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When the Going Gets Tough

I’d like to share a story with you. I’ve been working with a woman who has made tremendous strides in self inquiry and awareness, but when it came time to take the next step, she balked. Her fear made her want to give up, it was too hard, she wasn’t making the progress she desired, etc… Sound familiar?

The next step I’m speaking of is the moment during a healing journey when it’s clearly time for action. Goals have been established, the past discussed, contributing events and significant people defined and it is now time to bring attention to intention and take the first action step. This step can take many shapes: putting on walking shoes and leaving the front door; getting in the car and driving to the first water aerobics class; setting the alarm 30 minutes earlier and getting on the treadmill in the basement. Sometimes an action step is not doing something – such as skipping desert or missing the 11 o’clock news to get a fuller night’s sleep.

I’m speaking of the moments procrastination is made of and failure thrives upon: the moment formerly known as discomfort and dread. Don’t we all know this experience? Isn’t it always easier to plan, imagine and talk about the moment than it is to meet it and participate? This is the moment that takes us from dreaming of a healthy and vibrant life to making a mindful and conscious choice to act in our own best interest – to take a substantial step toward fulfilling a dream of health and wellness.

As important as this step is, it often appears to be difficult as it illuminates and activates our fears, our uncertainty and our self-doubts. What if I fail – again? What if I succeed – and am disappointed? Our prior excuses and reasons for not making wise choices for our health and well-being come to light as we are invited, once again, to make a choice.

It is in these moments where we have the opportunity to become aware of exactly what has kept us from making progress in the past and from making different choices. These moments hold the hope of transformation – of lasting change – of doing things differently this time and experiencing self-acceptance, self-confidence and compassion. With trust and courage, we can become aware of our defeating thoughts and beliefs and choose to act from strength and wholeness. As the well-known author and teacher, Parker Palmer, states: “I will always have fear, but I need not be my fear, for I have other places within myself from which to speak or act.”

The most important aspect of confronting fear is to understand that you are not your fear and to accept the experience for what it is: a feeling of uncertainty or anxiety coupled with a thought – such as: “what if I lose my determination?” or “what if I look silly to others?” Feelings and experiences that are denied or pushed under the rug only become stronger and more insistent. This is the time to forgive yourself and love the person that you are, right now. It is also time to reach out to others in your life for support; to listen to your own inner voice telling you to trust; to create community by starting a group on facebook or joining a supportive meetup group; or simply finding an “accountability buddy” and checking in every day. Yes, this is a time of personal challenge yet more importantly a time of personal triumph: taking the action step and then taking the next..and the next.. creating your path as you go.

It might be helpful to remember the following points when the going gets tough:

1. Become aware of the situation and what is being asked of you

2. Acknowledge all feelings, thoughts and experiences

3. Accept all feelings, thoughts and experiences

4. Take small action steps, one at a time, each building on the next

5. Trust the process

6. Remember success takes shape as the journey unfolds

And above all, be grateful for the opportunity to gain strength and make progress toward your goal. A small shift in perception can make all the difference in the world. Try being thankful for the clarity of fear and uncertainty, of dread and discomfort, reminding yourself of the value of presence and awareness. Look objectively at the action at hand, the next step to take, without judgment or criticism. Is it possible to embrace the difficulty or hesitancy as a teacher, here to help us on our way? And finally, as the poet Joseph Campbell states: “Jump!”

How about you? Are you already beginning to form New Year’s Resolutions – promises to yourself that could actually start right now? What would be supportive for you? What suggestions do you have for others who are struggling with taking action? I welcome your comments!

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