When life gives you lemons…
I am working with a client who is in the process of looking to leave her corporate position. And she said something the other day that really struck me. Although she wants to leave her current job because it isn’t giving her fulfillment for so many reasons, she wants to enjoy it as much as possible while she is still in the position. So she wants to find strategies to make her days enjoyable even when faced with difficult people, hard situations and sometimes boring work. Talk about looking for a silver lining! And talk about self-aware. She understands that she can be miserable or she can find joy—only she can change how she deals with the situation.
Take control and decide how to react
In any less-than-perfect situation it is easy to feel like you have no control. And although you might not have any control of what circumstances come your way, you do have control of how you react. You can decide how to be in that less-than-perfect situation. Even in the best of jobs, there will always be circumstances that are problematic, or work that is not as meaningful as you hoped. This is not only true about work. In general, life is filled with greatness and ease and joy. And it is also filled with struggle and hardness and difficulty. It is just that complexity that makes life real. But when faced with difficult moments, how we approach them makes all the difference to our experience of life.
Finding magical moments
One approach that works very well is what I call finding magic in everyday moments. With this method, when you are faced with a difficult or uncomfortable situation, you look for what is unique and wonderful about even the smallest aspect of the moment. What is the gift you are receiving in this moment? Are you learning new strategies for handling yourself in a heated moment? Is there a beautiful flower in a vase that you notice while hearing bad news in your boss’s office? Can you find something that brings you some solace or even joy in that moment? If you get adept at finding the silver lining, life will feel more magical even when it is tough.
Have multiple techniques and practice often
I am not suggesting that you ignore difficult situations in a Pollyanna manner. You should and will need to deal with the issue at hand directly. What I am suggesting is that even with the difficulty, you look for ways to see the magic in that moment. Approaching life in that manner makes life so much more enjoyable even when you are thrown challenging situations and people and projects. It does take practice to go the good place even in bad times. And you need to develop a compendium of tried and true methods that work for you so that you can easily access them in any given moment.
Practice mindful breathing
Meditation is mentioned more and more frequently in the mainstream press because it can be a powerful tool for reducing stress and finding calm when you are in chaos. There are lots of different meditation techniques and many can be practiced wherever you are. I find that mindful breathing is an excellent meditative skill to apply when you are in the middle of a perplexing or challenging position. By focusing on your breathing, you can shift your sense of the situation. Try simply counting to eight for your in-breath and then eight for your out-breath. Repeat until you calm down. This can be done without anyone knowing it while you are in a meeting or at your desk. If you have five minutes, go outside and practice your mindful breathing while watching the world move by.
Look for the silly and playfulness in the mundane
Another variation on this approach is useful when you are bored. Although you might feel like your work is monotonous and mundane, if you look for ways to make it silly or fun, it helps to increase the feeling of joy. Maybe the project you are currently working on feels almost exactly the same as the last ten projects you did and you think you will die of tedium. Consider whether you can add a creative twist this time to the report or analysis. Or maybe because you are so adept at the task you can listen to your favorite song without impacting the quality of your work. So go ahead and enjoy the music and perhaps come up with a country song or rap title for your report. Or maybe you can work on the project with colorful post-it notes on the wall instead of on your computer. Just find a way to bring in some playfulness to the otherwise boring task.
In most cases when you are feeling stuck in an unpleasant situation, it is helpful to move the feeling through you. And I mean physically move it though your body. Go for a walk around the block. Find an empty conference room if you don’t have a closed office and do a few stretching or yoga or dance moves. Just do something that physically helps the negative energy to get released from your body. You don’t have to go for an hour long run—unless you can and want to—even five minutes of physical motion will make a difference.
When you are feeling low or upset or bored in a situation, one great method for changing to a more positive energy is to seek others who bring you up. Call a friend who knows how to make you laugh and see the easy and joyful side of things. Go to the lunchroom and find some colleagues who you can count on to always see the positive. Just be sure that you don’t hang out with others who are in a down and naysaying mood. In fact, there is nothing worse for you than speaking to others who want to complain and kvetch about work. Although it might seem like it is cathartic and it might be for a small amount of time, wallowing and complaining will only keep you stuck in the muck of discontent.
Much of what I am suggesting is working on developing ways of shifting your mindset or perspective of the situation at hand. Because we are each unique, you may find a technique that works which is different from an approach that works for the next person. At the end of the day, when you are dealt certain circumstances, the only think you can control is your reaction to it. So it is up to you to decide how you are going to react and what actions you are going to take. You decide whether you are going to be miserable or whether you are going to find a way to make the most of the situation and perhaps even find joy and magic in that moment.