The mass of men lead lives of quiet desperation. What is called resignation is confirmed desperation…But it is a characteristic of wisdom not to do desperate things. —Henry David Thoreau
By Dr. Stephen Trudeau Psychologist in Private practice, motivational Speaker. Author of the recently released book, Courage to Thrive: Triumph in the Face of Adversity. Available on Amazon and all online retailers.
If you want to know how to move from a state of quiet desperation – a state of merely surviving – into a state of thriving, observe a child for a day. What does he spend his time doing?
He plays, and as he plays, he re-imagines himself over and over again. He immerses himself in learning new things from people he admires – firemen, athletes, parents, and grandparents. He plans for his future and his dreams.
But it’s easier for children, isn’t it? They haven’t experienced the things that we have – the losses, the failures – those events that seem to stunt our growth.
How can we – beaten up by life – return to the joyful resiliency of childhood?
While a child may aspire to be an astronaut one moment and a ballerina the next, never feeling compelled to settle on one vocation, as we grow, we begin to limit ourselves with labels. There’s a certain satisfaction that comes with adding a concrete descriptive label after “I am.” It provides a comfort zone for us to dwell in, and it helps us to identify our tribe, those people who share both our dreams and our nightmares.
However, it’s easy to get stuck in a comfort zone, and when we do, stretching outside of it can become frightening, even painful. We may fear criticism from our peers, failure in our effort to try new things, or a loss of status.
And some comfort zones are also danger zones. We can become comfortable with maladaptive lifestyles, even comfortable with feelings of victimization.
In my own practice, I’ve asked people suffering with identity issues: Who are you? What follows first is often a list of vocation-related labels. And so I ask again: Without your job, who are you? Another list follows, often related to relationships – mother, father, wife, husband. Again: Who are you without the relationships?
Ultimately, we’ll come to a place where there is no label left, and the patient smiles. At that point, she has touched the core of herself. The smile is a natural response to recognizing who we are when everything else is removed. Because it is liberating. At that moment, like a child, we have removed all of the obstacles that come with limiting labels. We can begin to plan for our future again and stretch beyond our comfort zone.
Connect with people who are thriving
Look around you. Right now, there are people in your life who wake up each day excited. They’re making art, making love, making adventures for themselves. Maybe even making you a little envious.
Rather than wishing you could switch lives with those people, speak with them. Don’t be afraid to ask the question that could set you on a different path: What do you do that makes you so happy?
Happiness is a lot like being in love: when you’re experiencing it, you wish that everyone else could as well. Happy people are more than happy to tell you their secrets, and often, those secrets are simple daily routines that you can try on for size. Some will say that they begin each morning with yoga. Others will say that they take a walk every evening. There are a hundred and one ways to add joy into your life, and you can collect them all and try all of the ones that speak to you.
Imagine filling a notebook with all of the habits of your happy friends and neighbors and incorporating those concrete, joy-inducing rituals into your life. You don’t have to use them all. You don’t have to use any one forever. But by experimenting with the successes of thriving people, you’ll begin to build a day-to-day life that is full of intentionally life-affirming choices.
Do something different than you did yesterday
You mind will focus on what you feed it. If you feed it limitations, it will see only obstacles and problems. If you feed it possibilities, it will thrive. During the eleven years that I struggled with drug addiction, the tragedies stacked up around me until I knew that I would be the next. I recognized that if I was going to live another day, if I was going to do more than survive – to thrive, I had to begin to choose life-affirming behaviors.
Thriving is a journey from recognizing how I’ve been victimized through no fault of my own and how I continue to victimize myself to self-soothe to recognizing my power to replace maladaptive behaviors with life-affirming behaviors. Tragedies don’t stop happening because I’ve changed my behaviors, but I gain control over my reaction to them when I choose to respond in a positive, forward-thinking way.
For thousands of years, humans looked up into the skies and marveled at the ability of birds to fly. Who could have imagined that we could ever reach those same heights? We have no wings, no feathers.
But within the last hundred or so years, we have not only learned to fly, but we’ve touched the moon, and we’ve begun to plan to travel all the way to Mars.
Who could have imagined that was possible? We did. We studied the birds and learned their secrets, we put aside preconceived notions of what we were capable of, and we did something different than we’d ever done before.
Was it risky? Yes. What it terrifying? Of course. Was it worth it? Absolutely. It’s the very essence of thriving.