February 2021

How to empower yourself when life feels hard

woman walking in the snow in city street

What To Do When Life Feels Hard

A client emailed me recently to ask

'What do you do when life feels hard?'

It’s a great question.
I loved the challenge.
It made me stop and ponder.

'What DO I do?'

In some ways, the question seemed too big and complex to answer.
But I stuck with it.
I wanted to give this some serious thinking.
A mind adventure.

The more I thought about it, I realised there wasn’t just one thing.
There are a number of things I do when life feels hard.
I also realised it depends on the specific challenge or difficulty I’m facing.

And hands up who doesn’t face challenges?
Everyone.

Challenges in life have two sides.
They’re an opportunity to learn, grow and develop.
And
There's the possibility they can wreak havoc and derail life.
They can dent your confidence, lower your motivation, affect your mood and energy . . . the list goes on!

So coming back to the question, 'What do you do when life feels hard?'
I wanted to focus on positive change rather than negative stasis.
On actions that are empowering.
(After all, that’s why my client was asking the question)

Things that'll help you

  • Build your confidence
  • Boost self esteem
  • Develop your creativity
  • Give you focus
  • Help you simplify
  • Clarify and problem solve
  • And have some fun along the way!

I don’t have all the answers.
And when life feels hard, how you respond may be different to me.
I’m sure you’ll have techniques and ideas of your own.

But who doesn’t want a bit of inspiration?
So that’s the spirit in which I share my thoughts and ideas with you.
Feel free to add your own!

Empowering Actions When Life Feels Hard

1. Acknowledge The Feeling

The first thing you can do, is say to yourself,

'Life is feeling hard'
followed by
'and I want to do something about it'

This is a super simple trick that has a big effect.

Firstly, it acknowledges how you’re feeling.
Because how you’re feeling, is how you’re feeling.
You're human.
It comes from the angle of not ignoring your feeling and carrying on pretending everything’s fine and rosy.
You give yourself permission to feel what you’re experiencing.

The second statement, 'and I want to do something about it', gives you control.
It means you’re not giving into the feeling. You’re ready to take action.
It stops your mind Gremlins convincing you that you’re powerless.
Given the opportunity, they’ll happily remind you that 'life is hard, it’s hard, it’s HARD!'
Saying, 'and I want to do something about it', instantly disempowers negative thinking.

A 'feeling' doesn’t make something a fact.
Recognise it’s a FEELING.
It’s really important to make the distinction between 'life feels hard' VERSUS 'life is hard'.

Which leads me to . . .

2. Ask Yourself, Why?

Why does life feel hard right now?

Spend a moment to think.

'Life feels hard' is a broad statement.
It encompasses the whole of your life.
It scoops everything into the same cooking pot.

To gain control, it’s good to get specific.
Break it down.

Spend time to identify specific reasons.
Make a list.

For example it could be

  • life feels hard because you’re finding work unfulfilling
  • or, life feels hard because you’ve lost your way and don’t have purpose.

Once identified, you can look at them objectively.
You can focus on ways to solve or address the challenge.
This gives you power.

This is the 'I want to do something about it' part.

Which leads to . . .

3. Don’t Look For 'the' Answer

This could sound contradictory.

If you want to change your current situation, surely this means looking for an answer.

Yes.
But, don’t get stuck on the lookout for just ONE solution.

Searching for one answer can leave you frozen by overwhelm.
You’re on the look out for the 'right' or 'perfect' solution.
Which stifles your creative thinking.
And at the same time, if your confidence and energy are low, it can feel impossible.
The result is, you don’t take action.

I’ve often found 'The Answer' doesn’t exist.
Instead, be open to the possibility of it being a mix of lots of little solutions instead of one big answer.

Having made the list I mentioned in No.2, you can look for smaller ways to tackle your challenges.
This stops your mind being faced by giant tasks like trying to sort out the whole of your life.

4. Don’t Ruminate on Problems

In other words, don’t chew over negative thoughts and feelings again and again.
It’ll bring you down, lower your energy, motivation and in turn your confidence.
And get you no closer to solutions.

So how can you stop this happening?

Keep reading . . .

5. Stay connected. Reach Out to Others

When life feels hard, reaching out can drop down your to do list.
But it’s important not to close off to people who care about you.

In the past, for fear of vulnerability, I closed off to people around me.
This really didn’t help.
It isolated me and made me feel alone.
I learnt the hard way!

A big mistake is thinking,

"If people truly care about me, they'll see I’m struggling and be supportive."

Not necessarily.

Some do, but most people are occupied with their own lives.
But this doesn’t mean they don’t care about you or your situation.
You just have to ask them.

Reach out and ask to talk.
Only with people you trust though.
Don’t expect them to have answers.
Just share how you’re feeling and what you’re thinking.
Chat about fun stuff too.
Don’t spend the whole conversation chewing over things, trying to problem solve.

If you challenge yourself to connect with others as much as you can, you’ll be surprised by the results!
Connection is SO IMPORTANT. Don’t stew on your own.

We’re social creatures.
Connection stimulates our brain in a million beneficial ways.
Vital in supporting you when life feels hard. 
Exactly as my client did in sending me this email 😊

As well as staying connected, write a journal.
Don’t underestimate journalling!
Simply putting your thoughts on paper unlocks creative thinking and a world of subconscious ideas and problem solving.

6. Have Self Compassion. Don’t Punish or Criticise

When things are tough, self kindness can sometimes be thin on the ground.
Studies show that criticism and punishment don’t get the best from people.
So why do this to yourself?

Focusing on 'why did I do this, if only I had, I wish I had, I’m stupid, I shouldn’t have, why me...' wastes vast amounts of energy and produces nothing positive. It creates a soup of regret, anger, failure and shame.

When life feels hard, it isn't proof you’re failing, not trying, aren’t capable or you’re doing anything wrong.

Instead have self compassion.

I don’t mean a week long binge on Netflix while sampling tubs of your favourite ice cream. Becoming absorbed in self pity and indulging in negative thinking.

It goes back to earlier with acknowledging how you’re feeling.
Combined with removing self criticism and judgement, anger and punishment.

It’s about having some empathy for yourself.
Being able to say 'how can I nurture, comfort and care for myself right now?'

This happened to me recently.
I was having a challenging week. I was also missing Paris (where I used to live).
So I decided to create a bit of France in my life.
Hey, why not?!
So here's what I did . . .
I made myself fresh coffee, I listened to a podcast in French, watched a video with some images of Paris and then went for a walk to an open space near where we live by a park. There are lots of benches and the ground is fine pale gravel. It’s exactly the type of place where people play pétanque in France.

Afterwards I felt calm, refreshed and relaxed.
Instead of punishing myself with more work and being self-critical, I had a bit of self compassion to nourish my soul.
If I hadn’t done that, I’d have been tired, anxious and stressed.

7. Relax

Life feeling hard can create all kinds of stresses.

Your mind and body are in survival mode.
Fight or flight is not a great place to be all the time.

Applying the ideas we’ve explored above will ease things. But rest, relaxation, self care and fun are also an important part of the mix.

These come in many forms.

. . . reading a book or your favourite magazine, watching relaxing tv (perhaps not horror films), sport, exercise, meditation, sex, cooking, hobbies, getting your nails done, massage, taking a bath, gardening, a walk in nature, music, drawing, listening to podcasts . . .

It’s important to maintain balance.

Without it, life can feel like a large wet towel thrown off centre in a washing machine spin cycle.

8. Do Something You’re Great At and You Love

When life’s feeling hard, it can be easy to forget things that make you feel alive!
Things you love doing.

Remind yourself of what you’re good at and enjoy.
Not something passive, but an activity that uses a skill, like baking muffins!
And keep doing it.

This gives your confidence an instant boost and feeds your esteem.
This positive momentum will help you tackle more challenging tasks.

I do this.
It gives me the boost I need and sets me up for success.
I feel all smug and virtuous afterwards ;-)
Try it. It works!

9. Grow and Learn

Putting into action all these ideas uses energy.
Your mental bandwidth.
So the idea to ‘grow and learn’ might sound tiring and bonkers.
But here’s what I mean.

When life’s feeling hard, there can be a tendency for the problem solving part of your brain to ‘kick back and take it easy’.
And that’s fine.
But as well as relaxation and chill time, it’s important to keep your mind open and growing.
Anything that expands your knowledge, sparks new ideas, nurtures creativity, stimulates communication.

Examples are listening to podcasts, reading books, magazines or articles that give you fresh perspective. Starting a new sport, exercise or interest that develops your strength, resilience and coordination. Taking a course. Talking and interacting with others, reaching out to friends and making new ones!
Play and make it fun.

To grow and learn when life feels hard might sound exhausting, but it’s an opportunity.
It will energise and empower you.

Stepping outside your comfort zone is where the change happens.

When Life Feels Hard, There Are Always Options

Starting with ‘Life is feeling hard’, acknowledges the feeling.
Followed by ‘and I want to do something about it’ then sets you in motion to find solutions.

The 9 ideas and actions I’ve shared, will help you

  • Build your confidence
  • Boost self esteem
  • Develop your creativity
  • Calm and relax you
  • Empower you
  • Give you focus
  • Help you simplify
  • Clarify and problem solve
  • Take pride in your actions
  • And have some fun along the way!

Now I’d love to hear from you.
Drop me an email and tell me

What are you struggling with right now and what from the list inspired you?

Yes, life can throw you all sorts of hardships.
Some things you have no control over.
But how you choose to react.
You‘ve control over that part.

A big thank you to my client who asked the question.
You inspired me, I’m glad you asked!

Matt Ainsley

life adventurer and unconventionalist
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