How To Change How You Think About the Hard Times
How we respond to life's challenges makes all the difference
Productivity coach and author Grace Marshall explores the good things that can come from struggle
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"It shouldn’t be like this. It shouldn’t be this hard. I shouldn’t be struggling."
Sometimes our biggest struggle with struggle is the fact that we’re struggling.
Why is this so hard? Why am I still struggling with it? Why can’t I keep it all together? Why me? Nothing’s ever easy. Everyone’s against me. I can’t believe this is happening again.
When we rage, it’s tempting to over-identify and amplify our emotions, and stray into what psychologist Martin Seligman refers to as the 3Ps.
We make it Personal: It’s up to me. My burden. I have to do it myself. Nobody can help me. It’s my fault. I shouldn’t be struggling. There’s something wrong with me.
We make it Pervasive: It’s not just this; it’s everything. My house is a tip, my garden’s a mess, I don’t see enough of my family or my friends. I am meant to work part-time but have been working full-time for months to try and keep on top of things. I haven’t taken a holiday in ages, I’m not sleeping well... I can’t seem to get anything right. Life is just one huge struggle.
We make it Permanent: It’s always like this. I can’t see an end to it.
Anytime we find ourselves using the words, Always, Never, Everything and Nothing, the chances are we’re raging. There’s something very seductive about the certainty of black- and-white thinking. But it also makes the struggle worse and happens to be blatantly untrue.
When we get caught up in what ‘should’ be, we miss what is.
What’s the truth here?
What am I actually dealing with?
These questions invite us to move from pervasive to specific. To examine and define the nature, size and scope of the thing we’re dealing with. To see when it’s there and when it’s not there.
What is it that makes this thing so hard? What is it that’s behind this feeling?
Maybe you’re dealing with lots of new things right now, and you’ve hit your limit for ‘new things’. Maybe this feels particularly hard hitting because it’s a matter close to your heart. Or maybe you’re just damn tired and can’t think straight, so everything looks worse right now.
What is it that I’m actually here to do? What’s my role here?
When we get to the point where we feel like ‘I just can’t handle it,’ it’s good to ask what ‘handling’ even means. What is our role and remit in this situation? Is it really to ensure that nothing untoward ever happens, or is it to solve problems when it does? Is it to know all the answers, or to learn and develop? Is it to make it go away, or be there to support? To single-handedly save the day, or to work as part of a team?
What else is going on?
What is true, good or beautiful, in spite of (or even because of) the struggle? It’s easy for the struggle to overshadow every- thing else, to see everything through the same lens.
I once spoke to someone who was so caught up in ‘I have to do it myself,’ that it wasn’t until about 40 minutes into the conversation she found herself saying, ‘I tell a lie. Someone did help me. I had completely forgotten about that!’
And therein lies the treasure. The support. The community. The fact that she wasn’t on her own, and having help did not make her weak.
The things we miss when we rage are the treasure in the midst of the struggle. The spark, the smile, the glimmer of hope, strength, energy or purpose. The treasure that doesn’t necessarily make the struggle go away, but changes something in you.
When we rage, we get emotional myopia. If something is bad, we can’t see the possibility of good in the same space. If some- thing’s hard, we can’t see how it can ever be easy. We can’t see beyond what’s right in front of us.
Just as George Orwell describes ‘the great redeeming feature of poverty: the fact that it annihilates the future,’ being in crisis mode makes you focus on the here-and-now.
One corporate leader I worked with admitted, ‘the problem is crisis is a very effective tool to get people to deliver. We’re very good in a crisis so leaders keep using crisis to get people to deliver.’
In the short-term, our fighting energy can be incredibly powerful. In the long-term, we become adrenaline junkies, crashing from high to low and eventually burnout.
What do we miss when we rage? Here’s the treasure:
The person who helped us. The person we become. The confidence or skill that we build. The knowledge that we can struggle. The overcoming. Or the surrender. It’s all treasure.
And here’s the work:
Adventures aren’t meant to be predictable. Stretching isn’t meant to be comfortable. Relationships aren’t meant to be plain sailing. When we hit struggle, instead of thinking ‘it shouldn’t be this hard’, let’s start by thinking ‘ah, here’s the work’. Instead of thinking ‘I’ve gone wrong’, or ‘I need this to end’, let’s roll our sleeves up and go ‘this is where I need to be’.
Grace Marshall is the author of Struggle