Regardless of your fame, fortune, or abilities, life is filled with difficulties. You get to choose how you will react to those difficulties though. Learning to deal with them in healthy, productive ways results in personal growth and peace of mind.
So how do we deal with complications?
Thanks to the following guests for participating:
Drew Povey is an influential leadership authority with a unique multi-sector viewpoint on creating innovative and sustainable change. He has over twenty years’ experience working in elite level sport and education. The last decade he has also been privileged enough to work with charitable organisations, SMEs, multi-national businesses, the NHS and with the Police. Written with Sam Draper, When the Clouds Come is a secret weapon to dealing with obstacles and challenges in sport, work, education, and life in general.
Parenting teenagers expert and psychologist Angela Karanja
Therapist and the Essentials Method creator Anita Bentata
DaysOut.com managing director Catherine Warrilow
Equestrian coach, author, mentor and speaker Claire Nixon-Ord
Master coach, energy healer, teacher and author Gillian McMichael
International bestselling author and The Self-Mastery Transformatrix Hannah Watson, @thehannahwatsondev on Instagram
Creative Visionary, Keynote Speaker and Singer Songwriter, Mr Fabulous also known as Jay Kamiraz
Life coach and communications expert at Chocolate PR Jo Maloney
Author LS Kirkpatrick
NLP and Multiple Brain Coach and Trainer Sarah Fletcher
The Book of Revelations author Sophie Leone
Here are some of the resources from the show:
Today, she is a best-selling author and world renowned Buddhist teacher, but for many years Pema Chodron was simply known as Deidre. Watch as she reflects on why her second divorce was a turning point in her life and why she considers her ex-husband one of her greatest teachers. Today, she is a best-selling author and world renowned Buddhist teacher, but for many years Pema Chodron was simply known as Deidre. Watch as she reflects on why her second divorce was a turning point in her life and why she considers her ex-husband one of her greatest teachers.
Books looked at this week:
Drew Povey and Sam Draper, When the Clouds Come: Dealing with Difficulties, Facing Your Fears, and Overcoming Obstacles
Pema Chödrön: When Things Fall Apart
PS. I do not receive commission for reviewing books and talks.
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Exploring how we can master ourselves by looking at how experts say it is possible with your host Suswati Basu.
Welcome to season 2 episode 64 of How To Be…with me Suswati as your timid presenter, guiding you through life’s tricky topics and skills by reading through the best books out there.
There is one thing that is certain in life, you will have challenges. These challenges could be related to; work, relationships, family, health, finances or even bereavement. Sometimes you experience challenges to stretch your character.
So how do we deal with complications?
Here is a host of amazing voices including therapist and the Essentials Method creator Anita Bentata, DaysOut.com managing director Catherine Warrilow, equestrian coach, author, mentor and speaker Claire Nixon-Ord, and Gillian McMichael who is a master coach, energy healer, teacher and author. And there’s more to come in this episode.
ANITA BENTATA: How we label things, how we perceive things, will either loop us into overwhelming helplessness, frustration, powerlessness, or will open us up to fresh new possibilities and generative growth. And so instead of saying I am stuck, I can say I’m pausing right now. I can see that there are some things that are familiar, but this is a fresh, new moment. And I like the idea that I am receptive to new possibilities. I like the idea that everything is information. I like the idea that I can experiment and follow better feeling, thoughts and actions. So this is an example of the foundation talk in my Essentials Method, and it’s about relabeling things so that we can open ourselves up instead of looping into limited beliefs and labelling.
CATHERINE WARRILOW: What do I do when life sends me a complicated situation? First of all, I ask, uh, myself, will it matter in a week? Will it matter in a month? Will it matter in a year? And try and get a bit of perspective on the situation. Um, I also ask myself what positives I can take from this situation. That’s not always easy in a time of distress, but how can I kind of take something good away from the situation? And finally, I asked myself if I’m being me, is this situation because I’ve let go of my own values? Or am I not being genuine or authentic? Am I listening, um, to what’s actually going on? Have I got all the information I need to try and tackle this problem? And finally, I’d surround myself with people who, in my support network, I know will help me and give me the strength to get through the situation.
CLAIRE NIXON-ORD: When dealing with complications in life, I first of all, make sure I breathe. And I take time to write everything down so that I can process what is happening, but also what I can do to change the scenario. So it enables me to have time to focus on the things that I can control. Which to me is really important. So I can focus on the process and I think it’s really important when we think about complications that we actually think if these complications are actually an opportunity for us to shine. Grow and develop. They’re not necessarily always a negative complication. They could always be a positive to develop ourselves.
GILLIAN MCMICHAEL: Ten years ago I lost everything. And within that I lost myself. And I’ve spent the last decade walking myself back home to my true self. I posed myself a series of questions: what does being true to myself mean? What would happen if I was true to myself? What was I afraid of if I was true to myself? And what would stop me from being true to myself? And it all boiled down to the same thing, fitting in and belonging. And it’s important because we all need to belong. You want to belong, to be part of something.
(Back to host)
Our first book is from Drew Povey, who is an influential leadership authority with a unique multi sector viewpoint on creating innovative and sustainable change. He has over twenty years’ experience working in elite level sport and education. The last decade he has also been privileged enough to work with charitable organisations, SMEs, multinational businesses, the NHS and with the Police. Written with Sam Draper, When the Clouds Come: Dealing with Difficulties, Facing Your Fears, and Overcoming Obstacles is a secret weapon to dealing with obstacles and challenges in sport, work, education, and life in general. I had a chance to speak to Povey, hence here is part of the interview, but find the full interview on http://www.howtobe247.com or on the YouTube channel.
DREW POVEY: I wanted to do a book, um, on this kind of topic because I think that it’s really useful to hear about people’s successes. And I think you go on Instagram and you’re looking at everybody’s successes and the best life stuff that people talk about. But I wanted to write something and produce something and throw it into the world that would help people join the difficult times because we all have them, whether that’s at work, whether that’s at home or professionally is going to happen. So, um, I’ve kind of had this want to put something out there that will do exactly that. And I was having a run, actually, in Wales. We’ve got a caravan in Wales and I was running along the, uh, seafront. It’s an amazing view. And as I’m running along there, it’s a really hot day and, um, I’m running and I’m starting to overheat a little bit and then just at that moment there’s a nice gust of wind and a cloud just comes in the way. And I’m thinking, thank goodness for that, as you do when you’re kind of hot. And then as I was running along, I was thinking, that’s great that that cloud is there. But then I could see the beach and people are on the beach and I was thinking, they’ve probably got the opposite view of that cloud coming. They’re probably thinking get out the way, I want to get some rays and get some vitamin D in the old system. So the whole idea with it was, well, that’s the same cloud, same sun, but very different outcomes. And I think in life the clouds are going to come as we talk about the beginning of the book. So it seems to fit for me. Clouds come for different reasons. They can be a good thing disguised as a bad thing. They can sometimes last for a while in the great British winters that we have, and even in the summer, it seems we’re, uh, experiencing some of that now. But of course, they can come and pass quite quickly. So it seemed to me to be a useful way of looking at life’s difficulties as well. Sometimes it’s a serious thunderstorm of clouds and then other times it can be just a bit of cloud to give you a bit of shelter. So some are less impactful than others. So it seems to work in my head at least. Yeah, I mean, they’re two huge topics. It just takes resilience. I think the issues I found over the years have fascinated by this topic. Why do some people just go, come on, the stick up the lip stuff, let’s go, let’s go. And other people just sit there going, where’s the white flag? I can’t even find the white flag to wave the damn thing. But then the more I looked at it, the more I read about it, the more I understood it. Because again, when we did the book, I didn’t want it to just be conceptual and theoretical. Everything I talk about and do, it has to work in real life. I have to have seen it work. Otherwise you can’t put it out there because it’s just going to be an idea that might or might not I want to give up out there. And the resilient stuff, for me, I kept reading stuff. You hear the quotes like bounce back ability or uh, pull yourself up by your bootstrap to a stiff bullet. I mentioned a moment ago, and that for me, wasn’t what resilience is. Because when we talk about this in the book. And I think we talk about lamp post. But I use a brick wall as an example today. If I run into a brick wall and get knocked down and I go. I’m resilient. I’m going to get back up and I’m going to run into that brick wall again. And I get knocked down. But I’m going to get up and run into the brick wall. That’s not resilience for me. That is stupidity because I’m running into the same brick wall. So the bit for me was when I run into that brick wall and I’m on the ground, you’ve got to do the learning, you’ve got to do the reflection, you’ve got to get perspective on what’s happening. So rather than it just being about, let’s get back to our feet quickly and come on, let’s go again. Actually, let’s learn and when we get back to our feet, let’s get back smarter. So that bit was a crucial thing of just probably a different play on it. Well, that’s a great question. Firstly, in those stories, I think other people’s stories are really important. They’re really important because when we go through a difficult time and I’m not a psychologist and I’m not a psychiatrist, and I won’t be, and I don’t pretend to be, but what I do understand is that we can very often become quite introspective and we can look at ourselves and we can internalise everything. And whilst there are some elements to that that we will want to do, there’s a lot of power in reading other people’s stories. It kind of takes you out of yourself and it stops that pity party. You can have invite for one just for yourself and it gets you out of that. And then when you start reading about other people, you go, do you know what? I’m not the only person who’s been in a place like this. I’m not the only person that’s had this happened. And those stories themselves, I think can give us a lot of energy. I think we can find them quite encouraging and I think, um, they can be quite confusing for us in terms of there is a way out of this. When I’ve had through difficult times and I read about some of these people who take Tiger Woods as an example, he was just do it like Tiger, uh, and then suddenly his world falls apart due to addiction and poor choices and behaviours. 2013-2014 he’s the most hated athlete, one of the most hated athletes on the planet. Then he comes back 19 and wins the map. 2019 wins the Masters and that kind of bottom dog, top dog, zero to hero stuff. So I think those stories are really important. And is it better to be more Apple or be more hedgehog? Yeah, I think it depends what is important to me, and I say this to everybody I work with, and it’s in the book a number of times. It’s different things for different people. What works for one person is not going to work for another. And again, there’s a danger in people going, I have the answer, um, for you, and here it is. And follow my five step process and it will help lots of people. So I’m not saying don’t do it, but I don’t think it’ll help everybody. And when you’ve got a company like Apple and the way they went about their business, that worked for them in their industry, in their landscape, with the people that they had, and I think there’s a huge danger in people going, well, I’ll just do what Apple did, it work for them. And that same blueprint is going to work for everyone because it won’t because we’re not Steve Jobs, we’re not Apple, and we might not be dealing with the same kind of landscape. And what I think worked for Lego when they went back to the Brick, and that’s what they were known for. And knowing your strengths and knowing what you stand for. I mean, there is probably an argument to, um, say that Apple probably knew what they were hedgehog principle wise. It wasn’t about just a computer. It was about creating innovative products that are really intuitive that people can use. And then they took that into other areas outside of the computer market. And I think it’s just working out what’s right for you and right for your circumstances. Most things in life have to be about context. It has to be about the situation, but it has to be about our characters as well, and what we feel is the most powerful impact for us.
(Back to host)
Povey says the whole reason for this book is having your own strategies. Someone might read this book and think that won’t-work for me, But I do like other ideas so I will use that. And it helps you, then job done because every idea and strategy won’t fit or suit every person or situation.
He begins with addressing resilience. Povey says that getting knocked down and getting back up again isn’t necessarily resilience. It can be stupidity in some cases. This kind of resilience does not help you to solve the problem or even help you move forward better than before. For him, there is a moment before the bounce-back ability happens and that moment is all about curiosity.
In general, the shock, that anger, the frustration of being knocked down simply just stops the brain from thinking clearly. It stops your natural curiosity from asking why and what about the situation– massively important questions you need to ask about the moment and your response to those clouds arriving. Consequently, if you’re not thinking curiously, there is a huge probability that you’re just going to get knocked down with the exact same problems again and again.
For example, in 2008, Harold Schultz bought Starbucks and found a coffee selling company facing financial ruin. He actually got curious about the company and said what is Starbucks? Are we going to be the best coffee maker? So he brought all the managers from all the stores around the world to New Orleans in the USA in 2009. The whole endeavour cost the company a reported $33 million. He realised that he shouldn’t be in the coffee market, but he should be in the coffee experience market. The result has gone down in business and cultural history.
When the clouds come it’s not enough to be resilient and tough, we must ignite this curious practice. If you can get curious, you can find the energy and the positivity you need to come back smarter. It’s all about looking at the bigger picture.
The first thing you need to do is to learn as much as you can about what’s just happened. You’ve just got to confront the brutal fact and go head-on into it and get really curious. Matthew Syed talks about blackbox thinking for these kinds of situations. When an aeroplane crashes we revisit the crash site, open the blackbox and read the recorded information that led up to the disaster. That’s how to learn from failure. This takes humility. Humility isn’t about feeling sorry for yourself. It does require you to acknowledge that sometimes your natural ability and talent will help you to succeed, but sometimes that just isn’t enough. It’s all about learning what happened.
The second part to this curious process is unlearning. It’s about what you would do differently. Even if you nail something, it’s important to remember the fact that what will work now, what got you to where you are now, won’t always keep you there. And it definitely won’t get you to your next level because the new level will be different and therefore requires different detail and input and output. The final element is to relearn. People talk about fail forward, fail better, fail faster, make mistakes matter, keep learning new ways of doing things.
Getting back up quickly can lead you to be knocked down harder, or even worse – knocked down permanently. Running towards the problem requires some thought. Not to speed and aggression. We have to be smarter as a result of what’s happened.
In Man’s Search for Meaning by Viktor Frankl he wrote about the big difference between reacting and responding. He famously survived the prisoner of war camps in the 1940s, so his viewpoint on resilience and his understanding of how to get up from tragedy in an intelligent and healthy way is more valid than most. What we need is a space to respond and Frankl talked about needing a gap between stimulus and response. Trying to extend that reaction time to something longer and giving yourself a moment.
What a lot of people in grief counselling are now saying, like Dr Lucy Hone, is that we need to be proactive and we actually need to push people to move through the stages of grief. Let’s not sit and wait for it to happen, let’s work on it and explore it and hit it head-on. This is called post-traumatic growth.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is the occurrence of feelings and emotions and physical reactions to a trauma after-the-fact. Post-traumatic growth is the key to how we get back up and from Sheryl Sandberg‘s inspiring book it provides a reason for getting up. PTG suggests that if we handle grief in the right way, it can actually be a time of growth.
Quoidbach et al. (2014) labelled the fact that people don’t get curious at the moment they get knocked down as Emodiversity or the variety and relative abundance of the emotions that humans experience. We don’t attempt to work out what we’re feeling, we just feel. We don’t actually consider Emodiversity, that is that interplay with one another.
The next is reframing. This doesn’t happen automatically. In the immediate aftermath it’s hard to separate the emotions and think rationally. Martin Seligman talks about disputation in his book Learned Optimism. So adversity comes and Seligmann proposes an ABCD model.
– The A is for adversity.
– The B is what do we believe, what do we start thinking at that time, and because of negativity bias, we are more likely to see the negative and protect ourselves and protect the ones we love.
– This starts catastrophizing – which is the C. Seligmann says that ABC happens all the time.
– Where he suggests we move next is to watch the disputation – D. This is about disputing the beliefs. It allows you to gain some time to see perspective. Reframing often needs other people. The other people around you can really help you to gain perspective, and that allows you to dispute what has happened.
When you pause in the frame, to acknowledge the difficulty of the situation, it can become easier to look at it with optimism. It’s cliched, but every winter, there is springtime ahead. In the book stronger by Dennis K McCormack, Douglas A Strouse, and George S Everly Junior, they talk about active optimism – believing that you can get through difficulty. Controlled and thoughtful in your approach to the positive. Life is full of hits and no one is perfect.
Martin Selligman says there are three key things that hinder resilience and recovery. The first thing is personalisation, which of course is easy to do. It’s where you think it’s all your fault. The second element is pervasiveness, where we think the problem or issue is going to spread into all aspects of our lives. And the final aspect that he talks about is permanence. If you don’t pause and unlearn that train of thought that is personal and pervasive, the more permanent it will become.
For Povey, courage is the catalyst for most things. It’s a spark and a driving force. Microsoft was dominant in the computer world in 1997 and so when Steve Jobs returned to Apple in 1997 as interim CEO he needed courage to go against all the experts within and outside of his company to launch the iPod. This doesn’t mean that every Maverick idea is going to work– look at some of the colossal failures of other business greats such as Richard Branson and Elon musk. But the common theme they share with jobs is the concept of courage. He used courage and curiosity to change something.
Brian Tracy, author of Eat that Frog! Says that courage has two aspects, and it’s the second part of courage that actually is the most important. To the author’s mind, 35% of courage is the leap of faith, the jump, the risk taking. Tracy suggests that the second part of courage is staying the course. It’s the same principle as resilience. Courage helps us to get back up, but also to stay the course once we are up and ready to go. A huge part of courage is discipline, it is about carrying on with belief.
Povey introduces the COURAGE model. C is for change – if you’re going to do anything courageous, things are going to have to change. You will need to create really positive and sustainable change and to do something that will have a big impact. You’ve got to change the status quo. O is for opportunity – we have to find the courage to be opportunistic. U is for understanding – it’s really important to understand what has happened. R is for resilience – resilience is part of courage. It’s the effort. The grit that Dr Angela Duckworth talks about. A is for action – talk is cheap and sometimes we have to stop talking and start doing some stuff. G is for goals – the best leaders have an ultimate endpoint. E is for engagement – you don’t have to do courage alone. You’ve got to get a group of good people that share your why.
Combining resilience and courage allows you to do one thing we can all do when we’re feeling alone which is to listen. It shows resilience and courage to pause, think and listen to what is around. In Courage Goes to Work, Bill Treasurer says there are three types of courage. Try courage which is to have a go at new things. Trust courage where you rely on others. And then there’s courage where you speak your mind.
To most people it is fair to say that uncertainty equals the unknown. People often respond that it’s anxiety, nervousness, worry, being unsure and feeling unsafe. We feel like we live in a very volatile, uncertain, complex, ambiguous world. So there are lots and lots of negative connotations with this word. There are three uncertainty dynamics.
– Worry is the primary dynamic in uncertainty. The word worry comes from the Greek word which means divided mind, and that sums up exactly what happens to us when we are caught in this place. There is nothing productive about worrying.
– Worry then becomes fear. What people actually fear is failure. But leadership guru Seth Godin says it’s not failure that we are fearful of, but the criticism that’s connected to the failure.
– Leaving your comfort zone.
Povey believes uncertainty is where innovation lives. Nothing innovative or new is ever predictable and certain, that’s actually when we make those biggest strides and feel positive. Innovation is where we learn and grow towards our potential. Realistically, we know that uncertainty is not something we probably asked for but as humans I think we can get to enjoy problem-solving. The idea is that we have to go towards that thing that really scares us. Basically this means getting used to ambiguity and the solution is to train yourself to deal with it like having a cold shower.
We therefore need a growth mindset, which comes from American psychologist Carol Dweck‘s research on mindset in her wonderful book Mindset: The New Psychology of Success. Human progress isn’t about hitting goals it’s about growth. It’s about the amount of effort we are putting in. . A growth mindset suggests it’s a setback on the way to something bigger.
In the meantime, we need certainty anchors. Jonathan Fields wrote the book Uncertainty in which he says that what we need in moments of uncertainty is to remember our certainty anchors. If you stop and look at your life what are you certain about? This can be routines and perhaps things that you eat.
Facebook’s former chief operating officer Sheryl Sandberg wrote in Option B to ask yourself the question: what mindset am I approaching here? Basically you have to create an option B. Frankl commented that the people that survived in the concentration camps where he was in, were the ones that really could gain clarity on what was happening to them, so not optimism or cynicism, but clarity. Frankl took his knowledge of the most terrible events humanity can inflict on itself and noticed that those who can survive these experiences create a space between stimulus and response, even if that means grief.
Paul McGee, the Sumo guy who I spoke to in episode 38, states event + response = outcome. The time and consideration given to the response actually determines the quality of the outcome. It is about using your response to get a better view of what has happened and what could happen going forward. It’s all about decision making and decision management, and how we can use everything we are learning, difficulties to think our way out of the situation with a positive outcome.
Check out episode 20 on decision-making with Dr Ralph L. Keeney and episode 43 on systems thinking with Daniel Kahneman. System one is what Kahneman calls fast thinking. This is intuitive and instinctive thinking. Fast thinking can be effective and be a program to be able to think this way to save our energy. And there are decisions where we have to really think deeply about all the consequences, causes and effects, problems and issues. This is system two thinking. Kahneman says that these two decision-making systems are at play all the time and we need to pick the right one for the right decision. With slow thinking, we need to pause, find perspectives through multiple people and prioritise what matters most right now.
Povey sets out five Hs for dealing with difficulty.
1. Hold your nerve to avoid immediately spiralling downwards into an emotional pit. You’ll need honesty, humility and hope for this.
2. You need to humanise the difficulty. People are all about relationships. And relationships are all about emotions and empathy.
3. Honing in is about asking a question, a focus question. Honing in is the ability to look at ourselves during that moment and ask, “where is my attention during this specific moment of time?“
4. This is the chance to embed habits and create a setting that deals with the difficulty and hopefully create some pathways to avoid the same thing from happening again.
5. Humour is extremely important. Humour can help us to get through these difficult moments.
Our next three voices that we will hear from are parenting teenagers expert and psychologist Angela Karanja, international bestselling author and The Self-Mastery Transformatrix Hannah Watson, and Mr Fabulous also known as Jay Kamiraz, who is a Creative Visionary, Keynote Speaker and Singer Songwriter.
ANGELA KARANJA: We all, uh, experience life through the lenses and the labels that we have created. Wayne Dyer used to say when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change. So the best thing to deal with our experiences is in the first place to remove the label. When you’ve had an experience, don’t label it as a complication, but instead say this is an experience that has happened and then this is how you deal with it. Is there anything I can do about it? Either there is something you can do about it, or there’s nothing you can do about it. And when you decide there is something you can do about it, either do something about it, seek for help doing something about it, and when you decide there’s nothing you can do about it, it’s beyond your control, then be at peace with that. And that’s how you deal with what you would call complications of life.
HANNAH WATSON: When it comes to dealing with complications in life, I know all about. I teach women how to unleash their own fierce, feminine, confident, courageous and sexy self to claim and keep every single thing they were born to have in this world. And going for such transformation will hit complications. One part is managing the nerves in that process. Being able to talk your pesky brain down off the ledge, calm your emotions, come back into yourself, work through the complication, the toughness, whatever is arising in that moment. And equally, I like to look at it as what is the gift? Which may seem hard, but what is the lesson in this? Why does it feel like a complication to me? An invitation to look closer at why does it feel so difficult? Is it something I don’t want? Well, actually, is it something I do not want? Or why do I feel, think or believe that that is the case?
JAY KAMIREZ: How do I deal with complications? I deal with complications through having a clear mindful awareness and mindset, and that is through meditation and chanting. I also deal with complications, having the ability to talk to a tribe and a circle of friends whom I can trust and let my guard down with. I’m very fortunate that I have my friends Nicki, my PR Dorle and my partner David. These are the people that I can be vulnerable with, knowing all too well that they will transparently give me the right answers, the right ways to deal with the situation and complication and move on from it. Lastly, I ask you to look. After yourself and never let your irrationality get the better of you in any forms of complication. Go to a little corner, close your eyes and take deep breaths and say to yourself, I reject any forms of negative complications that are going to hurt my mind, body, and soul.
(Back to host)
Our next book is from Pema Chodron, a renowned spiritual teacher in the Western world. She is also the author of several best-selling books including The Wisdom of No Escape and Start Where You Are. Her 1997 book When Things Fall Apart is a guide to dealing with the biggest challenges life throws at you. Here she is speaking to Oprah.
OPRAH: What struck me about your life story is that it was the moment of falling apart. You say your second husband has been one of your greatest teachers. Can you tell us why?
PEMA CHODRON: Well, he was one of my greatest teachers because he left me. That’s a simple truth. I mean, it was really clear that he was out of there.
OPRAH: Can you take me back to that day? You describe it in the book.
PEMA CHODRON:Yes, I described in the book and what actually happened is I was in northern New Mexico, near Taus, out in front of our adobe house, drinking a cup of tea. And then the car drove up behind the house. I heard the door slam, came around the corner of the house and just said it, blurted it out that things haven’t been going well with, uh, us. I’m having an affair with somebody else, and we need to get a divorce. So then I described.
OPRAH: that’s, um kind of stunning.
PEMA CHODRON: Yeah. So it was so shocking, I, uh, suppose, even traumatising, that I had that experience that I described where it was just timeless moment of total eternal silence.
Because had you suspected an affair?
Looking back, things were really bad between us anyway. But somehow I wanted it to keep going. But it still came as a total out of the blue.
OPRAH: There you are, drinking your cup of tea. Your second husband pulls up and says, this is it. I’m having an affair.
PEMA CHODRON: Yeah. So everything fell apart. I just somehow couldn’t get it all to come back together. And I think I also say that in the book, which is that I wanted it to come back together because for me, happiness seemed to represent just going back to what I had had, which was not very happy, but it represented security and the known and everything. And then, um, this happened, and suddenly I was just out there.
(Back to host)
When life knocks you down, it can be hard to get back up. Anyone who has ever been through a breakup, faced constant rejection when looking for a job or watched a loved one struggle will understand how difficult it can be to get back to feeling positive again. Some of us never really escape our struggles. But we can also learn to approach life in a way that allows us to accept any obstacles that confront us. This strategy allows us to stay strong in times of adversity and keep calm in times of danger.
Chodron says embracing our fears is our ticket to greater self-knowledge. You need to understand your fear on a deeper level by taking time to reflect on it. Normally, when things fall apart in our lives, be it our health or our marriage, we tend to focus all our energy on resolving the situation, without spending enough time learning about the situation itself.
The first thing we need to do to change this is to realise that our lives are in constant flux; things fall into place, fall apart and come together again in unexpected ways. To appreciate this process and learn from it, you have to create space in your life to let things happen – you might find that positive solutions emerge from the most surprising places.
Loneliness, like fear, is also something we take great pains to avoid. And yet, solitude provides us with some of the best opportunities to relax, recuperate and recenter. And there is an alternative to a fast-paced, high stress life, constantly attempting to be productive and attempting to achieve.
This alternative is called the middle way, an open state of mind that allows us to simply observe our problems for what they are. To find this middle way you need solitude, and you need to accept that solitude isn’t negative. So, when you wake up in the morning with pangs of loneliness in your chest, don’t panic. Instead of worrying about what’s wrong with you, relax into the feeling without judging yourself for experiencing it.
Once you start using the middle way to face your moments of loneliness, you’ll begin to embrace them as opportunities for self-observation; in fact, you could even turn time alone into meditation sessions. Sometimes meditation sessions are a time to let go of ideals, beliefs and norms to observe yourself as you really are. By making this a daily habit, you’ll be able to develop maitri – a loving kindness and unconditional friendship with yourself.
Chodron believes that hope can actually have a detrimental impact on our lives. Sometimes, hope can make us fearful and anxious about the future, or lead us to disappointment. The Tibetan language captures the relationship between hope and fear especially accurately. In Tibetan, the word for hope is rewa, while fear translates as dopka. Hence the word re-dok refers to the combination of hope and fear, a feeling whose duality captures our perpetual dissatisfaction with ourselves.
In re-dok, we’re caught between hoping that we’ll achieve greater things, and the fear of how our failure to do so might reflect on us. By questioning our hopes and our fears, we can set ourselves free from constant dissatisfaction and disappointment. Chodron also says the one universal fear that plays out in the background of all our lives is the fear of our own mortality.
Our fear of death keeps us from embracing death as a natural part of life itself. After all, we experience various forms or representations of death in our everyday lives: when the day ends, when we break up with someone, when we quit a job or even when we exhale – life is constantly presenting us with all kinds of endings.
By accepting these endings as part of the constantly changing flow of life, we can accept that nothing is permanent – not even our existence. In this way, death becomes nothing to be feared.
Chodron says celebrating impermanence, suffering and egolessness brings us closer to the meaning of life. Getting to know these three can also make challenges in life seem a lot more bearable.
First, impermanence is the essence of life. Frightening as this may seem, it’s in our best interests to celebrate and be mindful of impermanence, and we can do so by recognizing it during times of new beginnings.
Suffering is another inevitable part of our lives. As the saying goes, there’s no pleasure without pain; likewise, there’s no inspiration without wretchedness. Just like impermanence, suffering is something we should also celebrate, as it reminds us that things don’t always turn out as we plan, and helps us feel happier about our current state of affairs. To embrace suffering as a necessary truth of existence, spend time observing how you react to painful situations, but without condemning your emotional response.
Finally, by embracing egolessness, we can learn to feel at ease with our past and future, and thus learn to live in the moment. Though we often interpret a lack of ego as a lack of confidence, it’s actually a sign of deeper happiness; by approaching every moment with curiosity, you’ll break free from self-absorbed thinking. Rather than remaining fixated on our life story, egolessness helps us appreciate what’s going on around us in the present.
Compassion doesn’t just involve connecting with those less fortunate than us, but also with everyone around us and ourselves. Practising compassion toward others can make you more accepting of yourself at the same time.
This is what Zen teacher Roshi Bernard Glassman found when running his project for the homeless in Yonkers, New York City. As he explained to the author, Glassman found that building relationships with those that society has rejected is much the same as getting in touch with the parts of himself that he’d rejected for so long.
Start by thinking of someone who suffers. Hold them in your thoughts as you breathe in his or her pain. Then, as you exhale, breathe out the joy you’d like them to feel.
When we go through difficult times, meditation, breathing and finding new perspectives can help us through. Here are some ancient strategies you can use.
The first is called no more struggle. This is the practice of using meditation to recentre yourself at times when you feel powerless. Rather than struggling with your thoughts, embrace them and investigate them to find out more. What scares you most? What do you find repulsive? Observe yourself to find the answers to these tough questions.
The second strategy is using poison as medicine – in other words, using times of suffering as a wake-up call. The three poisons are passion (or addiction), ignorance and aggression. If you feel one of these three rising up inside you, don’t suppress or deny it; instead, breathe in the urge you’re experiencing, even if it makes you feel embarrassed or ashamed. Then, breathe it out again with a feeling of creating space and freedom for yourself.
The final strategy is the practice of recognizing that everything is alive and perfect the way it is. By witnessing our world this way, we cease trying to make ourselves look better or hide from problems that we can’t ignore. Instead of looking for something purer, we learn to work with what we’ve got. Take the present moment for what it is, and it will become your teacher.
So to sum up:
Povey says in When The Clouds Come always be curious, have a growth mindset rather than goals, be a realistic optimism when dealing with situations, deal with issues with good people around you, courage needs smart and slow thinking, remember to really listen to everyone so you can learn, look for the opportunities in obstacles, slow down for peak performance, be aware of confirmation bias and groupthink, and remember the 5 Hs. Hold your nerve, humanise the difficulty, hone in on asking the right questions, embed some good habits, and find humour wherever you can.
Chodron says in When Things Fall Apart that by incorporating self-acceptance, calm reflection and a deeper appreciation for the present moment into your day-to-day life, you’ll be better equipped to confront challenging times. Taking the time to learn about your fears, flaws and difficulties, while embracing even the most unpleasant parts of life, can also bring you closer to friends and family – and strangers too. Accept the place where you are in right now. Focus your attention on your breath, and when you notice your mind wandering, simply label those distracted or worrisome thoughts as thinking, before gently returning to your breathing. By internally applying the label of thinking, you accept your wandering thoughts without judgement and embed self-compassion into your meditation practice.
We all go through challenges, and it’s easy to get sucked into a pit of despair when we’re faced with one. So it’s about finding ways ahead of time to manage potential problems rather than waiting for the axe to fall. Please join in on the conversation by following @howtobe247 on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, and subscribe to the podcast, which can be found via http://www.howtobe247.com.
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Just before we go, we get to hear from life coach and communications expert at Chocolate PR Jo Maloney, author LS Kirkpatrick, NLP and Multiple Brain Coach and Trainer Sarah Fletcher, and The Book of Revelations author Sophie Leone on their thoughts on facing complications. See you in two week’s time!
JO MALONEY: How I deal with complications in my life is I like to think about the circle of control. So I think about and bring it right back to the centre and think about what can I do right now to make the situation better? What can I do to control my words, my thoughts, my actions? Is there anything that I can do right now within my control that would help this? I also think about the circle of influence and I also think about the circle of concern and think what is it that I can do right now in this moment? I also make sure I’m kind to myself and give myself time for reflection. So time to stop and think and reflect. I always find that giving myself some time to I like to say she meets through from my head to my heart to my gut to my heart to my head always really helps me to digest and reflect on that complication or that problem. Um, I also think about coping strategies. So things that I can do that I know help me feel better. So I love to be by the water and that always helps me in these moments.
LS KIRKPATRICK: How do I deal with complications in life? I tell you, there are some times I just want to cry. Sometimes I just get angry. Sometimes I want to put somebody in their place. Sometimes I just want to hide. And there are times when I want to quit. But all of these are reactions, not actions. And I need to take action. So taking a pause is an action that lets me reassess the situation. It helps me see what is causing the problem. Do I really need to be concerned about it? Am I worried about it? Because worry does no good for anybody. Am I comparing myself to others? Am I letting those paradigms of my head come back and tell me I’m not good enough? Who do I think I am doing this? Get rid of those. They don’t belong there. So many times I also have to soften, pray, just take a breath, say a prayer, and then breathe out and get on with it. I really need to change the perspective and look at it from a different point of view.
SARAH FLETCHER: How I deal with situations is first of all, I’ll ask myself, how am I perceiving the situation? And I’ll take like a detached view from my emotional reactions and responses so that I can see the bigger picture of what’s going on. Then I ask myself if the story that I’m creating is actually true. Because when I’m more emotionally detached from it, then I can see things from a different perspective and, um, have more choice about how I respond to it. So once I’ve been able to see this wider perspective of it. I can then decide from this place how I want to handle the situation, and I can access more of my intuitive, innate wisdom and guidance so that I can respond in a wiser way. And it helps me then not to be stuck in the problem or in the complication. And then I ask myself, so how do I want to be as I navigate this situation? Who do I want to be so that it is aligned with my values and who I am as a person? And then I’ll think about the outcome of what I want, what I want the outcome, uh, to be, and how am I going to achieve this outcome in a way that ensures that I handle it in the best possible way for myself and others, if they are involved as well. Um, so that’s how I handle complications in my life.
SOPHIE LEONE: When I feel the overwhelm of complications arise, I do feel the initial freak out moment. And then I know, because of my practice that it’s because I am in my head. Um, so I need to descend into the space of my heart. And my practices for this and I have a few, are that I must, uh, love myself and I must give myself what it is, um, that I need to uncomplicate and keep it simple. And those things are to grab a pen, uh, and to write, to get out in nature and soak things up without the need to make sense, to lay my body down and rest and to hang on until it passes.