You're driving happily along life's highway, enjoying sunny skies and beautiful scenery, when all of a sudden…
You get slammed with an unexpected turn of events, a setback, perhaps even a tragedy, scary medical diagnosis, or loss. Suddenly everything changes and you're floundering for a way to cope when all you want to do is crawl in a hole and not come out until it's all over. To make things worse, these blows rarely seem to happen in isolation. It's not uncommon to have a period of time when it seems everything is going wrong. You're on a rough road and you can't find your way back to the smooth highway.
Martha Beck to the rescue
In an article entitled “Off the Beating Path” in the February 2013 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine, life coach, and best-selling author Martha Beck tackled this challenging situation. She told of a client who was reciting a litany of depressing circumstances in her life, to which Beck responded with her trademark sense of humor,
“I think you've hit a rumble strip.”
Blame it on faulty assumptions
That's what Beck does. We often assume we're going to finish school, fall in love, get married, and live happily ever after (fill in your own version of this fairy tale). Then when those things don't happen exactly as planned, we fail to make adjustments. We ignore the rumble strips on the highway of life and speed up when there's actually a curve ahead. The result is, at best, a wake-up call—at worst, a wreck.
“Suddenly, everything's shaking, jolting, falling apart. We have no idea what's happening or why, only that all hell has broken loose. It gets worse and worse—until we wake up, see through our false assumptions to the deeper truth of our situation, and revise our life maps.”
It's time to challenge your faulty assumptions.
Beck's tips for coping with life's rumble strips
1. Hit the brakes
Sometimes the circumstances do this for you, but you may have to do it yourself. Stop, give yourself time and space to assess the situation and figure out what happened before you try to go forward. Self-care is essential during these periods.
2. Put your mind in reverse
As only a therapist can do, Beck takes the reader through the process of mentally reversing the bad circumstances to try to see that there might be a different road to the one they're envisioning with only pain and sadness. This step, she admits, takes practice, but her examples are fascinating and worth reading.
3. Find and follow the smooth terrain
Beck has observed, with hundreds of clients she has helped through the rumble strips of their lives, that there often follow “little miracles”—circumstances, people, or events that offer consolation, hope, and solutions. She urges her clients to look for them, no matter how small they are.
“If you stop everything you think you should be doing, surrender to what's actually happening, reverse your assumptions, and steer toward the glimmers of light that appear as your old beliefs shatter, the small miracles will turn into big ones. Eventually, your good luck will seem as incredible and mysterious as your bad.”
Your connections are your safety net
It's been my experience that these periods of change, transition, and stress are often the times when we take stock of our lives and identify areas that need work. This is when we must examine those four essential life connections—with self, with others, with God, and with nature—and recognize how they are helping us navigate the rough patches on life's road.
When we've done a good job of strengthening them in the good times, they will serve as a safety net in the bad times.
What has worked for you?
If you've learned some coping mechanisms for dealing with these rough roads in your life, please share in the comments below. Reaching out to help others is a powerful connection strategy.