I don’t know about you, but I generally like structure. Especially in challenging times when it feels like the world is spinning or like I’m wandering through a fog. Having a simple set of guidelines to follow in these times has been a great help to me. Of course it’s also fun to be spontaneous and break routine now and then, but for the most part having a structure to rely on can be solidly reassuring.
I thought you might like to know what I’ve found helpful, in case you find yourself in a tough moment and need a bit of a hand getting through it. We’ve all been there!
This particular structure comes from a book I highly recommend: The Reality Slap by Russ Harris. He’s a legend in the field of Acceptance and Commitment Therapy, a methodology my therapist introduced to me that involves mindfulness practices and living by your values.
Here are the lessons I memorized from Russ’ book, which I turn to whenever I need perspective and strength:
1. Hold yourself gently. The very first thing to do is to realize you’re having a hard time. Give yourself some love, kindness, and empathy. Pretend that you’re comforting a friend in a similar situation, or that someone who you can depend on is really taking care of you. Try to soften and not be too hard on yourself, remembering that everyone goes through difficult times. We’re all human, we all mess up, and we all feel intense emotions. It’s ok to be gentle sometimes.
2. Get grounded. The second step involves getting back into your body. Take some deep breaths and sit up straight. Go outside and lie down on the warm grass, feeling the ground supporting you. Imagine you’re a tree with roots anchoring you to the ground and branches lifting up towards the sky. Our bodies have great wisdom, and tapping into this before deciding what to do can often be balancing and help provide perspective.
3. Take a stand. The third step is remembering to live by our values instead of our emotions. When we act or say things impulsively out of anger, fear, or hurt, we tend to think small and might end up making things worse for ourselves. I like to write things down when I feel a strong emotion, and then come back to what I’ve written later on with a calmer mind to see how to best approach the issue. Look at the bigger picture, decide on a course of action based on what you value, and stick to it.
4. Find the treasure. The Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh says, “the conditions for happiness and peace can be found in every moment.” This doesn’t mean we go around smiling blissfully all the time, definitely. But there’s usually one tiny thing you can be grateful for even in the midst of the greatest suffering. Seeing a flower bursting into bloom. Curling up under a comfy blanket. Having a warm cup of tea. Even the tiniest bit of enjoyment can help.
And the final thought that I turn to after going through this process comes from Robert Frost’s inspiring words, “The best way out is always through.” I will get through this, easier times are coming.
You will get through this. Easier times are coming.
For now, be gentle, breathe, live by what you value, and look for little things to enjoy.