There’s the little empty pain of leaving something behind ‒ graduating, taking the next step, walking out of a familiar, safe situation and into the excitement of the unknown. There’s the giant, whirling pain of life upsetting all of your big plans and expectations. There’s the little sharp pains of making a mistake, and the more obscure aches of success, when it doesn’t make you feel as good as you thought it would. There are the vicious, backstabbing pains of betrayal. The sweet little pains of finding others who are worthy of your time, giving them your love, and taking joy in their life as they grow and learn. There’s the steady pain of empathy that you shrug off so you can stand beside a wounded friend or lover and help them face their problems.
And on the best of days, there are the subtle, tingling pains you feel throughout your body when you realize that you’re standing in a moment of sweet perfection, an instant of great achievement, or happiness, or laughter, which at the same time cannot possibly last ‒ and yet will remain with you for the rest of your life.
Everyone is down on pain, and when we experience it we usually say we’re having a bad day, because we forget something important about what we’re going through: Pain is for the living – for those of us who still have the chance of a lifetime. Only the dead don’t feel it, because their time is already up.
So with this in mind, here are twelve smart ways to turn all your daily wounds into wisdom and strength:
- Admit to your emotional pain, so you can deal with it and heal. – Emotional pain is less dramatic than physical pain, at least from the outside looking in, but it is more common and also more difficult to bear than broken bones. The frequent attempt to conceal emotional pain increases the burden. Don’t do this to yourself. Sure, it is easier to say, “My leg is aching” than to say, “My heart is broken,” but that doesn’t mean your heart needs less self-care then your leg. If fact, the exact opposite is true.
- Let go of what used to be and no longer is. – When you realize that none of it is yours – that you don’t get to claim or even keep any of it in the end – and when you’re willing to let go of attaching to anything you consider “mine,” you’re suddenly free. There’s no need to grip or grasp. Yet, one of the hardest lessons in life is letting go – whether it’s possessions, obsessions, anger, love or loss. Change is never easy – you fight to hold on and you fight to let go. But letting go is always the healthiest path forward. It clears out toxic attachments and thoughts from the past. You’ve got to emotionally free yourself from the things that once meant a lot to you, so you can move beyond the past and the pain it brings you. Again, it takes hard work to let go and refocus your thoughts, but it’s worth every bit of effort you can muster.
- Emotionally detach yourself from your problems. – You are a living, breathing human being who is infinitely more complex than all of your individual problems added up together. And that means you’re more powerful than them – you have the ability to change them, and to change the way you feel about them.
- View every challenge as an educational assignment. – Ask yourself: “What is this situation meant to teach me?” Every situation in our lives has a lesson to teach us. Some of these lessons include: To become stronger. To communicate more clearly. To trust your instincts. To express your love. To forgive. To know when to let go. To try something new, learn something new, and never look back.
- Ask yourself more positive questions. – If you ask negative questions, you will get negative answers. There are no positive answers to, “Why me?” “Why didn’t I?” “What if?” etc. Would you allow someone else to ask you the demoralizing questions you sometimes ask yourself? I doubt it. So stop and swap them for questions that push you in a positive direction. For instance, “What can I do right now to move forward?”
- Make small adjustments as you figure out what works and what doesn’t. – A big part of your life is a result of the choices you make. If you don’t like some part of your life, then it is time to start making changes and better choices. This change may not be easy, but it is possible. Habits that keep us stuck in life are made in each moment, day by day. Undoing these habits takes the same exact path. Focus on the small things you can do right now, not the big things you can’t. These small daily changes add up to huge results in the end.
- Keep putting one foot in front of the other. – Winston S. Churchill once said, “If you are going through hell, keep going.” In other words, never, never, never give in! The brick walls in life are there for a reason. They are not there to keep you out. They are there to give you a chance to show how badly you want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it as badly as you do. They are there to stop the other people.
- Keep calm and focus on the positive. – The realist sees reality as concrete. The OPTIMIST sees reality as clay. Be the optimist and mold the clay your way. Take what you’ve learned and build something new. In other words, don’t see the difficulties in today’s opportunities, see the opportunities in today’s difficulties. Write it on your heart that today is a chance of a lifetime. And remember that there is always a reason to celebrate. Slowing down long enough to celebrate the small victories creates momentum and inspiration to keep on keepin’ on.
- Consciously nurture your inner hope. – There’s a saying in Tibetan, “Tragedy should be utilized as a source of strength.” No matter what sort of difficulties, or how painful an experience is, if you lose your hope, that’s your real tragedy. So remember, a loss, a worry, an illness, a dream crushed – no matter how deep your hurt or how high your aspirations, do yourself a favor and pause at least once a day, place your hands over your heart and say aloud, “Hope lives here.”
- Remind yourself that you are not alone. – To lose sleep worrying about a friend. To have trouble picking yourself up after someone lets you down. To feel like less because someone didn’t love you enough to stay. To be afraid to try something new for fear that you will fail. None of this means you’re dysfunctional or crazy. It just means you’re human, and that you need a little time to right yourself. You are not alone. No matter how embarrassed or pathetic you feel about your own situation, there are others out there experiencing the same emotions. When you hear yourself say, “I am all alone,” it is your mind trying to sell you a lie.
- Pay less attention to other people’s opinions of you. – The truth is that what people say and do to you is much more about them, than you. People’s reactions to you are about their perspectives, wounds and experiences. Whether someone thinks you’re amazing, or believes you’re terrible, again, is more about them. I am not suggesting we should be narcissists and ignore all feedback, but I am saying that too much hurt, disappointment and sadness in our lives comes from taking things personally. In most cases it’s far more productive and healthy to let go of other people’s good or bad opinions of you, and to operate with your own intuition and wisdom as your guide.
- Embrace the new, stronger version of YOU. – You are not who you used to be, and that’s okay. You’ve been hurt; you’ve gone through numerous ups and downs that have made you who you are today. Over the years, so many things have happened – things that have changed your perspective, taught you lessons, and forced your spirit to grow. As time passes, nobody stays the same, but some people will still tell you that you have changed. Respond to them by saying, “Of course I’ve changed. That’s what life is all about. I’m still the same human being, just a little stronger now than I ever was before.”
Remember, strength doesn’t come from comfort; it comes from stretching your comfort zone and overcoming all the things you once thought you couldn’t handle. When you find yourself at your most painful points in life, you are open to the greatest positive change.
In the end, the strongest people are the ones who feel pain, accept it, learn from it, and fight through it.
They turn their wounds into wisdom and strength.