Though there are aspects of my life that were and are challenging in a way some can never understand, I consider myself unbelievably fortunate to have had such a great life. I’ve had every educational opportunity and have always had a safe neighborhood and sufficient, if not abundant, food, shelter and healthcare. I have so many loved ones in my life and have, for the most part, been able to live my life as I see fit.
Not true for much of the world. There is some real suffering out there, almost all of which makes my troubles pale in comparison.
We often forget that our troubles and the unfairness in our lives are so relative (think: first world problems). The snub at work, the fight with my spouse, my weight gain, my hair loss, my moderate medical issues, my fender bender, my financial worries, even the loss of a loved one, are often relatively minor issues in the greater scheme of things.
Knowing that and feeling that are two different things.
Here are 3 really important tools for putting that challenge where it belongs in your life.
First, perspective. If you’re reading this blog, then you likely have electricity, a computer or cell phone, and shelter. You may even have some of the types of challenges listed above, and some real concerns. We all do. Consider how much of the world has serious, life-threatening issues that they’re dealing with on a daily basis. How do your challenges and concerns compare to that? What do you have to be grateful for, right now? What in your life is more important than your immediate concern?
I am not implying you should not take action or feel good about a bad situation. Just consider that maybe it’s not as devastating as you might perceive it to be. Once you’ve gained a healthier perspective, you are more cognitively prepared to decide the right course of action.
Second, growth. Challenges become a serious problem if we allow them to defeat us. Challenges are opportunities to learn, grow, improve and make positive change. Sometimes that positive change we must make first and foremost is acceptance of the problem and the reality of our situation. When we accept the reality of our situation is when meaningful change (in ourselves or our situation) is possible. For example, when I accept my health issues are related to my lifestyle, then I can begin to make real changes to improve. When I accept that I can’t control someone else’s behavior, then I can decide how I will respond to it.
Third, presence. There is a lot of talk about mindfulness these days and I totally believe that much of our unhappiness is caused by not being in the present moment. If I’m stressed or anxious, I’m probably worrying about the future. If I’m angry, depressed or sad, then I’m living in the past. In the present moment, I have access to wonder, joy, delight, love and inspiration. I have negative emotion too but I don’t dwell there like I used to. Sometimes mindfulness itself is the best possible growth opportunity for dealing with stress and challenge. Mindfulness means that I’m aware that I’m not being present, I can adjust my perspective, and focus on my current growth/change goals.
I don’t believe all the hubbub around mindfulness is just a populist trend or overrated. When I’m not being present, I spend most of my energy with my head spinning in a dozen directions, or I can feel out of control emotionally. When present, I can decide what to focus on and how I want to feel, rather than being swept away by internal forces. Most importantly, my challenges feel surmountable and even like the opportunities that they are.