I wanted to start the first missive of the year with a commentary on what happens when all the things you planned… don’t go to plan.
We’ve all been there, right? You think you’re going to have the most epic New Year’s Eve, but instead you spend hours in line, overpay for cover charges or drinks, get wine spilled on you, don’t get kissed at midnight and then end up walking home because there are no taxis.
Or, you plan a beautiful vacation in a treehouse on a remote Cambodian island, but you contract salmonella so end up heading back to the mainland on a two hour choppy boat ride.
Or, you think your early days of motherhood will be idyllic and bliss, but you struggle with postpartum depression and your baby has colic that keeps him constantly screaming.
Now… those examples are all of MY life… but I think you can find some examples of your own.
But maybe we’re talking about bigger plans going to hell via Amazon Prime. Maybe you lost a loved one before their time. Maybe you were laid off from your job or you live paycheque to paycheque. Maybe you’re struggling with a chronic illness. Maybe you’re going through a bitter divorce.
Our expectations are dashed large and small, and it can create such a feeling of devastation, resulting in stress.
So, what on earth do we do about it?
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It’s such a hard one. I know many people in my life who would say that expectations are the root of all evil. Some say that it’s important to set your expectations low, then maybe you’ll be pleasantly surprised.
And yet… we live in a social media time of aspirational living. Live your best life. You can do it. Be the change.
I am guilty of that kind of rhetoric.
So how do we balance the expectations that we set for ourselves (and that are reinforced by society), and the idea that low expectations or no expectations leads to better mental health?
There are a few things we can do to lessen the stress of dashed plans.
First – this is a process. I have no magic words for you that will instantly make it better. Life doesn’t work like that. But anything worth having takes work.
You work for the good job. You work for a strong marriage. You work for a good family life. You work for that degree. You work for good health.
The same holds true for stress and mental resiliency during hard times. You have to work to improve it.
So, with that in mind, here goes:
The 5 Things You Can Control Today
A huge element of stress for people is that which you cannot control. Cancelled flights. Illness. Toddler tantrums. Layoffs. So much is outwith our control, and so when that feeling overwhelms us, it’s important to get crystal clear on a daily basis about the 5 things that you can control.
Sometimes it’s something as simple as making your bed in the morning, or prepping your meals for the week, or scheduling in time for physical movement. Other times the bigger things that you can control are who you choose to allow into your life, the boundaries that you set for yourself, and your self-talk.
The latter are harder things to control, but control them you can. It takes training, it takes practice, but if you hone those skills it will make an immeasurable difference on your life and level of stress.
So, I encourage you to write those things down every day. I’ve made a printable handout that you can use to track both that which you can control that you can download here.
Figure Out Your Non-Negotiables
I remember when we were house hunting there were all these elements I dreamed of in a home. A fireplace. Large outdoor space. Three bedrooms on one floor so that I was close to my kids. Walking distance from schools. A radius to downtown that limited my commute time. Oh, yeah and the price had to be right.
As with anything, you have to figure out your non-negotiables, because getting everything you want at the same time is usually unrealistic. We accumulate and change overtime.
As it turned out, the MOST important things for us were commute time, the walking distance to schools and the price. I didn’t get everything I hoped and dreamed for – my kids will share a bedroom so that we’re all on one floor until one is old enough to move to the basement. My grass is non-existent due to thousands of pine needles choking the lawn. Nary a fireplace to be seen.
Maybe house hunting as an example sounds silly, but to put it into perspective that was the single largest financial decision we’ll ever make, so it’s actually not a small thing.
Say you’re going through something more emotional and extreme like a loved one being ill. What are your non negotiables for your time left with them? What conversations need to be had? What would you want to say?
My uncle recently passed away, and due to some family drama of late, I hadn’t seen him in person for years. I knew that I was unlikely to see him again before he passed (I didn’t), but my non negotiable was to send him a letter telling him the impact that he had on my life. Neither he or I could change the outcome of his health, the terrible way in which he declined, but we each chose to say the things we wanted to say, which in the end was the non negotiable.
So… whatever overwhelming scenario you’re in at the moment, define the non negotiables.
You might also find that those tie in nicely to the 5 things that you have control over.
Ground Yourself In Gratitude
But Victoria… we’re sick of hearing about gratitude! I know, I know, but you know why you’re hearing about gratitude from every personal development arena? Because it works. It’s like cliches, they’re cliches for a reason.
Don’t believe me?
I won’t go around in circles on this, but the highlights of this Psychology Today article show that scientifically practicing gratitude:
- improves physical health
- improves mental health
- enhances empathy and decreases tension
- improves your sleep
- improves self-esteem
- increases your resiliency
THIS is why gratitude is important. It’s not light and fluffy. It has real world benefits for you, backed by science. The article even points to gratitude practice being a significant contributor to resiliency for survivors of September 11th.
Gratitude is within your reach.
So, these are the three things that I would focus on when you’re overwhelmed because life is not going to plan. What are the 5 Things You Can Control? What are your non negotiables? Practice gratitude.
To help you out, I’ve made a downloadable printout where you can mark these down every day. No need for fancy journals, unless you share my love of stationary. Keep it simple, and even if you don’t print it out, use it as a template for your own personal recording of these three solutions.
No matter what it is that you’re going through right now, I wish you resiliency and courage in your endeavours. Wishing you the best sounds a bit trite, given that I don’t know where you’re at, so instead I wish you resiliency and courage. Remember, those things don’t look one way.
You’ve got this.
Next week on the podcast, we’ll be joined by Morgan Craig-Broadwith of Live It Active where she and I dive deep on grit, grace, resiliency and so much more. If you’ve found value in this episode, you’ll really love her interview, so make sure that you subscribe so that you don’t miss out.