Dealing with the unexpected is part of life, but knowing this doesn’t make it any easier when you’re going through a difficult time. Marc and Angel Chernoff, authors of the New York Times bestseller Getting Back to Happy, experienced this firsthand.
“About a decade ago, in a relatively short time frame, Angel and I dealt with several significant, unexpected losses and life changes, back-to-back: We lost a sibling to suicide, a mutual best friend to cardiac arrest, and a breadwinning job, and had a family business failure (and reinvention),” Marc Chernoff reveals. “Those experiences were brutal, and enduring them in quick succession knocked us down and left us heartbroken for a long time.”
Chernoff says that after using unhealthy coping strategies like drinking alcohol and watching too much TV to deal with the pain and frustration, he and Angel realized that getting to a place where they were able to move forward emotionally and physically required real practice. Whether you’re dealing with a job rejection, entrepreneurial challenges, heartbreak, or the loss of a loved one, these five strategies can help fortify you to forge ahead.
1. Accept the hard reality
Chernoff believes that many people make themselves unhappy by refusing to accept what’s happening in the present moment. “Don’t be one of them,” he warns. “Let go of your fantasies and know that letting go doesn’t mean you don’t care about someone or something anymore; it’s just realizing that the only thing you have control over is yourself.”
To begin to foster acceptance of your circumstance, Chernoff suggests changing the way you see it. “Sometimes, letting go is simply changing the labels you place on a situation,” he says. “Try to see it with fresh eyes and an open mind.”
2. Opt for an empowering response
Since you’re in control of how you look at life, you can challenge yourself to find the lesson in what’s happening or flip the script. “In place of envy, feel admiration; instead of worry, take action. In place of doubt, have faith,” Chernoff suggests. “Your response is always more powerful than your circumstance! A tiny part of your life is decided by completely uncontrollable circumstances, while the majority of your life is decided by your responses.”
3. Be patient
Just because you’re struggling doesn’t mean you’re failing or that you’ll never be able to move forward; in fact, personal growth comes from powering through challenging circumstances and overcoming obstacles. “This happens one day at a time, one step at a time,” Chernoff says. “No matter what happens, no matter how far you seem to be away from where you want to be, never stop believing that you will make it. The next step is always worth taking.”
Chernoff also tells us that patience is about more than just waiting — it’s about your ability to keep a positive attitude and work hard on making progress. “Do your best to adopt an unrelenting belief that things will work out, that the long road has a purpose, that the things you desire may not happen today, but they will happen,” he advises.
4. Try a positive ritual
It’s easy to get stuck in a rut, especially when hard things happen. However, what you do every day can bring change over time. “Hard times make us want instant gratification,” Chernoff notes. “We want things to get better, and we want it better now. Unfortunately, this yearning often tricks us into biting off more than we can chew. Remind yourself that you can’t lift a thousand pounds all at once, yet you can easily lift one pound a thousand times. Small, repeated, incremental efforts will get you there, through thick and thin.”
One way to take small, consistent actions is by adopting a positive ritual such as writing affirmations, carving out time for a walk each day, or phoning a friend twice a week. If you’re still feeling down, be sure to consult with your doctor or a mental health professional.
5. Give yourself credit
Staying strong amidst challenging, painful circumstances can feel impossible, but weathering life’s storms is something you should be proud of. “Maybe things have changed your perspective, taught you lessons, and forced your spirit and soul to grow. So believe in yourself through hard times, and believe in your capacity to heal,” Chernoff says. “Even more, appreciate your progress. Give yourself credit for your resilience and how far you’ve come, because you’ve lived and learned. You’ve survived all of your bad days — and you’re still here, growing.”