(Or, Three Ways to Survive Bad Times; a.k.a. The Big Perspective Post #1)
This week promises to be what can only be described as “a bitch.”
Allow me to explain.
As I’m writing this, it’s Sunday night. This week I will be teaching at our annual Karate Camp, which runs from 9am to 3pm, Monday through Friday. Our regular classes will continue unabated from approximately 4pm to 9pm. On Friday evening, virtually the entire school will be graduating via three different ceremonies, and on Saturday, after I teach the regular classes from 9am - 1pm, I have to do a birthday party for what is sure to be a manic group of youngsters. This week ends at 3pm Saturday, a horrific 126 hours after it begins, and about 70 of which I will be hard at work teaching little kids how to defend themselves using only their shoelaces. Personal fitness, healthy dietary choices, and solitude are sure to take a backseat for the next six days. Not to mention it’s going to be difficult to find time to write and maintain this website, which threatens my 30 day writing commitment.
In addition, summer was slapped across the face today by a 68 degree and relentlessly rainy day, with the rest of the week looking to offer more of the same. All the while, my exquisite girlfriend will be sequestered in a draconian training program for her upcoming job, the likes of which does not allow for much verbal or textual communication.
All in all, the week of August 15, 2011 appears to be a prescription for angst, exhaustion, and general burnout.
Fortunately, this post is not intended to be a colossal woe-as-me rant. Nobody likes a complainer. Rather, I thought I would take this opportunity to document exactly how I intend to survive this hellish week and emerge in six days with my sanity mostly intact.
To put it simply, as I often try to do, the answer lies in Perspective.
For the past few years, I’ve been intrigued by the concept of Perspective and how it can be practically applied to help us lead healthier, calmer, and overall happier lives. This week provides an excellent chance to explain some of the strategies I use to ensure life doesn’t beat me when the going gets tough.
Perspective is a very complex topic, and there are many ways to implement it. I’m only going to talk about three in this post. More will follow in future posts.
The first thing to remember when dealing with any sort of challenging situation is also perhaps the most important:
1. You aren’t going to die.
Obviously, heartbreaking situations do exist, and they do happen, but those extraordinary circumstances aren’t the challenges we’re talking about here. We’re talking about beating the average bad day. Or week, as the case may be.
Always ask yourself, when presented with a scary or otherwise stressful situation, “What’s the worst thing that could happen?” Chances are it’s not that bad, and chances are even greater that the worst thing probably isn’t going to be what actually goes down. Realistically, the worst thing that could happen to me this week is I get exhausted, run down, and frustrated. Maybe I even get sick from working too long and too hard. But even then, what’s the worst thing that could happen? I’m bedridden for a few days, I suppose. That probably won’t happen, but even if it does, it’s not going to kill me. I’m not going to die.
Bob Parsons, CEO & Founder of GoDaddy.com, says in one of his rules to live by:
With regard to whatever worries you, not only accept the worst thing that could happen, but make it a point to quantify what the worst thing could be. Very seldom will the worst consequence be anywhere near as bad as a cloud of “undefined consequences.” My father would tell me early on, when I was struggling and losing my shirt trying to get Parsons Technology going, “Well, Robert, if it doesn’t work, they can’t eat you.”
This is huge. For many people, the worst case scenario in life is death, or, in Bob Parsons’ case, to be literally devoured by humans. I agree completely; that’d be terrible. But, it’s not going to happen. No matter how badly you screw up a presentation, disappoint a loved one, or fail to meet a goal, no one’s going to eat you for it. That’s a very comforting thought. Say you embarrass yourself in front of a packed room of people. What’s the worst thing that could happen? They all laugh at you? You end up on YouTube? I suppose, but those outcomes have slim odds. You’re not going to die, and you will live to see another day. This is incredibly empowering if you can keep it in mind and not let fear consume you.
“Alright, fine,” you say. “I know I’m not going to die, but this is still going to be awful!”
Yes, you’re right. But that just means you need to ingrain this second mindset:
2. Time never stops.
I’m staring down a 70-hour workweek right now, and nothing in the world is going to change that. No matter how badly I wish it wasn’t so, nothing’s going to change the fact that I have a long six days ahead of me. The 70 hours are a reality I cannot alter.
What I can change, however, is how my mind thinks about and deals with those 70 hours.
When it comes to challenging parts of life, there is no fast-forwarding, but at the same time, there’s no pausing, stopping, or rewinding either. Time never stops moving forward. That means once the clock starts on those 70 hours, every day, hour, and minute that goes by brings me a little bit closer to 3pm Saturday afternoon. This mindset can have a tremendously augment your ability to deal with tough times. No matter how much it sucks, it will never be worse than it is at moment zero, when the pain or stress first starts. Every minute that goes by brings you a little bit closer to being okay. Thus, the end never gets any further away. Time never stops. You’re always moving closer to the goal, to the end, to the solution.
If you envision your challenge as a tunnel you need to walk through, you could say the worst part is the first step because you’re still the entire length of the tunnel away from your goal at the other end. But in fact, you’re also one step closer than you were when you were outside the tunnel. As long as you don’t give up or turn back, as long as you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you’re always getting closer to the end and to being okay again.
You can apply this thinking to virtually any situation:
If you’re sick, you can wallow in self-pity and mucous-filled tissues, or you can take comfort knowing you’re not going to be sick forever. The pain is temporary. There is a fixed point in the future when you’re going to feel better, and every passing hour brings you closer to that moment.
If you have to do twenty push-ups, and you hate push-ups, you can focus on the pain and agony in your triceps, or you can enjoy the fact that every push-up you do brings you closer to number twenty. Twenty is never getting any further away! Plus, the sooner you start, the sooner you’ll get there.
If you’re devastated you haven’t met the love of your life yet, and you think you never will, you can beat yourself up about it, or you can decide you believe he or she is out there, and it’s only a matter of time before you find that person. They aren’t getting any farther away, even if you have no idea when they’ll show up.
In some of these cases, you can’t control when the end/relief/solution arrives, but you can always control how your mind deals with the time until you reach that moment.
If I sound like I’m repeating myself, it’s because you have to treat this step as a mantra. The more you say it, the truer it becomes.
3. We are all wonderfully irrelevant.
There’s no doubt about it: this is going to be a trying week for me. Still, in the grand scheme of things, it really isn’t that big a deal. In seven days, the previous six will be just a memory.
What might be a big week in the world of Andrew Marvin is really just an undetectable blip on the timeline of the Universe. My rough week isn’t that important to anybody except me — apologies, dear readers — and as such, it holds a complex duality. It’s a big deal to me because it’s my life, and my life is my whole world. But at the same time, it’s practically nothing in the larger picture of humanity.
The Universe is incomprehensibly big. We are tiny infinitesimal specks on a minuscule little planet in a vast solar system, which is just one small part of thousands of galaxies and stars and space.
You may find this depressing, but it’s actually incredibly liberating. When you keep in mind how insignificant we probably are, things have a way of becoming far less serious.
As George Harrison wrote:
Try to realize it’s all within yourself,
No one else can make you change,
And to see you’re really only very small,
And life flows on within you and without you.
So there you have it: three strategies for beating a bad week. Note that none of them change the bad week itself, only the way you approach it.
The bottom line is you usually have no control over the things that happen to you, but you will always have control over your mind and how it deals with them.
Now, I’m off to bed. The sooner I sleep, the sooner tomorrow comes, and the sooner day one is complete. If I don’t see you, I hope you’ve found this article useful, and I encourage you to adapt my strategies to suit your own thinking.
I’m sure I’ll see you, though.