I am a relatively healthy person. Up until last year I was also somewhat fit. However, in the last 15 months I’ve had two bouts of a persistent hacking cough that can only be described as relentless. Both times now it has led to fractured ribs. How can this happen? I’m pondering the ridiculousness of my situation as my choice to go to gym – my usual morning ritual – is once again taken out of my hands. Following another night of not being able to roll over in bed without grimacing or whining.
When times are tough – either for health or other reasons – we essentially need to work our way through the problem. Not with a ‘problem-solving’ attitude, but with a ‘problem-coping’ one. For all the things I am doing right, there is no ‘fix’. I think that is one of the greatest pitfalls of being a positive person – falling for the trap of thinking ‘tomorrow will be better if I tell myself it will be.’ Because tomorrow may not be better, or the day or week after that. The circumstances that are causing someone hardship are often defined by parameters that are simply not in one’s control. Yes, you might exacerbate a situation by doing something that counter’s recovery, but in my situation that is not true. Time may be the only thing that will bring about healing, and acceptance that I can’t control this variable.
Self-compassion is essential for this attitude to wellness. I used to measure success by setting a goal and achieving it. Simple. Failure meant not working hard enough, long enough or on the right inputs. My science brain was programmed to believe Inputs (Knowledge and Skills) X Time = Goals. But what if you could not control those inputs? Were you still a failure? Now I’ve ‘wised-up’ and realized my formula is wrong. It needs to accommodate for those pesky uncontrollables. The periods when your health might be screaming at you, or something has occurred that no amount of risk mitigation could have foreseen. I guess the formula needs to deduct for these factors. Plus, there needs to be an add-back for self-compassion. I truly believe that Goals + Self-compassion need to be on the right-hand-side of that equals sign. Inputs (K+S) – Uncontrollables = Goals plus Self-compassion. A goal is an external thing: the completion of a work contract, finishing writing the first draft of a book, conquering a half marathon. But self-compassion is also a product of what occurs along the journey toward a goal, and it is just as important as the goal itself. It is through being kind to ourselves, patient and every once in a while crying it out, that we are human. Some of us will scream and kick and swear at the uncontrollables. This is OK…if we tell ourselves it is temporary and we will not stop. Sure, we might not be able breathe without feeling like we are being knifed, or the entire first draft might disappear into the Cloud…whatever it is, but it will pass. There will be a new day tomorrow and the day after that and we have two choices. Let our thoughts be drowned out by how crap life is and that the deck of cards is stacked against us. Or just accept that is the way it is – for today. Tomorrow might be different, and it might not. But eventually there is change. Instead of riding my bike or hiking the hills I’ve had to settle for less.
The image is of the most magnificent cinema just down the road from me. On Saturday night I went to see The Big Bike Film and quite a few of the short-films in the set of nine, focused on the principle of accepting what happened today, but not letting it define your tomorrow.
If one of the things that occurs as the result of hard-work, overcoming challenge and preserving is the achievement of goals. Then the other thing that goes with it – if you let it – is arriving at a point of having self-compassion. Not declaring yourself as resilient (because that’s a by-product if you ask me). Self-compassion is accepting the events that surround you and still loving yourself. It’s hard I know – but it’s a damn lot better than drowning in thoughts of how not-good-enough you feel. Don’t do it – I’m not!