How Challenging Times Can Help Us Connect With the Core of Who We Are
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“Perhaps the most important thing I learned in more than a thousand hours of interviews is that a life transition is a meaning-making exercise.”
They are the transitions and moments of disruption that offer unique opportunities for insight and wisdom.
The constant handling of big and small obstacles and setbacks, ironically, is what provides meaning to our lives. It is almost as if a Gateway or threshold has to be crossed, signifying the commitment of the journey from the ‘Hero’ who is able to successfully complete the ‘test of life’.
Life transitions are the interesting chapters of our internal autobiographies, that provide us with the opportunity, tools and the reason to transform ourselves for the better.
We need to take small steps, or ‘microsteps’ to accept these transition moments, visualize and plan out the change, shed our old ways, unveil our transformation and the resulting new self, and to storify the entire transition.
Sharing our transition, transformation and the obstacles we were able to overcome is a crucial step that heals.
A study in 1986 that persuaded people to write about their traumatic experiences revealed that many started crying during the writing process, but it worked like a catharsis, and led to their understanding themselves better and eventually getting healed.
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Transition, even the completely voluntary, can be a source of intense suffering because it involves adapting to new situations and changing your self-conception.
If we understand transitions, we can control our tendency to fight against them. We can turn major life changes into a source of meaning and transcendence.
Transition is also called liminality by psychologists - a state where you are neither in the state you left nor entirely in your new state. This in-between state creates an identity crisis, even in good transitions.
But they are really a predictable and integral part of life and happen regularly. Author Bruce Feiler interviewed hundreds of people and found that a major life change happens, on average, every 12 to 18 months. Even huge collective transitions such as the pandemic occur with regularity.
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In the face of a crisis, we feel chaotic and out of control. The transition comes in three phases:
Shedding of something we have long clung to, like a certain mindset, delusion, habit or dream, is part of the messy middle.
It clears the unwanted parts of your life, creating space for something new to blossom.
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With stress, the mind and the body are intrinsically linked. You can view stress as something that is wreaking havoc on your body (and it can) or as something that is giving you the strength and energy to overcome adversity.
Regular exposure to stress in small quantities can prepare us to handle a big stressful event in our lives. Prepare yourself for stress by self-education about the stressful event, by doing some physically stressful activities like completing a marathon, or something you dread, like giving a speech.
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We may wonder if it is even possible to thrive during difficult patches in our lives.
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What you're going through is just a chapter of your life. The rest of the story is still unwritten. Once you emerge from a difficult period, a blank page will await you to change the record.
At the moment, everything feels confusing, but hindsight will be 20/20 vision.
Define your success. It is critical in order to know yourself. Success could be your health, career, friendships, being a good spouse or parent.
Difficult times in life require us to redefine our objective, to modify them to fit our new situations. What does betterment look like to you? Is it better health, better grades, healthy relationships? Write down your priorities and work towards them daily.
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