Sometimes the best thing about today is that you know it’ll end. When you hit a low in life, whether it’s from a relationship ending, a series of poor choices that have deeply impacted your personal life or even a death, the stress and anxiety caused by these situations can linger. Scarlet O’Hara might not have been the most upstanding fictitious Civil War era woman, but there’s a lot to be said for her “tomorrow is another day” attitude.
A normal, healthy life has its highs and lows just like Gone with the Wind, but hopefully without intense war and poverty. See? It could always be worse. If you have a hard time accepting your mistakes, here are 12 steps to help you let go of the past and realize you’re well deserving of a bright future.
1. Accept Your Mistakes
It doesn’t matter what it was, even if it was your fault. The past is the past. Don’t forget it happened — because you don’t want to repeat mistakes, but do move on. It doesn’t matter if it was one tequila shot too many or finally throwing your significant-other-turned-mooch out of the house. They’re both over with, so there’s no reason to dwell on it.
Blindly moving past problems without dealing with them will compound stress and anchor you to your past. The first, and most important step, is to admit your mistake. Until you admit your fault, you cannot deal with it or move forward. It’s perfectly okay to make mistakes. So when it happens, acknowledge it, sort out the reasons — if it’s possible — and then move on.
2. Acknowledge Joy
Good things happen to you every day, but you might not notice. Take a moment to acknowledge the good things that directly affect you every day — no matter how small. Did you get the best parking spot at the grocery store? Score! Good hair day? Excellent!
Take it up a level and write these things down. Every time someone holds the door open for you, smiles at you or pays you a compliment, be sure to show your gratitude. Each day, take some time to reflect on all of these positive moments and write down a few things you’re thankful for. At the end of the week, read over your notes. It might not feel like anything big happened during the week, but you’ll have an entire pile of positivity to cherish.
Acknowledging life’s joyous moments and being grateful for them can tremendously improve your quality of life and be the stepping stone to a brighter future.
3. Find the Positive
If something terrible happens, find something to be grateful about or look for the good that came out of the situation. This can be challenging, but you can do it.
For example, say your car breaks down on your way home from work. Instead of cursing your misfortune, focus on the positive. Maybe you’d put all 200k miles on it, and it served you very well over the years. Or maybe for the first time in your life, you’re at a place where you can actually afford a new car. At the very least, be happy you are safe.
4. Stay Busy
Turn off the gloomy music and get out of the house, even when you don’t want to. Keeping yourself busy forces you to move forward.
A big chunk of living is learning. This doesn’t only refer to learning from mistakes. Do that, too, but also aim to seek as much knowledge as you can. Read more, learn a language, take a cooking class, become a kickboxing master or just call your friends and take a vacation.
Make a running list on your fridge of activities that you’d like to try. Don’t let yourself sink into a sad spot. Instead, check out your inspirational activity list on the fridge and go try something new.
5. Manage Your Nutrition
I’m not talking about dropping a few pounds, but go for it if you want to. I’m talking about that old adage “you are what you eat.” If you live on junk food, you’re going to feel like junk. Adopt a healthy nutrition plan and take a lead role in the connection between your mental and physical health.
Start out slowly if you need to. For every chip you want to eat, eat a carrot. Cut back on sugar and get a healthy night of sleep. Repeat this for a few weeks and it’ll become habitual.
Time and again, meditation will turn up as a way to increase your positivity. Don’t worry, you won’t need to sit for hours in silence to reap the benefits. All it takes to learn to meditate is five minutes a day.
Remember, meditation benefits include reduced stress and anxiety. Find a quiet place, or even just close your office door for a few minutes at work, and practice your breathing.
7. Practice Mindfulness
Mindful-what? Yes, this is another practice in Zen. Much like meditation, mindfulness teaches you to flip the switch that keeps your thoughts turning a million miles a minute. The point of mindfulness is to keep you in the present moment.
For example, when you get dressed in the morning, focus on how your body feels when you pull your shirt over your head. How does the fabric feel moving across your skin? How do your hands move when you tie your shoes?
These simple, everyday movements are performed so automatically that you don’t think about it. But when you practice mindfulness, you focus on these small things that block out all of the other noise in your mind.
Just like meditation, mindfulness will help you relieve stress from your daily life. And it only takes a few minutes out of your day.
8. Outline SMART Goals
Don’t just outline goals, outline SMART goals. SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely – and are much more likely to be successful.
For example, saying you want to get in shape or beat your high school record of a 6-minute mile by next month are unrealistic or vague goals. Sure, you can eventually get back to your record with a lot of time and practice, but it probably isn’t going to happen overnight. Saying you want to jog a mile in under 12 minutes within the next 3 months, however, is a smart goal!
9. Know When to (Not) Take Control
Speaking of taking charge, learning when to take control (or realize things are out of your control) is one of the hardest life goals out there. Some people need to feel in control. They need to be the drivers. They like to schedule everything, they’re always early and they feel late when they’re on time.
Learning to let go of a super-structured, controlling lifestyle can be extraordinarily difficult. So why do it? Ironically, you have to let go to be able to stay in control and not lose your mind!
Realize you can’t control everyone around you, nor should you want to. The world would be a terrible place if everyone did everything the same way you do. Accept that there are multiple ways to act, and the world doesn’t revolve around you or your ideals.
10. Examine Your Friendships
Friendship is a two-way street. If you need time to work on you, some of your friends might not be the best influence on you.
We’ve all had that one friend that stirs the pot – he’s the angry drunk or she’s the downer. Maybe you have a friend or two involved in some less than savory activities. Do you still want to associate with these people?
You don’t have to make a dramatic phone call. But know that it’s okay to make space when you need it. When you’re trying to reach a new — happier — time in your life, call in the people who also make healthy decisions. Even if you aren’t in the bubbliest mood yourself, being around people who are naturally happy can have a positive effect on you.
11. Take Healthy Risks
There are risks, and then there are healthy risks that can actually be transformative. Don’t drink a bottle of tequila to test your tolerance, but do try new things. Sometimes you need to shed an old routine and get out of your comfort zone in order to grow and prosper.
The best thing about living is that you never know what’s coming next. The hope is that each day you’ll wake up, let go of the bad and accept that today is a new day.
Life throws curveballs, and it isn’t always easy to accept these new challenges as a part of life. But remember, you’ll be tougher, stronger and a better person for learning how to overcome these trials.