We already know the saying about man making plans. But that doesn’t stop us from making them in the first place. We are driven by goals, dreams, and accomplishments, both in the short term and in the long term. Aspiration is one of the hallmarks of mankind.
Unfortunately, it can sometimes feel like the powers that be are laughing. This can come in small curveballs, like obstacles in a project – and it can come in large curveballs, like a life-changing event.
When that happens, our aspirations and dreams become incredibly short-term: survive the car crash, get treatment for a serious illness, get through the pandemic, do what we need to do in order to recover as best as we can. For a little while, our long-term goals are put on the back burner as we address the immediate situation at hand.
Our hobbies, our jobs, our very sense of identity can be put in jeopardy after a major life event, and it can be incredibly difficult to adjust our dreams and aspirations accordingly. While there’s no clear cut path for anyone – advice that works perfectly for one person might not resonate with someone else – here are some steps that might help with the adjustment:
This isn’t easy. We all have very specific goals in mind. We want to run a marathon, or start a successful business. We want a certain job in a particular field. We want to play rugby with our friends on the weekends. Big or small, it is tough when something is put between us and our goals. But the first step forward is to actually take a step back – or at least practice taking a step back.
For example: you want to run a marathon. Why? Is it to be physically fit? Did you want to raise funds for a charity? Is it about that feeling when you finally cross the finish line to the applause of onlookers?
Or, perhaps we were in a profession that is no longer possible after such a life event. What was it about that job that provided such meaning? Were finances a factor? Did we feel a sense of identity with doing something we were good at? Genuinely take a moment to think about what you were hoping to find through those goals and aspirations.
Step three is essentially a combination of steps one and two. Once we can step back from specific dreams and focus instead on what feelings we were hoping to gain from it, we can start focusing on the process.
To continue the marathon example: if you were hoping for a feeling of physical fitness, what could you do right now to achieve such a feeling? Maybe it’s giving it your all in physical therapy. Perhaps swimming can help. If you wanted to do something as a type of fundraiser, what other ways can you help out the charity of your choosing?
This is a common sports psychology trick.
It is a way to help athletes focus on their training and not on their upcoming game or race. Especially in the athletic world – where something as seemingly tiny as a sprained ankle can have disastrous effects – learning to let go of specific goal attachments can actually mean the difference between successful training and a desperate move that ends in disaster.
So we’ve let go of those specific attachments, we thought about the underlying feelings, and we’re focusing on the process instead of the product. Now it’s time to put thoughts into action. Something as simple as a written to-do list can do wonders. Depending on where we are at, it can be a long term to-do list, or it can be the to-do list for just that day. Either way, write out what your next step is and see what you can do with it.
Mindset is everything. If we believe we’ll never recover, then it doesn’t matter what the outside world says. But if we can keep our mindset positive – especially with positive statements like, “This life event does not define me,” or “I can still find joy and happiness,” – then we’re already off to the right start.
But sometimes it’s not easy to stay positive.
Sometimes a wave of frustration or despair kicks in and all the positive affirmations in the world can’t stop that. Perhaps, then, we practice a neutral mindset: “Okay, we’re upset. We feel desperate. But eventually this feeling will pass. So perhaps right now we sit with what we’re feeling.” Sometimes keeping neutral with the negative is exactly what we need to become positive again.
Everything in this world is temporary. It might seem cliché, but sometimes that’s a hard fact for us to remember, especially when something we wish were permanent has proven to not be. “You only lose what you cling to,” as Brad Meltzer says in his novel The Book of Lies (this quote is sometimes misattributed to Buddha).
“You only lose what you cling to,” - Brad Meltzer
In some ways, step six might help us with step one. In fact, hopefully it will: this process can be very cyclical. There’s no set of steps that will guarantee that we adjust in a healthy manner. We might need to repeat certain steps multiple times before we feel like we’re on the right track. But that’s okay. Life is a process, in and of itself. Life might have thrown us a curveball, but that doesn’t mean we’re definitely going to strike out.