digging out

The Best Advice So Far - digging out - Erik with *yuck* face standing in front of a mountain of plowed snow

Last Saturday, we were told to expect the first “real snow” of the winter season here in New England. Meteorologists predicted 4 – 8 inches. Though not exactly fun, we’ve had worse. Much worse. As the sky turned slate gray and the first flakes began to fall, I settled in to finish writing last week’s post, read a bit … and, of course, nap.

I had plenty of food to get me through until the next day when I’d head out and re-up my stores. In fact, I thought, I might even be able to manage a late-night workout, once this thing fizzles out.

Well, about midnight, I did venture down to brush off the car and head out to the gym.

Only the door didn’t open.

Moonlight shone blue across the surface of deep, deep snow. (We were later to find that the official reading was 16 inches.)

Crap.

Still, determined, I tromped back up the stairs, got out of my workout clothes, slid some old jeans on over sweatpants and donned a hoodie under my overcoat. Then I headed out to show that snow who was boss.

Things had wound down to little more than brittle flurries. That was thanks to the fact that, as my phone alerted me, it was now 2°F — too cold for much new snow to form.

I grabbed the shovel and became aware as I looked around that the drifts on the porch weren’t the worst of it by a long shot. I cleared the porch but couldn’t tell where the platform I was standing on ended and where the steps began. As I shuffled toward the invisible edge, I had that feeling of wading out too far into the ocean and taking that first step that drops into the abyss.

I plunged downward and was suddenly knee-deep in the stuff. It was abundantly clear that I’d be going nowhere tonight.

I slogged toward the car. As the frigid wind howled, I assessed. There’d be no place to shovel the snow other than into the hedgerow. Just too deep to throw it anywhere else.

I’ll be honest: the “hearty New Englander” in me began to crack. We were barraged the winter before last with a freak series of unrelenting blizzards that lasted months and dumped a total of over 11 feet of snow, and I felt the edges of PTSD tapping on the frosted glass of my resolve. Despite the gloves I wore, pain was already shooting through freezing fingers. And no amount of sniffling was now enough to stem the flow of snot from my nose.

It was not only deep, it was heavy. The snow brush bowed as I ran it across the hood of the car, sending vibrations up my arm (my hand itself being numb) that I knew meant beneath the smothering snow, the car was also encased in ice. Then that first swipe was interrupted as the Lincoln ornament snapped off and catapulted somewhere into the bushes, lost (sorry, Mom).

I’m not sure if I started crying at that point, since my eyes were already stinging and watering furiously.

*****

Whether an unexpected situational disaster or something more heavy and pervasive in our lives, it can be hard digging out of the places our minds can take us, and finding our way back to a place of peace and happiness.

But right there, half-buried in the snow, I began to implement my own strategies. And for some reason, it occurred to me that, though I myself think these things often and even include many of them in my book, The Best Advice So Far, I don’t write about them on my blog as often as might be helpful to readers.

So today, I’d like to share with you four totally doable strategies that really work if you’re serious about digging out of a funk:

1. Remember: “You always have a choice.”

This one is at the heart of my book, this blog, every discussion I facilitate, every talk I give. Really, it’s at the heart of everything. If you don’t settle within yourself that you are an agent of choice, then you won’t seek to change anything. You’ll hold onto victim mentality and negativity, accepting the (faulty) notion that you are stuck. Frowned upon by the Universe. Doomed to be miserable.

Sure, the amount of snow came as an unpleasant surprise. But the fact is that there was no need for me to be out at midnight trying to deal with it. There was no emergency. At any time during the goings-on, I could have headed back inside to the warmth, made myself some peppermint tea, taken a hot shower or chosen any number of other leisurely options. In fact, I have complete freedom to move permanently to a warmer region anytime I choose. There’s no one to say I can’t. And no matter how bad things could ever get in any circumstance, it is I alone who have control over choosing my attitude.

Because I’ve practiced consistently for a good while now, I’m getting fairly good at stopping myself early on whenever I start to mentally grumble, reframing the situation by saying, You always have a choice. Misery is a choice. If you allow yourself to become miserable right now, you’re choosing it; it’s not happening to you.

This small habit sets me to looking through my positivity toolbox for the best approach. (Some of my favorites are included below.)

[For more on the power of choice in reframing life, click HERE to read Chapters 1 and 2 of The Best Advice So Far, absolutely FREE.

2. Start from where you are, not from where you wish you were.

This was one of three pieces of advice found in the book and which were instilled in me by my friend Carlotta, who has since passed away. And it’s among those I find myself quoting most often (aloud and in my own head). Wishing things were different is a notorious time waster. It keeps us frozen in a tundra of guilt, regret, depression and overall negativity. It accomplishes nothing that moves us out of our current predicament or mental mess. Dwelling on where we wish we were instead of where we are is a trap: it causes us to focus on the choices we don’t have rather than ones we do.

Using my blizzard experience as an example, no amount of wishing was going to move an ounce of snow, nor would it bring the warmth of spring any sooner. Wishing I could get out of the driveway and hit the gym would not get me there. Wishing my hood ornament hadn’t snapped off wouldn’t somehow put it back on. Starting were I am meant making choices about what I could control.

I could choose to head inside and grab some wads of toilet paper to stuff up my nostrils for the rest of the job. (Some of you may think I’m kidding; but those of you who have endured Northern winters know I’m not.)

I could choose to leave it until morning.

I could choose to set small goals for myself, rewarding myself along the way with a few minutes in the hallway to warm my hands and take the chill out of my bones before continuing. In fact, that is what I did choose. And in moving forward, bit by bit, win by win, I got the job done.

[Read Chapter 4 of The Best Advice So Far for lots more on this advice.]

3. Find the silver linings.

There’s this part of us that believes, for some strange reason, that if a piece of advice has been around a while, it’s probably not as good anymore. But some things become part of the body of enduring wisdom because they’re based in truth. And that means they don’t just change like clothing fads or hairstyles.

“Find the silver lining” is one such time-tested axiom — just as effective today as the first time it was spoken.

If you’re out of practice, a good place to start is gratitude. And I find that gratitude is best expressed in terms of what you do have rather than what others don’t. So while it’s a start to think, “There are lots of people who would love to be physically able to walk down stairs or shovel snow,” you’ll get even more benefit out of phrasing that realization this way: “I’m grateful that I have the physical ability and strength to walk up and down stairs and shovel heavy snow if I choose to.”

Here are some others:

“Good thing I still have plenty of food upstairs to last until I can get to a store.”

“A nice hot shower is going to feel even better after this.”

“The broken hood ornament is a good opportunity for me to check how much I really care about material things.”

“How fortunate I am to even have a car that needs shoveling out. This car gives me a lot of freedom.”

Again, focus on the things you can do, the freedom you have, the choices you can make. The more you practice, the easier it will become to see silver linings everywhere, regardless of circumstances.

[For more on finding silver linings and practicing positivity, click HERE to read Chapter 3 of The Best Advice So Far, FREE.

4. Ask yourself, “Will this matter in a year?”

I can’t say for sure, but this might be the best mental question I ever ask myself. It makes things instantly very simple. And, more important — it really works.

Here’s the gist of the thinking behind this one.

When something unpleasant, irritating or unexpected drops into my lap, I ask myself, “Will this matter in a year? Will I still care about it?” Now, if the answer is an honest yes — and there are certainly times it will be — then you need a different set of strategies (I offer many in The Best Advice So Far). But in the vast majority of situations, the honest answer will be “No, it won’t matter in a year.”

And if I assess that I won’t care about whatever it is in a year (or even a week, or tomorrow, or five minutes after it’s over), then conversely, it must be true that sometime between right now and a year from now … I get over it. And if I know that I am, in fact, going to get over it at some time in the future … that time might as well be right now. After all, why pour more energy and negativity into something I know is going to vanish?

I know — seems too simple. But work out the logic of it for yourself and then give it a whirl. I’ve found that the best strategies for maintaining positivity are the simplest ones.

This is a different take on the tried-and-true “This too shall pass.” And, in fact … it did. Every bit of that snow is long gone, and we’re in the middle of a stretch of sunny 50° days. So I’ll add a bonus tip: when you’re in the middle of the funk, remember all the times before now that you’ve gotten through.

[Read my previous post entitled “in a year” for more on this strategy.] 

*****

This list is by no means exhaustive. And there are plenty more tools included in my book and throughout five years of blog posts here. But tuck today’s strategies in your pocket for whenever you find yourself faced with the temptation to spiral into destructive thinking.

They’re simple. They’re effective. And they’ll help you follow through on your choice to be a more peaceful and positive person.

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