- Life IS difficult. It is difficult for everyone in different ways, and sometimes it is more difficult than at other times.
- Not everyone suffers as a result of life’s difficulties. That’s not to say that they don’t find it hard. It’s just that it is not necessarily experienced as suffering. And if they do experience suffering, they know that it will pass.
- The characteristics of people who endure and thrive are identifiable.
- Some people have these characteristics as a result of either their natural character, or as a result of how they were raised.
- All these characteristics can be learned and cultivated.
Let’s start with physical health. Being strong, fit (meaning having a certain amount of stamina) and feeling well are an essential aspect of thriving. When your body looks good, feels good and works well, you simply feel better and enjoy life more – no matter what you are going through. Furthermore, the process of getting and staying strong and fit (some weight training, some endurance training, and some flexibility) releases happy hormones into your body (dopamine, serotonin, oxytocin and endorphins) which sets you up for a good day, and makes you more likely to have the fortitude to roll with whatever may come your way.
So let’s say that you currently have not been thriving (everything feels hard, maybe you’re a bit depressed, maybe you feel stuck), what can you do?
- Put a simple routine in place – the emphasis being on simple. If you over-engineer it, chances are it won’t last. A simple routine may start with the decision to walk for 30 minutes 4 times a week. If you can, do it in the fresh air. Also, you might want to “multi-task” on this one – either listening to a book or inspiring podcast, or using it as a kind of moving meditation. Then, once this is established as a habit, you might start some strength training. I remember a challenge I did one year that consisted of squats, push-ups and plank.
- Day 1: 10 squats; 10 push-ups; 20 seconds plank.
- Day 2: 11 squats, 11 push-ups; 25 seconds plank.
- Day 3: 12 squats, 12 push-ups; 30 seconds plank.
- For each subsequent day, add 1 squat, 1 push-up and 5 seconds of plank so that, by day 30 you are doing 40 squats, 40 push-ups and almost 3 minutes of plank!
- Make a decision to eat food that your body likes – meaning it is food that makes you feel good and is good for you. Ditch the food you know isn’t good for you – pizza, KFC, everything stuffed into large amounts of bread. Choose the food that is good for you. A general rule of thumb is that you must be able to name everything you see in front of you – so it must be unprocessed, find veggies and fruit that you like (or can prepare in ways that you can stand), include some protein and some fat. Maybe even get someone to deliver prepared, balanced meals that tick the boxes – it will cost no more than those takeaways.
Can you ever have a treat? Of course you can – but make 1 day a week your cheat day and don’t go crazy, undoing all the good you’ve done in the previous 6 days. And if you fall off the wagon? Just get back on.
- Drink plenty of water every day, and limit your intake of alcohol.
- Quit smoking or vaping. You know it’s not good for you. Don’t fool yourself.
- Get plenty of good quality sleep. Our bodies are designed to sleep when it’s dark and wake when it’s light, so gaming until the wee hours and trying to play catch-up during the day is a mug’s game. Obviously if you are a shift worker, you need to do what you must do in order to get good quality sleep.
- They are kind to themselves. They avoid endless self-criticism and self-flagellation. If they have let themselves down in some way, they are honest about it and get back on the bus – but they don’t invest endless energy in beating themselves up. If this is your habit – to beat yourself up – then I recommend Bob Newhart’s form of therapy. It is available here.
- They have hobbies and interests that they include in their routine. Whether they love doing crosswords, gardening, making art or reading, they include it in their lives. I did not say that they “make time for it” because that suggests that they squeeze it in amongst all the important things in their lives. They actually include it amongst all the other important things.
- They have relationships with good people, they nurture these relationships so that the connections are strong, and they draw on these relationships when things get tough. So what can you do if you find yourself without these strong connections? As we get older, most of our relationships are formed around our activities – so pursue activities that enable you to meet people and form friendships. Join a hiking club or walking group; take an art class; find a bookclub (we know it’s not so much about the books).
- Volunteer. People who thrive tend to give of themselves. What’s more, it’s a great way to meet people. Volunteering takes your attention off yourself and your problems and gets you focused on needs elsewhere that might be even greater than yours.
- Learn to deal with your stress. We all have stress. It is part of life. However, as Shakespeare said: “there is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so”. It is the way we think about the events of our lives that creates the stress, rather than the events themselves. We can think about an event as a disaster or as a setback. We can think about a loss or failure as devastating or as an opportunity to try again. We can also remind ourselves that “this too shall pass.” In fact, one of my favourite quotations is “Everything works out in the end. If it hasn’t worked out yet it’s not the end.” (Tracy McMillan).
- Develop the ability to quiet your mind. Sometimes we are tormented by rumination. We ask endless “what if…” questions. We play an event over and over reminding ourselves of what an idiot we were. We worry about things that are either outside our control or that are actually already under control. If you are asking “what if…” questions, then answer the question. For example, what if I lose my job? Answer the question – I will look for another job / I will start my own business / I will take some time off. If you are tormenting yourself, practice thought interruption (google it). If you can do something about the source of your worry, then do it. Otherwise, let it go (tell yourself “let it go”).
Learn mindfulness techniques – even something as simple as mindful breathing.
- Get help when you need it. Let’s get one thing straight. I am not saying that people who thrive never have problems with their mental and physical health. What I am saying is that when they do, they deal with it in a specific way. They seek help. Something about their physical health is not right? They see a doctor. They are struggling with anxiety or depression, they see a therapist. They see this as natural – just as you would call a plumber when you have a leak or a burst pipe – rather than shameful. They are willing to do the work and do the healing, rather than suffering and enduring.
If you recognise that you need to start developing your own ability to thrive regardless of what life is throwing at you, email me on firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s discuss your coaching programme.