Not everything works out as expected. How do you stay calm to address these circumstances?
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As a positivity magician the most common question I get asked is how to stay positive when dealing with negative circumstances, which is a fair question, because things don’t always go as we’d like. This can be especially challenging when our expectations are narrow, providing little wiggle room to accommodate disruptions and alternate paths.
I can look at specific times in my life when I had my heart set on specific outcomes that just didn’t work out as expected and as prepared for. After all, dreams achieved aren’t always what they seem. Sometimes it rains on our parade. Sometimes jobs don’t pan out. Sometimes relationships end in hurt feelings, bruised egos, divorce, or death. But these are simply facets of reality; even the most beautiful rose takes both sunshine and rain to grow, and that same fragrant flower can also draw blood.
What do we do when faced with these concurrent realities that appear as roadblocks to our peace, joy, and happiness?
Just Keep Breathing
There are a number of tactics that we can employ—both in the moment of crisis and in the times leading up to them in preparation—and one of my favorite practices is something I learned from Tom Hanks in the movie Castaway. After being rescued from years on a deserted island, the main character poignantly reflects on his experience:
“I’ve got to keep breathing, because tomorrow the sun will rise. Who knows what the tide might bring?"
Breathing does two key things:
First, it literally keeps you alive, taking you from a moment of potential crisis to the moments afterwards. This is especially important if you find yourself experiencing thoughts of self-harm. By focusing on breathing it erases self-destructive thoughts—even if only temporarily. So that’s the first thing.
Second, it activates your parasympathetic nervous system, which is the body’s natural process for calming you down from stressful situations. This happens naturally all the time, but if you find your mind running wild, your imagination and heart racing together, and you’re getting more and more anxious about whatever your situation is, you can activate your parasympathetic nervous system consciously yourself by taking big deep, long breaths. This is because the parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for returning your lungs to their normal resting state, so by consciously making them larger by taking big deep long breaths, what you’re doing is giving the parasympathetic nervous system a job to do, and when it kicks in you’ll soon experience an increase in feelings of calm and relaxation.
None of this is not to say that it will magically make your problems go away, but what it does do is calm you the heck down so you can address what needs to be addressed without the added stressors of worry, anxiety, and a frantic distracted mind.
To lean into this practice, try this:
Make a list of three things that make you anxious, upset, worried, stressed, and so forth. Then, make a conscious commitment now to decide to take three big deep long breaths when you face those situations the next time. As a bonus, if you know in advance that you’ll be facing a challenging situation, even better! Because then you can kick in the parasympathetic nervous system before you even get into the situation. You’ll be able to rock and roll into the situation with greater clarity, confidence and courage, like the smooth operator that you are!
It’s not always easy to stay positive when faced with negative circumstances, but the key is to not get so tied to an outcome that you sacrifice your happiness for something that simply may never come to be, because even dreams achieved aren’t always what they seem, and eventually everything comes to an end. Facing challenges with big deep breaths can offer you a calm mind to be open to accommodations for disruptions, providing just enough wiggle room to help you identify alternate paths.
Jonas Cain is an educator, facilitator, and coach, working to engage, empower, and encourage leaders and the people they serve to experience joy.