Inside: Forced or willingly there come times in life when we familiar ground falls away and we are thrust into turbulence or transition. These 5 habits can help you show up strong if you must begin again.
In times of turbulence or transition, the structure and flow of our daily life shifts, familiar ground falls away, and we are ushered into a new beginning.
This past fall, after a long horrific battle to keep my son alive, after he left this world, I was forced to begin again.
From crisis to car collision to cremation of our child & deep grief — to life in the middle of a pandemic and all sorts of stressors in between, in many ways my life these past 18+ months have felt like a bad movie. But every single morning I am invited to choose my response and to become a beginner all over again.
“Resilience is not a fixed personality trait. It’s a lifelong project.” -Sheryl Sandberg. We can consciously work to build resilience pro-actively, but resilience is also forged in the fire.
What does it mean to begin again?
Leo Babauta of Zen Habits says that beginner’s mind is “dropping our expectations and preconceived ideas about something, and seeing things with an open mind, fresh eyes, just like a beginner. (…) You’re also looking at everything as if it’s brand new, perhaps with curiosity and wonder.”
We might also think about choosing to begin again as writing a new story – or a new chapter for our lives. When we acknowledge that life is messy, imperfect, and sometimes crushing but that our story isn’t done yet and we can keep writing, we’re more able to access the curiosity and bravery required to forge ahead through uncertainty.
When kids begin leaving the nest and building separate lives of their own, after divorce whether desired or not, death of a loved one or job loss, we benefit from a beginner’s mind. Similarly, when going through a major relocation, finding a new normal after illness/diagnosis or chronic stress or trauma, or walking through an unexpected, life-altering reality like the Covid-19 pandemic, we are challenged and invited to release our tight grip on how we think life should be so that we can show up to the life in front of us and begin again.
Staying curious and scanning for new possibility in hard seasons necessitates resilience which includes flexibility, deep core strength, and hope in good supply, as well as a willingness to surrender the plans we once held dear, the path we believed we needed to feel safe and happy in the world so that we can remain open to new possibility. Even joyful possibility.
Because joy and pain truly can coexist.
Even when we feel deeply afraid and it seems like we might never be happy again, it’s helpful to remind ourselves or look for models of the truth that we can survive and even learn to thrive through adversity or upheaval.
When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves. —Viktor Frankl
Living rooted in self-awareness (which includes but is not limited to clarity around our primary values, personality strengths and struggles, and our deepest hopes and dreams) and self-compassion (which is comprised of self-kindness, mindfulness, and an understanding of our common humanity), allows us to flex and bend without breaking when storms come our way. It increases the likelihood that we’ll be able to face the reality of life head-on as we look for creative solutions, ask for help or shift course as needed, and bounce back when knocked down.
On Deep Core Strength
Deep core strength can look a lot like grit combined with holding space for self and others. Psychologist and researcher, Angela Duckworth, says grit is the ability to persist in something you feel passionate about and about perseverance or continuing to work hard when you face obstacles or after experiencing difficulty or failure. So stubbornly choosing imperfect action is one indicator of core strength. But deepening core strength also means holding space for all of our emotions, for grieving, truth-telling, remembering that we need each other, and owning our pain.
Hope is a realistic sense of optimism or attitude of mind based on an expectation of positive outcomes and it has a couple of key characteristics: a sense of agency (the feeling of control over actions and their consequences) and the belief that you can produce alternative routes or pathways to your desired goals (source). What this means is that we can witness injustice and the reality that there is much in life we do not have control over and still choose to take responsibility for what we can control. We see that no matter what, we can use our flexibility and core strength to keep building an imperfect and beautiful life, and finding our way forward, imperfectly – on purpose.
Flexibility, core strength and hope intermingle to help us show up strong when we must begin again. But because big ideas generally need to be broken down into practical application for us to experience the benefits, I’m sharing 5 specific habits that I’ve used during the past 18 months of crisis and personal challenge to live Rooted & Resilient and which can help all of us forge ahead strong through this new season of uncertainty.
Yesterday is gone. Tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today. Let us begin. —Mother Teresa
(The women in my Brave & Beautiful community know that one of my favourite questions is “Now What?” NOW WHAT reminds me of my right and responsibility to choose my response or the next right thing I can do to find my way forward, so I’ve included a NOW WHAT question for each of the following habits.)
5 Habits to Help You SHOW UP STRONG When You Must Begin Again
1. The habit of trusting yourself
Many people have lost trust in themselves or never learned to listen in at all but this is a skill and habit we can strengthen. Trusting ourselves means we gather quality information, seek help when needed, and even appreciate affirmation from those we respect or trust, but we recognize that we are the experts on our life. We have a right to acknowledge and make space for what it is that we need and want or to otherwise use our voice.
We practice listening to our mind, body, and spirit, noticing when comparison creeps in, when we don’t feel safe or healthy, or when we’re doubting we have what it takes and we gently course correct or seek appropriate help. There isn’t one perfect way to do life and for a happy life, we might need to push back against some of the ideals we’ve clung to for years and keep our eyes on our own path.
NOW WHAT? Pause a few times in the day to check in with your thoughts and your body and ask yourself “what do I need in this moment?”
2. The habit of taking imperfect action to rebuild a sense of agency
When life feels overwhelming or out of our control it can be tempting to hide under the covers, live in denial, or run and numb. (By the way, I distinguish between numbing out and intentional distraction which has its place in a healthy, resilient life). Facing fear head-on even when we don’t know what tomorrow holds and we don’t have all the answers, reminds our brains that we are not defeated and powerless.
I focus on “imperfect action” because this shifts us out of perfectionism, an all or nothing mindset, or waiting until we can see the whole path ahead of us and into the strength and power of small, consistent, intentional steps. One after the other.
NOW WHAT? As part of your morning routine, consider asking “what is one thing I can take action on or practice today to move me closer to what I want or need in my life?”
3. The habit of being kind to yourself
Shame, blame, guilt, unforgiveness of our past self, judging oneself for struggling or feeling uncomfortable emotions, rehashing all the things we “could’ve” or “should’ve” done can keep us stuck and in suffering. We can acknowledge all feelings without embracing as truth every thought we have. Treating ourselves with kindness strengthens and equips us to find our way forward.
This might include good self-care practices, instituting a no-bullying policy (as in we only speak to ourself kindly), trusting that you know what you need – including when you need outside help shame-free, saying yes to developing new skills and habits that support who and how you choose to be in the world, learning to quiet the noise of perfectionism, comparison, and fear, establishing healthy boundaries, and so on. It’s so easy to focus on what isn’t going well or where we’re struggling but we can counter our negativity bias and the resulting stress as an act of self-kindness.
NOW WHAT? As part of your evening routine, add in my 3/2/1 practice. Consider or journal your responses: “What are three things I’m grateful for today? What are two things I have done well today? What is one thing I could do differently next time?” Pick one article from my resource page For Wholeness and Joy Your Mental Health Matters to read before bed tonight.
4. The habit of enforcing intentional, firm boundaries
Showing up to life when we must begin again often means huge demands on our mental and emotional energy. It’s incredibly hard work and though there will be tasks we can’t simply walk away from, outsource, or defer, we have a right to put ourselves first where possible. We will likely need to establish new boundaries or shore up leaky ones – even when some people get upset about it – and enforce them like our life (or at least our wellbeing) depends upon it.
Finding our footing after trauma, loss, or upheaval might mean we have little to give to others for a time. Or what might be equally true is that we need to reimagine what our contribution can look like in this new season (different is not necessarily bad). This can feel hard when we value generosity and compassion or if we’ve tended to find our worth in service or tending to others – but it’s important to remind ourselves that we cannot pour out what we don’t first pour in AND we do not have to prove our worth to anyone.
NOW WHAT? When you notice frustration, resentment, or anger arising, pause and ask yourself “what’s at the root of this feeling and do I have a leaky boundary in this area?”
5. The habit of living aligned with your core values
Getting clear on our core values and awakening to the truth that we can walk them out in every season of life is stabilizing and helps build a sense of agency (it’s also a pathway to happiness). The manner in which we walk out our values will change according to circumstance but there is no circumstance that has ever prevented me from intentionally putting them into practice in my life in some way.
Saying yes to life, again and again, involves deciding as Maya Angelou wrote that “I can be changed by what happens to me. But I refuse to be reduced by it.” We can remind ourselves that real-life – a full, beautiful life – is messy and in constant flux. Hard things will happen; not one of us will get through life without tasting struggle. But no matter what, we get to help build a world and life we want to live in by walking out our values.
NOW WHAT? Write down your core values and check in with them each month as you look ahead and ask “how can I walk out my core values this month or in this (insert your details) situation/area of life?”
Whether by choice or because life threw us a curveball, many of us will arrive at a season of life in which we are asked to begin again.
I’m here with you in the muck, finding my way forward – becoming a beginner again at all sorts of things. At writing after loss and incredible pain, at being a mom of two rather than three, at taking consistent, imperfect action when our finances and economic stability are threatened, at figuring out how to stay calm and compassionate in the middle of a global pandemic.
I hadn’t planned to be here – but that’s the point. Most of the hard life stuff that throws us heart-first into the turbulent waters of change or transition doesn’t have the courtesy to forewarn us. It quickly becomes a sink or swim proposition.
I choose to swim – and begin again. Every day if necessary.
NOW WHAT? I pulled and repurposed a handful of modules from my Brave & Beautiful Community – topics and wisdom that I find powerful and strengthening in my own life – and I’ve offered them as mini-courses to support you too. You can purchase The Love Yourself Well Bundle or The Happiness Bundle of three mini-courses each for $97 (or $40 per course). Learn more here.