How to Begin Again After an Unexpected Ending
As you struggle forward in the days and weeks ahead, remind yourself, it is far better to be exhausted from lots of effort, learning and growth, than it is to be tired of doing absolutely nothing.
In 1914, the great inventor Thomas Edison experienced a devastating hardship. His entire laboratory burned down to the ground, and several years worth of his work was ruined.
Newspapers described the situation as “the worst thing to happen to Edison!”
But that wasn’t true, because Edison didn’t see it that way at all. The inventor instead chose to see his circumstances as an invigorating opportunity to rebuild and re-examine much of his current work. In fact, Edison reportedly said shortly after the fire, “Thank goodness all our mistakes were burned up. Now we can start again fresh.” And that’s exactly what he and his team did.
Think about how this relates to your life.
How many times have you heard it was the end, when it was really the beginning?
How many hopeless labels have been slapped over your inner hope?
Probably more often than you realize.
The truth is, life’s “fires” happen to all of us. We all go through circumstances, big and small, that deeply effect us, and…
- We worry.
- We are disappointed.
- We feel overwhelmed.
- We feel like giving up.
- We don’t feel good enough.
- We wish we had more resources.
- We wish our jobs were different.
- We wish our personal lives were different.
- We think everything in life should be easier.
Yet, a great deal of our pain exists entirely in our minds. When we attach ourselves to ideals and fantasies about how reality has to be in order to be good enough for us, we only make matters worse.
So, are you ready to follow Edison’s lead and live better despite your circumstances?
It’s time to…
Notice your story, then practice letting it go.
You can have a heartbreaking story from the past without letting it rule your present.
In the present moment we all have some kind of pain: anger, sadness, frustration, disappointment, regret, etc.
Notice this pain within yourself, watch it closely, and see that it’s caused by whatever story you have in your head about what happened in the past (either in the recent past or in the distant past). Your mind might insist that the pain you feel is caused by what happened (not by the story in your head about it), but what happened in the past is NOT happening right now. It’s over. It has passed. But the pain is still happening right now because of the story you’ve been subconsciously telling yourself about that past incident.
Note that “story” does not mean “fake story.” It also does not mean “true story.” The word “story” in the context of your self-evaluation doesn’t have to imply true or false, positive or negative, or any other kind of forceful judgment call. It’s simply a process that’s happening inside your head:
- You are remembering something that happened.
- You subconsciously perceive yourself as a victim of this incident.
- Your memory of what happened causes a painful emotion in you.
So just notice what story you have, without judging it, and without judging yourself. It’s natural to have a story; we all have stories. See yours for what it is. And see that it’s causing you pain. Then do your best to change your response.
Start by simply bringing your attention to the present moment. Focus on what’s here with you now—the light, the sounds, your body, the ground under your feet, the objects and people moving and resting around you. Don’t judge these things against what they should be—just accept what they actually are. Because once you accept reality, you can improve upon it.
See life as it is, without all the ideals and fantasies you’ve been preoccupied with…
Step forward without painful judgments.
Recently, COVID-19 has been one of the primary reasons so many of us are preoccupied. The new normal we’ve been forced to live through has been quite confining both mentally and physically. Everything basically changed overnight, leaving us yearning for the good old days.
Yes, so much has been postponed, closed or canceled recently. But not everything. And it’s important to bring this into your present awareness.
Love has not been postponed, closed or canceled. Hope has not been postponed, closed or canceled. Self-care has not been postponed, closed or canceled.
Right now there are plenty of opportunities to invest in the little things that matter most. The key is to not let life’s difficulties cloud your vision.
Think about the most gut-wrenching situations you’ve endured in your past. Doing so likely brings up some very uncomfortable feelings. And the associated attachments you have may stir anxiety, anger or sadness. This is a predicament many of us face.
Now imagine how you would feel if you were able to get over these feelings. By “get over” I mean no longer suffering over something that can’t be controlled. I know this is possible because Marc and I have both personally come to peace with extremely difficult, heartbreaking, uncontrollable situations in our past, and we’ve witnessed hundreds of our students and Think Better, Live Better seminar attendees do the same.
So what’s the secret? There isn’t a one-size-fits-all answer, but all of the possible answers start with releasing your judgments.
The truth is, it’s impossible to get over a difficult situation—to let it go—if you’re still obsessively judging it and comparing it to something else. Let’s revisit one specific gut-wrenching situation from your past again—choose one that still stirs negative emotions. And then ask yourself:
- Do you believe it should not have happened at all?
- Do you believe the outcome should have been different?
- Do you take what happened personally?
- Do you blame someone else for what happened?
- Do you blame yourself?
- Do you believe the situation is impossible to get over?
If you caught yourself thinking “yes” to one or more of those questions, then what’s prolonging your suffering and preventing you from getting over it is judgment. Your judgments about what “should have happened” continues to postpone the love, hope, and self-care you know you are capable of practicing.
Now you may be thinking, “What happened was unbelievably horrible! I can’t conceive of ever getting over it!” But releasing your judgment does not mean you’re pleased with what happened, or that you support it, but rather that you are eliminating the negative burden you are carrying by perpetually judging it.
When you let go of your negative judgments, you automatically replace the victim mentality with acceptance and presence. And acceptance and presence together will free your mind and move you forward.
This very same principle applies to our present challenges with COVID-19, especially for those of us who are not ill.
When we think better about our circumstances, we live better in spite of them.
And there is no reason to postpone. Now is the time to practice.
Of course, this might also require you to…
Embrace your grief.
Perhaps you know someone who actually has grown ill from COVID-19.
Or, even more heart-wrenching, perhaps you’ve lost someone you love.
When truly dire circumstances blindside us, grief often sets in. And it takes time to settle. But grieving is a healthy process that allows us to begin again after an unexpected ending.
Now, you may have heard that it isn’t healthy to grieve for too long—that doing so gets in the way healing. I say this because it’s something I was taught when I was a teenager. A close friend died in a car accident. At first everyone accepted my tears, but as the weeks rolled into months, I was frequently told that it was time to let go. “The tears aren’t helping at this point,” I remember someone telling me. But that was hogwash. My tears were necessary. They were slowly watering the seeds of my recovery. And I recovered as a much stronger, kinder, and wiser soul than I ever was before.
Then, a decade later, this lesson was reinforced in my life two more times, back-to-back, when I lost my older brother, Todd, to suicide and my best friend, Josh, to an Asthma attack, a month apart.
Through the grief of losing people I love, I have been given the gift of awareness… awareness that every one of us will lose someone or something we love, and that this reality is a necessary one.
It’s incredibly tough to comprehend at times, but there’s a small reason for everything. We must know the pain of loss, because if we never knew it, we would have little compassion for others and we would gradually become hollow monsters of egoism—creatures of sheer self-interest, never being happy with what we have. The awful pain of loss teaches humility to our prideful kind, has the power to warm-up a cold heart, and make an even better person out of a good one.
So yes, grief can be a burden that devastates us in the near-term, but it can also be a healthy anchor for healing and living well in the long run.
As human beings, we often get used to the weight of grief and how it holds us in place. For instance, I often say, “My brother will die over and over again for the rest of my life, and I’m OK with that—it keeps me closer to him.” This is my way of reminding others that grief doesn’t disappear. Step-by-step, breath-by-breath, it becomes a part of us. And it can become a healthy part of us too.
Although we may never completely stop grieving, simply because we never stop loving the ones (or the situations) we’ve lost, we can effectively leverage our love for them in the present. We can love them and emulate them by living with their magnificence as our daily inspiration. By doing this, they live on in the warmth of our broken hearts that don’t fully heal back up, and we will continue to grow and experience life, even with our wounds. It’s like badly breaking an ankle that never heals perfectly, and that still hurts when you dance, but you dance anyway with a slight limp, and this limp just adds to the depth of your performance and the authenticity of your character. (Marc and I build small, life-changing rituals for coping in the Adversity module of the Getting Back to Happy Course.)
It’s time to choose a fresh response.
Regardless of your circumstances, you can find the strength to ask:
“How can I respond from a place of clarity and strength today, rather than continuing to react in anger and resistance to the painful experiences I’ve been forced to live through?”
Think about that question for a moment. Read it again, and sit with it.
Every time you are tempted to react in the same old way, pause for a few seconds, take a few deep breaths, and make space for a healthy change of state—for something new to enter…
It’s time to consciously redirect your focus by taking it away from something unchangeable that drags you down, and instead zero it in on something small and actionable that moves you forward in the present moment.
Nothing is stopping you right now—nothing is holding you back but your own thoughts and reactions to “how life is.”
Of course, you may not be responsible for everything that happened to you in the past, or everything that’s happening to you today, but you need to be responsible for undoing the thinking and behavioral patterns these circumstance create.
It’s about thinking better so you can ultimately live better.
Truly, the greatest weapon you have against pain is your ability to pause, breathe, and choose one present response over another—to train your mind to make the best of what you’ve got in front of you, even when it’s far less than you expected.
YOU CAN change the way you think and respond. And once you do, you can master a new way to be.
The bottom line is that life will get better when YOU get better. Start investing in yourself mentally and physically from this moment forward. Choose a fresh response! Make it a priority to learn and grow a little bit every day by building positive rituals and sticking to them. The stronger you grow and become, the better your life will feel in the long run.
Yes, this too shall pass.
And if you’re feeling up to it, we would love to hear from YOU before you go…
Which point mentioned above resonates with you the most today, and why?
Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.
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