The Pursuit of Excellence Practical steps toward happiness

6Feb/120

Harden Up!

If I let myself, I would spend a lot more time indulging in self-pity.

We all have painful experiences from our past that we dwell on.  I’ve lost two great loves, a father, and all of my grandparents.  I’ve lost beloved jobs, pets, and friends.  In the years to come, chances are I will lose much more.

Beyond loss, you may be facing great challenges in the present, and more often than not it seems that these tests don’t come into our lives one at a time.  As the saying goes, when it rains, it pours.  Sometimes I’m tempted to throw my hands up and say “it’s too much, I give up.”  I have days where I want to do nothing more than attach myself to the couch and sulk.  But like Buddhists say:

“Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.”

Even Alec Baldwin has bad days

I haven’t met anyone who can turn negative emotions on an off like a light switch.  Sadness, fear, anger, and other negative emotions can grab our attention with an iron grip.  But I’ve noticed that some people are better than others at letting go of the hurt, picking themselves up, and getting back to living productive, healthy lives.  This suggests we can have control over our thoughts.

So what can we do to pull ourselves out of despair?

There are many strategies, but almost all of them start with our thoughts.  Lately my favourite is to simply tell myself to “Harden Up.”  My desktop background (NSFW language) is an incredible photograph, taken at the invasion of Normandy from a landing craft, of soldiers crashing through the waves toward the beach.  The caption above simply reads, “Harden the F*** Up.”

Whenever I feel like indulging my self-pity, this photograph reminds me that my ‘bad day’ is nothing compared to what these soldiers were facing.  It also reminds me to get back to work, and to fight for my long-term goals.

‘Hardening Up’ is about exercizing self-discipline and perseverance.

It is a mantra that I use when I’m feeling overwhelemed by life.  “Back to work,” and “Do it now” are others I’ve borrowed from Brian Tracy, which I find helpful.  You may prefer your own, but the point is to find a tool that will motivate you, and cultivate a strong will to pursue your goals.

The benefits will come slowly but steadily.  Psychologists know that those who can delay gratification achieve more, and deal better with frustration and stress.  They also know that the human brain is a machine that, if not kept occupied with productive tasks and positive thoughts, has a tendency to dwell on the negative.

I’ll leave you with two final thoughts.  First, I’m not suggesting that you sweep negative emotions under the rug.  That’s a recipe for becoming emotionally crippled.  It’s imperative that we acknowledge and deal with our pain, but ideally at some point we need to move our focus elsewhere.  Second, all work and no play is not the answer.

When it’s time to work, harden up; when it’s not, give yourself permission to loosen your tie, and put your feet up.


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