“No one saves us but ourselves. We alone must walk the path.” ~Buddha
I got a frantic message from a friend last night.
Everything was going wrong—her job, her relationship, her life—and she didn't know what to do.
“Help me, please,” she kept saying. “I don’t know what to do.”
I tried hard to stifle a giggle. I know, completely inappropriate. But I found it really funny.
Why? Because I’m the last person anyone should be asking for advice. If I knew what to do, if I knew how to help her, I'd have:
- implemented this a long time ago in my own life to solve issues that I, myself, have been grappling with
- created a website and published a book and video tutorials with the answer
- bought my own island in the Caribbean just from the proceeds of the book sales (I'd give the money from my website ad sales and video to charity, obvs)
I'd be rich, because this is what every human being confronts at some point in their lives—what should I do?!
We all hate the unexpected. We all hate uncertainty. These situations usually mean we haven’t gotten what we want or things aren’t going as we wanted them to go. We know we need to make a decision. We know we need to do something. But making a decision is hard, especially when things are uncertain.
In moments like this, we become frantic, we flail, we panic. I know because I’ve done all three. Several times.
And then we become obsessed with our problems. We think about them.
All. The. Time.
And then we think about them some more.
Sometimes my brain actually starts to ache from all this thinking and analyzing. We get exhausted, mentally, physically, and emotionally. And when we realize we are no closer to solving our problems or making a decision, we start becoming more frantic and we flail and panic even more.
So of course, it makes sense that we turn to others for answers at times likes this. Because in this moment, we are in no state to save ourselves. My friend is not an exception. Most of us have turned to others at some point or another.
I couldn’t give my friend any answers that night. I knew she wanted a specific solution to address her issues. But I didn’t have any. And here’s the scary news: no one does.
You are the only one who can save yourself. You are the only one who can solve your problem.
Hearing that probably wants to make you hide under your duvet and never come out.
I don’t know what to do, remember? How am I supposed to save myself?? I don’t even trust myself to change a light bulb!!
I hear you. And you can stop hiding now and jump out of bed, because here are three simple things you can do in times like this.
(Note: These three ideas aren’t solutions to your problem. But they help you, they help the situation, and they allow you to get to a place where you are better able to pin down the right decision.)
I know they might not seem like much, and it’s easy to dismiss them. It might even seem like I’m not taking your problem seriously. All I can say is that I’ve gone through these situations time and time again, and doing the things below has definitely helped me.
It stopped me from being completely consumed with my problem. It helped me create much-needed space and clarity.
Also, if you are being put out of balance by one part of you life, your best hope is to bring in some balance from another end.
What’s the alternative? Thinking more about the problem at hand?
We both know how that usually works out.
1. Be frantic, flail, panic … then get it out.
Whine to your amazing friends who listen to you patiently with nothing but love and empathy, even though you've been putting them through this time and time again.
Then go jogging, go to the gym, go for a swim. Write in a journal. Do something to get all that anger, resentment, fear, and pity out of you.
You're in over-active child mode right now—tire yourself out.
2. Go spend some time outdoors.
Go for a meander in the woods, walk along the ocean. Observe the birds in action, pay attention to the trees, watch the clouds in the sky. Basically spend some time in nature.
I'm not sure what it is, but there's something calming about nature. It slows us down. It tires us out (see point 1). It gives us perspective. It shows us that there is more to life than our problems and worries. Mary Oliver's beautiful poem, The Shore comes to mind;
I go down to the shore in the morning
and depending on the hour
the waves are rolling in or moving out,
and I say, oh, I am miserable, what shall—
what should I do?
And the sea says in its lovely voice:
Excuse me, I have work to do.
3. Do something else.
Worried about whether you should end a relationship? Go learn to play a new musical instrument.
Worried about how you are going to make your mortgage at the end of the month? Go volunteer at your local charity. Or:
- Read something uplifting every morning, afternoon and right before going to bed
- Watch YouTube clips that crack you up
- Write five things you are grateful for every morning
- Start a new habit (i.e.: get up an hour earlier, drink more water)
- Learn origami
- Spend some time cleaning your closet
- Offer to babysit for your friends (kids are amazing distracters!! It's hard to focus on your problems when you are constantly trying to keep them from falling over or hurting themselves.)
As humans who lead very human lives, mud gets thrown at us at some point or another. And when you stop flailing and panicking, when you calm down, when you focus on something else, you give the mud a chance to slide off and settle down; you allow the waters to get less murky. And things get clearer.
Maybe in this clarity you'll know what to do. Or maybe you will have made your peace with what’s happened.
More likely, you'll probably have moved on to something else and forgotten what was winding you up in the first place. Or something else might have happened to completely transform the initial situation.
That's the other thing about life. It’s full of surprises.