“The future depends on what you do today.”     Mahatma Gandhi

We fool ourselves into believing that we are supposed to be good at taking care of ourselves, getting out of slumps, and generally moving life forward.  As we get older,  we feel more pressure to be accomplished at this, for even though life is throwing us more curve balls, we have more experience and somehow feel that we should be able to sort things out.

Sometimes turning harshness into hope isn’t about accomplishment as much as it is about acknowledgement, and often it’s not about beauty as much as it’s about seeing the dirty, nasty side of things and naming it, sitting with it, and living there for awhile – not moving on until the time is right.

Use these five steps to curb harshness and head toward hope.

1. You are supposed to be uncomfortable.

It hurts. It’s brutal. Relationships fall apart. People abuse each other. Unexplainable tragedy happens. And though the best we can do long term is to move to the other side and try to appreciate the thread of the experience, in the moment it’s supposed to be terrible.

In a world of instant gratification we have gotten use to being placated by artificial attention on social media or a constant stream of information and entertainment to keep us distracted. 

 We are starting to forget how to name our emotions, and how to go through the experience all the way to the other side in order to release it. As a result, the tracers of that experience are left in our hearts, souls and minds to haunt us for another day because we have numbed ourselves under the weight of expectation and the inability to be authentic for fear of being disliked.

We are also terrible at purging our experiences. We’re afraid of the social expectations around crying, sobbing, screaming, breaking things, throwing things, or turning our feelings into words. All of these are excellent ways to purge the pain that’s on your heart and soul and can be done in a contained environment that doesn’t harm other people. 

 Whichever feels most rebellious to you? Do that one first.

2. You have a choice about who you are with.

Do you find yourself requiring yourself to be close to people because you “always have been”? Sometimes, the least likely people have the most critical eloquence for you at crisis moment and the person you thought needed to be your nearest and best is nowhere to be found or really needs eviction.

When you’re all things to all people, you’re everything to none. And that’s not a good place to be. It’s okay to lose some people because there will be someone new to gain who better fits the new skin of authenticity you put on.

Bottom line, you get to choose where you are, who you are with, and what you do with your time. This might mean something as big as moving to a new place, or something as small as frequenting a different coffee shop. 

Choose your friends again. Just because you have known someone a long time or they were once good to you or good for you doesn’t mean that they are now. Think through the dynamics of the relationships with people you communicate with or spend time with regularly and consciously select who you want in your life. 

Family may be harder to deal with (and evict), but the general rule is that even if you keep them in your life, you don’t have to put up with bad behavior toward you. Speak up or step back, but make sure you’re in their presence by choice, not out of obligation.

 It might be as big as saying goodbye permanently to an old friend, or as simple as accepting someone totally unexpected into your life and following your heart regarding who you want to spend your time with. Regardless, be with people that fill you up and make you happier than you would be without them.

3. What you need is within you.

Some of the most critical things we need to do to take care of ourselves cost no money, require no intellectual prowess, and demand very little in the way of time and effort. But they are truths buried deep within us and mining them can make us feel too vulnerable or unsafe. 

 Remember when you were little and you learned to express your concerns, talk about how you felt, and write out stories about your life? Sometimes returning to the simplest things brings us back to who we really are. So buy a container of play dough and knead and sculpt for awhile. 

Doodle, draw, or color – and if you want be really nostalgic, do it with crayons, and savor your favorite colors and the smell of wax and cardboard that comes off the box.  

Write out your current story (on paper, without censorship) seal it into an envelope.  Then make a choice – either burn it or put it away and open it later.  Both are very healing and great options.

4. Physical comfort manifests emotional shift.

You can manifest physical change by moving the way you feel by caring for yourself.  Many countries know and practice this ( Danish Hygge for instance) but in the U.S. we are terrible about it.  Yes, often you will need support from someone in your tribe or help from a professional and those things are important and work together with this idea.  Shifting your self-care has to do with making comfort a priority instead of a luxury.  

Take your pick from a menu of delicious treats: hot water bottles, soft wool socks, heavy blankets, candlelight, gentle music, flickering firelight, warm drinks, paperback books, knitting, down comforters, flannel bathrobes, big heavy towels, warm salt baths. 

The aim is to turn off the constant cycle of stimulus we’re all subjected to and sit with either your inner dialogue in quiet peace. Make it a practice, dedicate time to it, and ban electronic devices during this time.

5. You have to disrupt yourself to really change things.

Disruption?  It’s on you.  And the first thing that has to go? Negative self-talk. You speak to yourself more than anyone else does, and it probably isn’t always kind. Make a conscious shift to tenderness and eliminating self-bullying.

You might want to change some other habits. It could have to do with eating,  exercise, or putting yourself in the back seat while everyone else gets served first.  One thing I can say for sure – when self care and truth are high, the frequency of over-indulgence decreases on all levels.  You want to move more, feed yourself better, set limits.  Emotional waywardness creates heaviness both metaphysically and physically.   

Set your expectations in a fair and reasonable place.  A habit takes at least 66 days to become something you will maintain, so give yourself some time for the transition and be careful with both your successes and your failures. The only real goal is to keep trying.

What do you do when you’ve done all of this? Maintain it. Talk about it. Keep written record of what’s going well, what’s going poorly, and what you need help with. If you can’t practice all of these truths, stay with at least one. Remember that you are gradually changing things. 

 Decide that you are worth it. Trade in your harshness for some hope.  As the last days of a significant experience dwindle in the dark and cold and the sunrise of a clean start free of anger, misfortune, tragedy, mistakes and frustration dawns, I try to feel hopeful.  

And I hope you will too.