10 Ways To Prepare For The Next Hard Thing
At this point in my life I have experienced more loss and hardship than most. And I’ve learned to accept that there will still be hard things to come. Sometimes people tell me I’ve had more than my fair share of suffering.
Maybe that’s true, but it’s not comforting.
Because there isn’t a suffering quotient. Some people suffer more. Others less. But we will all experience suffering of some kind in our lives. Instead of having false hope in the idea that I’ll use up my “fair share” of suffering and being utterly disappointed when it doesn’t work out that way, I choose to focus my energy on preparing for the next hard thing. Here are ten ways to prepare for the next hard thing. It’s not an exhaustive list, but my hope is that you’ll add your own ideas and practices.
Consider this list “resilience for beginners.”
1. Build a team
Do you have a group of people that cheer you on? The people that encourage you when you need it and come to you for encouragement when they need it? If you don’t already have a team in place, consider who those people might be. Maybe you already have relationships with people but need to have a straightforward conversation where you invite them to be on your team. Maybe you need to find those people. Consider looking for people with similar interests, priorities, and emotional maturity; not everyone is ready to be part of your team right now and that’s ok. Think of ways that you can be specific about your needs and also brainstorm ways you can encourage and support your people.
2. Develop self care practices
What do you do to fill yourself up? What helps you feel your best? Think beyond bubble baths and mani/pedis. What energizes you? What makes a good day good? What makes you feel most yourself? Compile a list of tasty meals that fuel you, activities that you enjoy, boundaries you need to set, and routines that help you sleep well. Practice those things now, while you don’t think you need them so that you know how to care for yourself when life gets hard, stressful, and exhausting.
3. Know your strengths (and your weaknesses)
You can’t be awesome at everything all the time. I know, it’s really hard to accept it, but it’s true. What are your strengths? What are you good at? What feels natural and easy? If you’re not sure, ask those who know you best – sometimes we need an outsider’s perspective to appreciate the best things about ourselves. Celebrate those strengths! Observe how you’re currently using them or how you could be using them. What are your weaknesses? Are you trying to force yourself to excel in an area where you’re weak? Can you delegate that task or approach it in a different way, one that comes from your strengths? One of the beautiful things about being aware of our strengths and weaknesses is that we can ask people who are strong in the areas where we are weak to step into that space, just as we can step in to help carry the weaknesses of others.
4. Learn to listen to and trust yourself
That voice you hear from your gut that you try and ignore because “emotions are fickle”? You can trust it. Those instincts and feelings are the natural ways our mind, heart, and body communicate to us. Many of us learned to ignore those instincts and feelings, so it might take some hard work to build up the trust or even to learn to identify and listen to it. But you are worth trusting.
5. Establish boundaries
Boundaries are the choices we make that preserve or use our mental, physical, and emotional energy. You can’t say yes to everything. By saying no to some things, you are free to say yes to the things you truly want and need to. Start establishing those boundaries now: figure out what your boundaries are for ideal situations and consider how they might change if something stressful, traumatic, or exhausting happened.
6. Develop some reflective practices
I wish I’d had some regular reflective practices before I’d experienced a lot of trauma. I was used to pushing through even if my body and my life were falling apart. There was no time to slow down because I needed to keep going. Then I learned how to meditate and I explored new ways of praying. Journaling, going to art museums, and listening to music have felt equally reflective. I discovered that slowing down (or stopping) long enough to reflect on what I was feeling and experiencing was essential to being able to keep going – I was equipping myself to recognize when I was nearing burn out or when I was pushing to make something happen that was not worthy of my time or energy. Reflective practices have allowed me to prioritize myself instead of my tasks.
7. Go to therapy
Therapy is not meant to be used in case of emergencies. It’s not just for people who are “broken” or come from “messed up” families. The work of the therapist is to come alongside people to help them observe healthy and unhealthy ways they are processing life events and interacting with other people. A therapist’s role is not to fix their clients, but to equip them with the tools to navigate the harder parts of life. Going to therapy and establishing a therapeutic relationship before a traumatic event means that you already have a trusted person on your team as you navigate life circumstances.
8. Collect some comfort items
What do you want near you on the hardest of days? I have a collection of soft blankets, candles, playlists, and a weighted blanket on hand for when I need them. When the hard days come, I don’t have to think of what I might need, I just fill up my water bottle and get cozy. You may already have what brings you comfort – where do you keep those things? Are they easy to access or are they lost at the back of some closet where you’ll have forgotten them by the time you need them? Think about what you might need on a hard day and make yourself a little comfort kit, ready for you when you’re feeling low.
9. Practice being kind and gentle with yourself
When I’m struggling, it’s a minefield of “should.” I should be able to shake this off. I should be able to get stuff done. I should be able to shower. I should be able to remember that one obvious thing. I experience so much shame that I can’t handle whatever it is, that I am struggling. And the shame spiral doesn’t do anything to help me. So I take some deep breaths and acknowledge that whatever “this” is is hard. So hard. And I’m doing my very best. When I practice being kind and gentle to myself on a regular basis, it helps me to filter out the “shoulds” and the shame and focus on my current circumstances.
10. Learn what it means to rest
While “rest” sometimes feels like a forbidden fruit, it is not something only for the weak or lazy. We all need rest. There is no person, animal, or thing that will not eventually fall apart without regular rest or maintenance. The need for rest is not a moral failure, it’s a very normal and healthy thing. Once you can accept that rest needs to come before work, not as a reward for running yourself ragged, it’s time to figure out what is actually restful. Reading a book? Watching a movie? Going for a walk? Taking a nap? Find activities that are restful and refill your mental, physical, and emotional energy and do those things regularly. One of the worst things I ever did was live like the popular phrase “I’ll sleep when I’m dead.” I can’t survive without sleep, but I never truly rested. I just kept pushing myself til I burned out. That worked for awhile, but then I found myself facing stressful and traumatic situations when I was already burned out. I’ll never take rest for granted again!
Where will you start? What do you need to work on to be prepared for your next hard thing?
Are you brave? How ready are you for the next hard thing? Find out when you take the How Brave Are You? Quiz! BeckyLMcCoy.com/quiz