Be patient with the pain you feel. Don’t hide from it, don’t rush to cover it up or fix it immediately. Just start by acknowledging its presence and facing it with courage.
Then, challenge yourself to sit quietly with what you are feeling for a full minute, with compassion and gentleness. Be at peace with the source of your pain—find the braveness to just sit with it like you would with a close friend who’s hurting. Practice this a few times a day, whenever you feel the pulse of your pain surging. And notice when your mind wants to run, hide or rebel. When this happens, take a deep breath, re-center yourself, and begin again.
Eventually, you will see clearly that what you feel is just a feeling, and that you can stay with what you feel without the world ending. You will see that you are in control of your feelings, and not the other way around. And you will begin to take them less seriously, hold them lightly, and give them some much-needed space in your worried brain.
When the world is shattering, this is the time to practice.
Practicing Right Now is Tough
Of course, I’m certainly not downplaying the real nature of our present circumstances with COVID-19. The virus is still spreading around the world right now, and we are all facing a very difficult reality. These are not “good times.” I’m not suggesting we should rejoice at living though this disappointing and painful life experience. But it is absolutely prudent to consider the impact this event is having on our collective behavior.
So, let’s build off the foundation we just set above. Let’s look at some tough yet necessary things we can do for ourselves right now to ease our pain and experience a little more happiness in the days and weeks ahead…
1. Be fully present in each moment.
Life is not lived in some distant, imagined land of someday where everything is perfect. It is lived here and now, with the reality of the way things are. Yes, by all means you can hope for and work toward an idealized tomorrow. Yet to do so, you must successfully deal with the world as it is today.
Sometimes we avoid experiencing exactly where we are because we have developed a belief, based on past experiences, that it is not where we should be or want to be. But the truth is, where you are now is exactly where you need to be to get to where you want to go tomorrow. So practice appreciating where you are.
Your family members are too beautiful to ignore. Call them. Text them. Take a moment to remember how fortunate you are to be breathing. Take a look around, with your eyes earnestly open to the possibilities. Much of what you fear does not exist in the space around you. Much of what you love is closer than you realize. You are just one brief thought away from understanding the blessing that is your life.
Remind yourself that happiness is a mindset that can only be designed into the present. It’s not a point in the future or a moment from the past, and yet this misconception hurts the masses more often than we realize. So many young people seem to think all their happiness awaits them in the years ahead, while so many older people believe their best moments are behind them. COVID-19 is only exacerbating these kinds of mindsets right now. Don’t let it get the best of you.
2. Bring gratitude and passion into the little things.
Over the years, Angel and I have guided hundreds of friends, course students and Think Better, Live Better conference attendeesthrough a process of finding sincere gratitude and passion in tough times—a process of stepping forward gracefully, no matter what…
A couple short years ago, on the second to last day of her life, a friend of mine, who I was coaching daily, told me her only regret was that she didn’t appreciate every year with the same passion and purpose that she had in the last two years of her life, after she was diagnosed with terminal cancer. “I’ve accomplished so much recently—so much inner growth—and truly appreciated every moment of it,” she said. “If I had only known, I would have started sooner.”
Her words made me cry and smile at the same time. What was truly miraculous was seeing the genuine gratitude in her eyes at that moment. She was immensely grateful for actually being able to accomplish the little things she had accomplished in her final two years. And her sentiment has always remained with me, and sits at the top of my mind right now. While I agree that dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic is disheartening, and that it can be very painful and debilitating for some people, the pain for most of us can still be mediated by a sense of gratitude and passion for being alive. For still having a chance to do the little things that bring us joy. For still having a life worth living, from moment to precious moment.
Honestly, you’re doing it right when you have so much to cry and complain about, but you prefer to breathe deep and appreciate your life instead. Because there is always, always, always something to be thankful for and some reason to take another step forward. Just invest your heart and soul into whatever you have right in front of you. Bring gratitude and passion into otherwise ordinary moments…
What if you woke up tomorrow with only the little things you were thankful for and passionate about today?
3. Be consistent with healthy daily rituals.
About a decade ago, when I was intensely focused on weight lifting and physical strength training, I gradually learned that you can’t be truly committed to anything worthwhile if you have a weak mind that’s unwilling to do tough things. To combat this, I wrote two simple questions on two different post-it notes and stuck one on my bathroom mirror and the other inside my gym locker:
- How many daily workouts have you missed because your mind, not your body, told you that you were too tired?
- How many daily workout reps have you skipped because your mind, not your body, said, “Nine reps is enough. Don’t worry about the tenth”?
To this day, the answer to both questions is surely hundreds for most people, including myself. Weakness of the mind can easily get the best of us, especially when the going gets tough. And the only way to fix this weakness is daily practice.
Far too often we think inner strength is all about how we respond to extremely dire circumstances, like actively coping with Covid-19: Can we keep our lives together even after suffering from a major illness, or losing our livelihood?
There’s no doubt that extremely dire circumstances test our bravery, determination and inner strength, but what about less dire, daily circumstances? Perhaps just passively coping with Covid-19 from a distance, when it’s not directly and personally debilitating us.
What we need to remember is that the mind needs to be exercised to gain strength. It needs to be worked consistently in healthy ways to grow strong. If you refuse to push yourself forward a little bit every day, of course you will feel completely stuck when the going gets tough.
But you don’t have to feel that way right now…
Choose to do some sit-ups in your bedroom every morning when it would be easier to sleep in. Choose to do the ten reps when it would be easier to quit at nine. Choose to create something special (like a new journal entry, drawing, or family highlight video) when it would be easier to consume something mediocre on TikTok or Instagram. Choose to send loving texts to family and friends when it would be easier to watch another show on Netflix. Prove to yourself, in dozens of little ways over the next few weeks, that you have the discipline to get in the ring and wrestle with life.
Inner strength is always built through lots of small, daily victories. It’s the individual choices we make day-to-day that build our “inner strength muscles.” We all want this kind of strength, especially in tough times, but we can’t simply think our way to it. If you want it, you have to do something about it ritualistically. It’s your positive daily rituals that prove your mental fortitude and move you in a positive direction.
The bottom line is that as times get tougher over the next few weeks, many people will find something easy to do—they will find an easy distraction. But when things get tougher for YOU, you can join Angel and me, and find a way to stay on track with your healthy daily rituals.