Sometime, through no fault of our own, our lives seem to fall apart. Death, divorce, sickness, accidents… the world has no shortage of ways to fuck with us.
When our familiar routines are taken from us, it’s much harder to take care of ourselves and do everything we feel we should. If you are caring for a sick child, you might not be able to keep the house clean. If war breaks our, regular meals could go out the window. If you have a death in the family, it may impact your ability to get to the gym.
Many of us react to these temporarily life-changing events in one of two ways.
Sometimes, we seem determined to blame ourselves for being unable to keep up with everything we usually do.
Like a women I treat for anxiety, who told me she felt like a lazy and dirty person because she didn’t manage to dust her living room while her home was being threatened by rocket fire.
Other times, we throw up our hands and give up on everything until the crisis is over.
Which is understandable, but can actually make it much harder to cope. Because while we are going through difficult times we need our resources (sleep, good food, social support, etc.) more than ever.
Now you probably think I’m going to tell you that you need to take care of yourself as best you can, not beat yourself up over what you can’t do, and hang on until life goes back to normal. Right?
I mean, that’s better than either of the options mentioned above, but actually…
…I brought you here to tell you a secret.
One of the secrets I’ve learned over my two year boot camp in coping with awful situations is this:
Getting through a crisis and getting your life back to normal is a ridiculous goal.
Because once you’ve survived a real crisis, it is so easy to make your life better.
(Easy – a word which here means super-hard, but no harder than life was going to be anyway, so why the hell not do it?)
Getting through a crisis is like bumping life’s settings up to difficult for the duration. Everything is harder. You don’t have as many resources to draw on. You can’t do as much.
But what you can do is worth so much more.
It took me approximately 6 times as much effort to go to the gym once a week while my mother was dying than it would takes me to go to the gym 3 times a week now.
So I went to the gym once a week. Or maybe twice. Some weeks not all all.
But that didn’t make me a lazy person or a bad gym goer. Just the opposite.
Imagine that every time you go to the gym, you worked out with a 5 kilo weight. Say you picked that weight up and put it down as many times as you could, and then went home.
One day you try a 20 kilo weight. You pick it up as many times as you can, until you are completely exhausted. Could you pick it up as many times as you could the 5 kilo weight?
Of course not. Does this mean you had less of a workout?
Of course not.
Going to the gym once a week or so for those months helped me build a much stronger habit than any amount of time spent there when I had a more normal schedule. Now that I have more time, strength and energy I can easily keep to an intense schedule, because that habit was formed when life was on difficult mode.
When we put any effort we can into keeping things together during a crisis, we are doing the moral equivalent of working out with the heavier weight. We can’t do as much, but we are working much harder, and making ourselves that much much stronger.
The problem is that we were not taught to see the world that way.
When we can’t do as much as we think we should be able to, the story that forms in our heads is that we are people who can’t. But the real story is that if we can to anything at all during these events, that is proof that we are people who can.
And because of the work we did during the hard times, when the crisis ends we are now stronger than we were and can do more than we could before.
I honestly can’t remember a blog post I’ve been less satisfied with, and I know it’s because this subject is very important to me, and I will never feel I’ve done a good enough job of explaining this concept. But the time has come to quit rewriting and move on with my life and other blog posts.
I hope that at the very least I have given you some food for thought. If you feel this post provided value to you, I would really appreciate it if you shared this idea with your friends and family. Preferably during a lively discussion over dinner, but you can also click the buttons at the bottom of this post to share to various social media platforms 🙂
Hi! I’m Havva Mahler, a practitioner of Chinese medicine: acupuncture, Chinese herbs, tuina, reflexology, sotai and massage and a motivation and habit change consultant. You can normally find me at my clinic in Be’er Sheva or Sderot, or reading something about health and/or motivation. You can find out more about me here. Get in touch with me here. And sign up to get the next blog post delivered straight to your inbox here.