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Archive for October 2010

Finding hope when everything seems hopeless

I keep hearing about hopeless people, and I’ve got to tell you — I hate that term “hopeless.” It suggests “helpless.” Paints a picture where there is no way out and no recovery.

I prefer to think in terms of light and dark, rather than hopeful and hopeless. There is always a glimmer of light somewhere, even in those circumstances where there is no way you are going to get the outcome you want.

These are hard times that have pounded on good, decent, hard-working people, robbing them of their security and their confidence. What can I say when someone I care about has lost his or her job, has run out of savings, has applied for more than 300 jobs and has lost hope? Any sort of Pollyanna Positivity is going to come off as dismissive and insulting. And yet, positivity may be the only thing worth clinging to when all is lost.

With burdens that heavy, it is impossible to stop the worry. But, it is possible to mute the worrying voice that can take charge of the brain and emotionally cripple a person.

How do you do that?

Take your problems on individually. When you add everything up together, life can look like it really sucks, like there is no hope, like all is lost. How can you fix everything at once? You can’t. But you can fix some things by either taking them one at a time or taking baby steps.

Size up each problem: This seems obvious, but people tend get in hysteria loops once their problems start to compound, and small issues can seem to be as threatening and devastating as large ones. First, rate each problem on a scale of 1 to 10. If it’s life-threatening, give it a 10. Anything less is less than a life or death situation has to score less than a 10 because if you and your loved ones have their life and health, there is much for which to be grateful.

Schedule your worry time. Give yourself an hour or two, or even a full day. But don’t leave it open-ended, because worry compounds itself, magnifies the fear and heightens the severity of the crisis. It warps perspective. You certainly have seen someone obsess about a problem for too long. It’s easy to see obsessive worrying manifest in someone else, but that kind of endless worrying suddenly seems permissible, excusable and even required when you are the one who is feeling vulnerable or victimized.

You may look at your problems and feel absolute justification to dive into your worries, traveling as deep into that black hole as you can possibly go. But, what is that doing to help you? Nothing! It grows your suffering and blocks your recovery. You can assign yourself a worry period where you can go ahead and worry, obsess and fear all you want. When you catch yourself slipping into the worry loop during other times of the day, you just have to postpone the negativity until the proper time.

Take charge of your brain. You may not feel like there are any alternatives to suffering and worry, but there are. You have the ability to consciously choose tenacious, bold living, but that choice requires mastering the natural and habitual inclination to worry. Worry drags you into a negative vortex and holds you captive.

I you have big problems, you have big worries. But, what do endless hours of worry accomplish that scheduled worry doesn’t? Nothing. Nothing at all.

How to stop feeling like a victim and start acting like a warrior.

Life doesn’t play out the easy way. It’ll knock you around as much as you let it.

So, if you ever remind yourself that life isn’t fair, well, stop. Life is neither fair nor unfair. It just is. You get tripped up when you focus too intently on your own little world. If everything starts and ends with you, the outside world will continue to hurt you again and again. But, what if you change your perspective?

There are so many occasions when you can feel victimized. I am not minimizing anything. You will suffer loss, disappointment and dissatisfaction throughout your life, but the victimization that comes with it is your choice. There will be times when following this advice will be impossible because your suffering will be too immediate and vast. But there will come a moment when you will have the power to move beyond your wounds because you want better for yourself. It is a conscious decision and you have power to deliberately turn the page on a difficult chapter and rewrite the story. It is hard to do this when you are in the throes of depression, but you do have the power to do this.

When you can’t control what happens or happened, you can control how you react. When you are in pain, you don’t want to hear this kind of advice because it seems to minimize your distress, but it is simply the truth. The question is, how do you take charge of your anguish?

  1. Decide you’ve had enough. You can’t let go without making the conscious decision to do so. People cling to their victimization – often for years, sometimes for life — when they have the power to pick up and move on from it. People suffer differently. You can have two children grow up in terribly abusive homes, and one will suffer for life while the other will work through it and get past it. Circumstance will give you infinite opportunities to darken your perspective on your life, but you have the ability to fight back by seeing light in total darkness. When you realize you want to be free of the burden of your victimization, make the choice to take charge again.
  2. Stop obsessing about your situation and look around. When you see the big picture, you see how small your problems are. As bad as things seem, you have to admit there are probably several hundred million people who have it worse than you. So, stop feeling sorry for yourself. Don’t minimize your feelings or the situation, but put everything in perspective so you can position yourself to move on.
  3. Give it to the wind. Or, if you’re spiritual, remember the “let go, let God” concept. When your problems get too heavy to lift, hand them off to the universe. Things do tend to work out. It’s crazy-making to try to fix the seemingly unfixable, so don’t try. Let it go.
  4. Realize your power. Until you realize you have the power to rewrite the story, you can’t use it. First, learn the science of your brain. It’s like a computer. You can program it any way you want. If you want to program it send your thoughts to wallow in darkness, your brain will abide your wishes and make sure you wallow day and night. If you program it to send your thoughts straight to the light, they will go straight to the light. Science is very clear about this: If you tell yourself something enough times, your brain will believe it. If you deliberately repeat positive thoughts, you will respond with positive actions. If you consciously choose to always approach situations from a positive perspective, you’ll move forward with positive energy.
  5. Take charge of your inner voice. You aren’t the only person who beats himself or herself up on the inside. In fact, just about everybody does that. You can minimize the impact and strengthen your self-esteem by realizing what that inner voice is. What is it? It’s a crock. Think of the negative things you say to yourself and realize that you will say terrible, destructive things to yourself that you would never say to a stranger or even somebody you can’t stand. What would you do if someone said such wicked things to your child?
  6. Write the right affirmations, then say them. Affirmations are powerful and will rewrite the negative script. Come up with ten positive statements about your situation, then repeat them ten times the first two days, five times the next two days, then three times a day until you realize you believe them.

Not everyone is born with the strength to live in this way, but that doesn’t mean these skills can’t be practiced, refined and ultimately learned.

Feeling in control when you’re feeling helpless

These are out-of-control times, and that’s unsettling to people who like to feel they have control. I was especially touched by a woman in my audience this week who asked for my advice, and this is for her. And you.

A lot of people feel a real need for control, but life is essentially an out-of-control experience. What I’ve learned is: The things you can control give you power over the things you can’t.

You can’t control events or other people, you can’t control the economy or the outcome of a game or the weather. You can do everything possible to take care of your health, but still get sick. You can have all the talent in the world and work harder and stronger and faster than everyone around you, but still lose your job. You can be the best spouse in the world, and still get left.

Life presents you with endless opportunities for heartache, loss and anger, and your initial reaction will probably be a natural, knee-jerk emotion that is both honest and justified. But you always have the power to step out of a situation and make the calculated decision to take power over your emotions. That option is always, always, always there, no matter how badly you feel.

At some point, you have to move beyond the emotions that amplify victimization or self-blame. You may have made bad decisions, you may have made mistakes, acted too quickly or not quickly enough, you may have chosen the wrong friends or lovers or spouses, you may have taken shortcuts with your children, you may have been to selfish or too selfless – you can analyze and overanalyze any situation ad nausea. You can count and recount all of your regrets, live and relive your guilt, and cry rivers over your disappointment.

It’s not easy to let go of victimization because, on some level, you get something out of it. Sometimes, you get sympathy, sometimes you get grief, sometimes you get disparagement, sometimes you get something else which either fuels your self-loathing or gives you an excuse not to take responsibility for where you are or take action to make things better. Sometimes your victimization will get you  a lot of attention, but that doesn’t do much to help you heal.

That doesn’t mean you deny your truth. You can acknowledge, analyze and share what has happened, and probably should. That’s all part of conscious healing. But, there comes a point when you have to make a choice to take your power or be consumed by your lack of it. You can stay frozen in your despair or you can deal with it and move on.

More tomorrow.

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