live in the present and enjoy life..
    Because i knew it would all change.

    I think I have an old soul.
    But posts like this help me to readjust my mindset into a better place.

    My problem is I worry about other people to much

  • Auranics

    Love it – really helpful to all of us going though changes

  • Sandy

    Tiny Buddha is great and so many of the posts seem to come at EXACTLY the right time! 

  • Sandy

    Thank you so much. Always follow your instincts. 

  • Sandy

    Instincts, instincts, instincts. Trust yourself. Does it feel right? Yes? Follow it. If someone has an issue with you and the way you undertake a task it usually is because they are troubled in some way and altho’ they might direct their unease at you they’re really berating themselves. We all do it. We all learn. Have a great day. 

  • Sandy

    Wishing you all the very best!

  • Czarina

    Thank you so much, Sandy. It’s been a tough year already. Gotta stay positive as I go through this & get ready to take the NCLEX-RN in a few weeks.

  • Sandy

    Try doing the gratitude A-Z every day too. When you focus and see how much you get every day in a variety of ways, it really boosts you and then you’ll notice how it grows and it’s brilliant. Wishing you all the very, very best. 

  • I love your post.  What resonates with me today is ’embrace your fear’.
    One day six months ago, I decided I was tired of letting my fear keep me from living.  That day, what did I want to do?  Throw clay on my pottery wheel.  Why didn’t I?  Fear of failure.  Instead of beating myself up for my fear and lack of expertise, I put on my apron and headed outside.  I grabbed a few lumps of clay, sat down and turned on the wheel. That day, I made two bowls, bigger than I’d ever done. Embracing my fear gave me a chance to be thrilled, triumphant and find a new peace in my life.

  • Sandy

    Hi Susan,
    I love the way you’ve used your fear to fuel your work! That’s brilliant. I find that the best pieces I write or paintings/murals I create are often the ones that I feel the most nervous and edgy about – if something makes you tingle that’s the best sign that you should do it! Have you read Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones or Wild Mind? If not, I think you’d enjoy them. Wishing you all the very best. 

  • James Mcleod Shanghai

    This is such a great article. I had written a note at
    Christmas to my Aunt to send her my best wishes and remind her how much I had admired her husband who had died two years previously. She misses him terribly but her attitude is so sanguine. Here
    is an extract of her response. I like it very much and this is an approach I would like to try and

     ‘His wonderful optimism and ability
    to deal with the present without worrying too much about the present-or indeed
    the past-still helps me’.

  • Sandy

    Thank you, James, and thank you for sharing that wonderful message. I have already told other people about this as it’s so inspiring and beautiful. Have a great day. 

  • Kjuhbjhbvb


  • jay

    those are great tips , your words are amazing and moving , they were simply the right words at the right time

  • rt

    Great ideas Sandy, I will starting using them in my life today!

  • Sandy

    Great stuff! Wishing you all the very best. xx

  • Sandy

    Excellent. Wishing you all the very best. Onwards and upwards! xx