“Ships don’t sink because of the water around them; ships sink because of the water that gets in them. Don’t let what’s happening around you get inside you and weigh you down.” ~Unknown
Do you ever feel like your life is a rollercoaster?
One second, you’re on top of the world. The next, you're down in the dumps.
For me, this feeling of going up and down began back in high school.
Before then, everything in life seemed like a test run. Sure, there were exams, extracurricular activities, and the usual social pressures. But now that university was only a few years away, things suddenly turned serious.
“These are the most important years of your life,” people would say. “Make the best use of them.”
And so, every single thing, no matter how big or small, seemed to have an amplified effect. If I didn't do something right, my life was over. But if I did achieve a step in the right direction, my life was set.
When I applied for a leadership position that I thought was a good fit, I convinced myself that I absolutely had to get it. I read the leadership responsibilities diligently, practiced the same speech over and over, and thought about what I would do when I got the position.
The result? I didn't get it. My life, as I knew it, was over.
Fast-forward a few years to university: I had decided by this time that I wanted to go to business school. My friends and I would talk about the application process and how to improve our chances of acceptance. With bated breath, I finalized my application and submitted it.
The result? I was accepted. Since the school had strong internship and job prospects, my life was set.
While I had fun, school was also incredibly stressful. Classmates and I would beam with excitement when we were invited to interviews, only to be disheartened a few days later when an offer didn't come.
Later, I received an offer to work in a role that seemed perfect for what I was looking for. I was elated.
As you can probably guess by now, that feeling didn't last.
It began to feel like no matter what I did or how much effort I put in, life was never a smooth path. Seemingly promising opportunities would lead me to obstacles in the way. Even when I did get something I wanted, it would lead to another stressful problem that needed solving. And so on it went.
After dealing with these emotions and thoughts for years, I felt exhausted. It felt as if there was no end to the tunnel. No point in time when I could just put down everything, sit, and enjoy the scenery for a while.
Eventually, I figured that it wasn't simply the swirl of events surrounding me that caused my ups and downs. It was my perspective. I consistently attached myself to specific outcomes, as if my life depended on them, and felt devastated when things didn’t work out.
Sure, some of the things I experienced could easily make anyone feel the same way. Had I taken a different view, however, I wouldn't have constantly psyched myself up and created these unhealthy emotions.
When I look back at what I thought were huge victories and setbacks at the time, they seem insignificant now. My life wasn't over, as I believed it to be, nor was it set in stone. And truthfully, I wouldn't want either.
I learned that no matter what happens, life goes on. Celebrations and challenges are a part of everyone's life, not the be-all and end-all. With practice, I've started incorporating a sense of peace into my life by using some practices that anyone can apply.
4 Practices to Help You Maintain Peace and Perspective
1. Expect twists and turns.
Recently, I went on a long-awaited vacation. Soon after landing, I stepped off the plane relieved and excited to begin my holiday.
Unfortunately, my new luggage case arrived less than intact.
“Why me?” I thought. This was the first time in years that I had used the airport check-in, and my luggage was the only one that was damaged.
I realized then that I had two choices: I could let this ruin my vacation, or I could enjoy my holiday regardless.
I admit, I did grumble about it initially. But later I took the contents out and put the case out of view so that I wouldn’t spend my holiday thinking about it.
Unexpected events happen to everyone. It’s important to acknowledge them as a part of life and plan for them when possible. Even though I felt upset about possibly tossing out my new favorite luggage, I reminded myself how fortunate I was that I got to use it in the first place.
Thankfully, the airline ended up offering to get my luggage case repaired.
I realize some twists and turns are more emotionally trying than damaged luggage, and far more difficult to accept. But if we learn to expect the unexpected, we’ll spend less time resisting life’s inevitable curveballs and more time proactively dealing with them.
2. Look at the big picture.
Painful events and experiences happen to everyone. Sometimes, they’re so painful that it feels like nothing will ever take away the feeling of sorrow or hurt. But everything heals in time, and sometimes good can come from even the most traumatic situations.
A few years ago, a relative of mine lost her husband to cancer. It was devastating for everyone, especially for her family. At the time, it felt almost unimaginable that someone so close and well loved could leave so soon.
While he is still missed and thought of every day, good things have happened since then:
- A marriage and the addition of a new family member
- A stronger bond between the family
- The realization that it’s crucial to laugh and enjoy life while we can
So no matter how terrible something feels at the time, know that you have the strength to get through it. There will be many moments in the future, both blissful and difficult. And if you can survive one painful experience, you can survive the next one.
It also helps to remember that some of life’s greatest challenges end up being our greatest teachers. You may not be able to control what happens, but you can decide what lessons you choose to learn from them.
3. Practice self-care.
When was the last time you did something nice for yourself?
Most of us spend our time running errands or doing work for other people, but rarely do we pause and enjoy a moment simply for the sake of it.
By constantly putting ourselves in stressful situations, we end up damaging our health in the long run.
Make time for yourself. Sit and listen to your favorite music, pursue your hobby, or meditate. Some of my favorite ways to de-stress include taking a walk outside and curling up with a good book.
When you take care of yourself, you feel more centered, more peaceful, and better able to handle whatever life throws at you.
We all need time for ourselves to relax and reflect on our day. Besides, I’ve found that taking breaks helps me to approach tasks with greater clarity and calmness than working all the time.
4. Practice patience.
Sometimes it feels like life is a constantly unraveling story. The only problem is, we want to jump straight to the end and see what happens.
For instance, sometimes I think to myself: In five years, will I still be in the same place that I’m in right now? If I choose to spend time working on this endeavor, will it eventually give me the results I want? Will the person I just messaged reply back?
We feel anxious when something in our life is unresolved—an “open loop,” they call it. It makes our heart rate go up and creates tension within ourselves, both of which are unhealthy.
It’s been difficult, but I’ve been trying to be more patient. To do this, I direct my thoughts and attention to things that are productive, such as focusing on the actions rather than the result.
When I’m patient, it becomes easier to deal with both celebrations and setbacks. Knowing that sometimes only time can resolve a situation gives me the ability to let go and be present. And it’s always easier to be peaceful when you’re living in the moment.
Feel At Peace With a Change in Mindset
We all experience disappointments and serendipitous moments. But if you're exhausted from constantly reacting to the ups and downs in your life, it's time to step back and reflect on how you respond to things.
Inner peace comes from appreciating life, with all its quirks and bumps. It's about doing what you can, knowing that sometimes the path you choose will take unexpected turns.
The process of growing and learning can be challenging. It can be downright scary. But if you manage to weather the storms that come your way, you'll come out stronger than before.