We’ve all had days where everything seems to go wrong. Your alarm clock doesn’t go off. The coffee machine breaks. There’s no hot water. The kids miss the bus. You’re late for work. Your boss moves up a deadline. Your printer doesn’t work. Your phone battery dies. You forgot your wallet. And, that’s just before lunch! By then you start to wonder what else can go wrong so you focus even on the most minute details of what’s not working. You think, “This will be some story when I get home.” You make sure to remember everything so nothing is missed in the retelling.
Cataloging Our Woes
We’ve all been there and it does make a great story to tell your friends. But when it comes to our lives in general, this tendency we have to catalog our woes is a big mistake. I remember a friend who loved Ziggy, the friendly cartoon character whose life never goes right. He had Ziggy stickers on his notebooks and a Ziggy calendar. He even named his dog Ziggy. That may sound cute but think about it. It’s very easy for our problems to become our identity if we’re not careful.
I see it often in my office and with friends (and I’ve even been guilty of it myself). Someone may be struggling with a big problem or a string of them. Someone I know went through several bouts of unemployment, which is unsettling, for sure. But I noticed over time, even after things greatly improved, the next setback would come with a recounting of each episode of job loss over his life, going back 30 years. That was followed by a list of the personal challenges he’s faced, the people who betrayed him, and the friends who let him down. By the time he was done listing everything, he had discouraged himself to despair.
When we’re upset or depressed, it can be hard to see our blessings…our problems take center stage. And this tendency we have to review and list each problem can set us back immeasurably.
Escaping the Cycle
When you’re tempted to catalog your troubles, you need to stop, recognize what you’re doing, and arrest the process ASAP. Understandably most of our friends try to listen and be compassionate as we recount our woes. That’s fine initially but not too helpful in the long run. Enlisting at least one person as an accountability partner to keep you focused properly can pay big dividends if you want to move forward and keep this present challenge from overwhelming you or lasting longer than it needs to.
I remember one time, after the last straw with a particular boyfriend, making my decision to move on. I knew I needed to cry and talk to friends but also knew from past experience how that could tend to prolong the hurt and delay the healing process. So, I decided I would cry and feel sorry for myself for the first week and talk to any friend who would listen. The second week, I would allow myself to cry but would limit who I spoke to, choosing one friend only, and not bring up the topic with anyone else. The third week, I would stop talking about it, change my thoughts when I started to think about it, and focus on the future. It worked.
Of course, the time frames may vary, but setting limits to our sadness, self-pity, and our complaining is critical to moving forward.
Steps to Overcoming Setbacks
So, when disappointments or setbacks come, consider these steps:
1) Allow yourself to feel sorry for yourself…for a limited time.
Sadness, anger, and fear are normal emotional responses to hurts, disappointments, or losses. Pushing past them too quickly can work against you. Acknowledge your feelings and allow them their rightful place. Once you know what you’re feeling and why, you’re better able to think through solutions.
2) Talk to friends or family to seek comfort…for a limited time.
Sometimes we don’t need advice or guidance…we just need a listening ear, compassion, and a hug. Seek out those who care about you and snuggle up in their warmth and love for you. They may not be able to solve your problems but to know you’re not alone is a huge help and comfort.
3) Limit the number of people with whom you discuss your problem.
This is good advice, in general. Too many opinions can often be confusing. And depending on the problem with which you are struggling, sometimes people’s personal experiences can color the way they see your situation. For example, if someone went through a bitter divorce, they may not be able to be objective with you about your marital problems.
Often the problems we face involve other people. By talking to too many people, we may easily fall into detraction and hurt the reputation of the other person with whom we are struggling. Even if what you say is true, it may not be right to share details with others who may then view them in an inordinately negative light. In addition, if your problem is with another person like your spouse, a family member, or close friend, after you work it out and reconcile, others may continue only to see the bad and not be able to forgive them the way that you do.
The other benefit to limiting your confidantes is this: you need to get a break from your problems to gain a better perspective. When everyone knows what you’re dealing with, there’s a tendency to have to give the latest updates each time you speak. This only keeps you focused on those problems. Having some friends with whom you can do some recreational things for distraction is a big help. Keeping your circle of confidantes small is your best bet.
If we can’t seem to move past whatever it is we are struggling with, speaking with someone with professional training can be very helpful toward finding lasting solutions. First, they will likely have a more objective perspective than our friends and family. Second, they may help to identify patterns and root causes to help you heal and move forward. When problems repeat or pile up, there are often underlying reasons that need to be addressed. The sooner you seek counsel, the sooner you’ll be able to move forward toward a better future.
5) Catalog your blessings.
In the midst of our disappointments it helps to make a concerted effort to list your blessings. What are the good things you have going for you? What are the blessings in your life? They may be small things like a good cup of coffee, or a faithful dog…write them all down. How has God answered your prayers in the past?
Your sadness and anger may color your perspective so enlisting a close friend can help. Depression can often color your world very gray. If you’re unable to see anything positive, seeking professional evaluation and guidance is advisable. Sadness and anger over a long period of time can change our brain chemistry and medication or even a better diet, and supplements may be necessary to help get you out of your funk and thinking more clearly.
6) Look for heroes.
There are many true stories of people who faced terrible sufferings and challenges and overcame them. Seek out stories that inspire and avoid entertainment that drags you down. Discouragement is the devil’s calling card. We serve a God of possibilities and hope! Fill your heart and mind with inspiration and wait on God. All things truly do work together for the good of those who love him.