How to Finish Something Hard

By Sarah Winfrey on 11 December 2009 (Updated 22 December 2010) 3 comments
Photo: TroyMason

Sometimes, life is just hard. None of us want to hear it, but there it is, plain and simple. And during the holiday season, it can be especially hard to deal with difficult things because we feel like we should be so happy.

Different people respond to this fact in different ways. Some people give up because they feel discouraged, hopeless, and depressed. If life can be hard and we never know exactly when "hard" is going to hit, maybe life isn't all it's cracked up to be.

Other people slam through walls as if they aren't even there. These are the world's driven folks, the ones who couldn't stop pushing if they tried (but why would they try?).

At first glance, it seems better to be the second kind of person than the first. At least they get things done. On a closer look, though, these people sacrifice themselves and those close to them in order to do it.

So what's the answer to dealing with difficulty? If we're all going to face it, whether it's getting through an illness, surviving a tough semester, grieving a difficult loss, sticking to a limiting budget, thriving during the holidays, or parenting a difficult child, there has to be a way to approach difficulty that both gets things done and allows us space to care for ourselves and those around us.

Breathe

When hard times hit, the first thing we need is some space. If the difficulty is relatively small or requires immediate action, just a breath or two can be enough to help us cope. There's something about letting our body do something that it does naturally and well that re-centers us and allows us to keep going forward from a non-destructive place.

If there's time and place for more space, take what you can get. All hard things, no matter how small, send the human system into a state of shock. The extent of this shock is usually greater the greater the difficulty or the more it means to us.

Shock isn't something that we can get rid of by choice. Giving ourselves space, though, will go farther towards relieving it than anything else. In that space, our thoughts get the chance to organize and come to grips with reality without panic. From that place, we can begin to move forward.

Take Small Steps

When something is hard, human beings face two temptations. We can get overwhelmed because overcoming the problem seems so hard and take so much energy, or we can insist that the problem is nothing, all the while lacing up our hiking shoes.

Breaking the problem down into smaller chunks can help us conquer both of these temptations. When the problem is small enough that it doesn't overwhelm, we feel like we can take it on, but we don't feel like we have to deny it, either.

Taking small steps also means that, many times, we will look up and realize that we have come farther than we think. Sometimes, one small step after another doesn't feel like much, but it adds up to something greater than just the sum of its parts when the pieces come together.

Find Motivation

A key to not only stick out but thriving in a hard situation is having motivation that will see you through. Survival itself is usually not motivation enough, because human beings don't want to just survive, but thrive instead.

It helps if your motivation for getting through is something deeply personal and central to who you are. If your family is what you value above anything else, for instance, being with them and giving them the best life possible will be a great motivator for everything from fighting cancer to balancing your budget.

If you're not sure what motivates you the most, think about the things you would die for. This is usually a good way to get a quick indication of what is the most important to you. Then figure out how to make this important thing a key part of your motivation for continuing to struggle through.

Keep Going

More than anything else, the way to get through hard things is to keep going. When you think you can't, keep going. When you're tired and stressed and sad, keep going. When all you want to do is stop, keep going.

Life is the sort of thing where, often, you will look up one day to find that the difficulty is over. Somehow, you will have slogged through and gotten to the end of the problems to find normal life there, waiting for you. But you'll only get there if you keep walking forward even when you want to stop.

If you're struggling this holiday season, be it financially, physically, mentally, or any other way, I hope these tips help you find your way out. May you find the light in what you thought was all darkness.

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2 Cents

My favourite recommendation is your last one: keep going. Sometimes, we spend so much time spinning our wheels trying to figure out how to get out of a funk that we just dig ourselves in deeper. Letting go and moving on can sometimes bring the answers and clarity that eluded us when we were knee-deep in the soup.

Guest's picture

Sarah, thanks for this post. It's well timed here in the middle of the holiday season when many people see their incomes fall and expenses rise.

Really good point about taking small steps. The important thing in a crisis or when facing a difficult task is forward motion. Usually when we're in the middle of trouble, we have neither the assets nor the emotional mindset to do anything dramatic, and we probably shouldn't.

But if we can break the problem down to small chunks, focusing first on what's either most important or most threatening, then working our way from there, improvement will come.

It's hard to have that perspective when we feel overwhelmed or when the roof is caving in, but there often is no other choice.

Guest's picture
quinn

Like the other folks have said this is a great reminder to never stop, never give in and to just keep going. The power of small steps is that they build momentum and you reach a point were it is easier to complete the task then to stop.

Another thought I would add to your list is connect with others. When we face difficulty we so often take steps to hide the problem from those around us, I know i do, but this just increases the stress. When we sit down and tell people our problems it helps especially when that trusted friend tells us in there own way "I know you can handle this"