Tough times happen. Even the most talented, successful people have down times, ballplayers have slumps, people who are fundamentally optimistic get discouraged, kids (and adults) have bad, blue days.
What’s the remedy? Or, what’s the coping mechanism that will help us to survive the bad times until the good times roll again?
I think it’s discipline. I’m always amazed when I suggest to coaching clients that we have a choice about how we react to whatever happens, good and bad.
“You may be hurt, angered, even humiliated by something that happens,” I say, “but that doesn’t mean that you have to give those emotions expression RIGHT NOW.” “But I can’t help it!” is the response I most often receive.
Let me blow that out of the water right now. You CAN help it, you’re just CHOOSING NOT TO.
The idea that emotions must be expressed immediately, and fully, is fundamentally flawed. Sure, your feelings are your feelings, you’re entitled to them, they’re not wrong. And they’re not rational, logical things. They’re all over the place, and that’s all right. And feelings need expression. If you don’t express your feelings, eventually they may eat the lining of your stomach right up!
But expressing your emotions at the moment that you feel them can lead to disastrous consequences. Cry in the workplace, and some people won’t take you seriously ever again. Shout at your spouse, and the intimacy you share may be damaged. Beat your puppy - even if he WAS about to run into the busy street - and he may cower around you for the foreseeable future.
The key is to allow ourselves to have bad feelings, but to disconnect HAVING the feeling from ACTING ON it. Express the feeling, yes, but only when it’s appropriate to do so. I like to express a lot of mine while working out. Other people beat their pillows, or talk to accepting friends who will hear them out and not be driven away by the intensity of the emotions expressed.
It’s hard sometimes to be tough minded when we’d like to collapse and have someone take care of us. In my work with companies and individuals, I see another version of this problem: people who are overwhelmed by their lack of success and get discouraged. They give in to that discouragement instead of developing strategies to dig their way out, and finding appropriate outlets for their frustration, anger, and/or sense of defeat.
I deliver essentially this message to such people: If you walk out on yourself now, things definitely won’t get better for you. If, on the other hand, you can muster the courage, focus, desire, determination, intention, or the ‘dammit, I’m just gonna do it’ quality that will allow you to GET SOMETHING POSITIVE DONE, you have at least a hope of your situation improving. Tell yourself that, assuming you’re not clinically depressed or otherwise ill, it’s your CHOICE whether to act now and hope to improve your situation, or just collapse and let it all go.
Make that choice, and live with the consequences.