What to do when life throws you a curve ball

If I've learned anything during my life, it's that you can't ever expect everything to go the way you planned.

Screen Shot 2018-10-08 at 12.16.15.png

This is how our Monday morning started, having our car put on the back of a tow truck after it had broken down on one of the busiest roads in Brussels.

But before that and around the corner, I slipped on some ice and fell heavily on my hand and elbow. As I struggled to get up in the middle of the road, cars trying to drive around me, my partner Paula rang to say she was at the bottom of the street with a car that wouldn't start.

Our Monday morning routine had been disrupted and now instead of enjoying my morning coffee while working in a local cafe. I'm trying to work out how an emergency triangle unfolds while nursing a swelling hand and elbow.

Life is messy and complicated, one moment you are looking forward to starting your week strongly, the next you are standing in the middle of rush hour traffic while angry drivers beep their horns and wave at you as if breaking down in the middle of the road was something you did just to upset them.

Whenever life throws us a curve ball, the critical action is to move towards acceptance as soon as you can. Yes, I was in pain, angry and now concerned for my partner who was stuck in the middle of the road. 

But none of these things can be changed now, the event has happened, holding on to unhelpful emotions isn't going to help me solve my problems and will probably leave me frustrated and angry for the rest of the day.

How many times have you been caught in traffic or delayed on Monday morning only to have that event cause you frustration that spills over into the rest of the day? 

Learning to let the small things go

If you ever find yourself in the same boat on a Monday morning like me, here are four ways to let go and stop letting the little things bother you. 

Resist the urge to complain
I know this is easier said than done but the quickest way to let something go is not to complain about it. When you complain about something, you are drawing attention to it and making it bigger than it needs to be.

Of course, we all struggle with this, myself included but complaining is mostly a mindless habit. It is almost like a reflex and a way to make conversation with others. 

But start each morning with an intent not to complain. Of course, we are entitled to complain sometimes consider the following example.

Compare: Excuse me my food is cold, could you please take it back and heat it up?

With: I had a terrible meal last night. The food was tasteless and stone cold. I'm never going back there, and it was such as waste of money. Ugh, why do these things always happen to me it is hard enough coping on my wage as it is.

Complains to a specific person to bring about a change of affairs are ok, what isn't helpful is complaining for the sake of complaining. As a way to spread negative gossip about someone, to pass the time or to make you feel better.

Identify, label and feel your emotions
I must admit there was a point in this morning's chaos that I became angry as I struggled to find the phone number for the recovery truck and use my phone at the same time. But I quickly recognised that rising feeling of heat in my stomach and tightness in my chest. 

I said to myself, I'm getting angry and stressed and you need to remain calm and relaxed otherwise this will take longer. I took a deep breath in, opened my awareness to the whole of my body and allowed my anger to rise up and then drop away.

When we operate on autopilot we allow our emotions to push us towards a certain direction. If I had allowed my anger to continue by holding on to it, I could have then started a thought and emotion train that would have been difficult to get rid of.

Emotions are like waves they come and go, sometimes the peak is big other times they are like ripples in our body. Instead of struggling with your emotions learn to drop anchor, and come into the present moment.

An exercise like the three-minute breathing space is ideal in helping you ground yourself and release your emotions and give you the space to act rather than react.
Let go of expectations and outcomes
This morning I had a hope of my day starting out in a particular way. I got up, made coffee, did my morning yoga routine, meditated, wrote in my gratitude journal, ate breakfast and looked forward to a morning spent writing a new online course I am developing.

But instead, life happened. And I'm sat here writing this article with my left hand while an ice pack is on my right hand hoping the swelling will go down enough for me to go to the gym this afternoon. I've not started on my course yet nor have I got through any emails.

At this point, it could be easy to write the day off as a ‘bad day’; when you have high hopes for how things will turn out, it’s disappointing and frustrating when things don’t go as planned. However, when you are focused on how you expect something to be, it can be difficult to see the reality of the situation.

If I let go of my expectations and open my mind, I can see my day is off to a slow start, but there is still plenty of time for me to change the course of my day. Writing this article wouldn't have happened without the events of this morning.

If you find yourself getting frustrated or annoyed over something small, try pausing for a moment and consider if you’re letting your expectations affect the experience.

Practise gratitude
Of all the things you can do right now to change your life, reduce stress and see the bigger picture. Practising gratitude continually is one of the most effective.

After we left the car on the back of the tow truck, we walked back towards the metro, Paula turned round to me and said: "Well it could have been worse, at least it wasn't raining."

When you want to change your life, your behaviours and start to thrive the benefits of practising gratitude are nearly endless. 

Research by UC Davis psychologist Robert Emmons, author of Thanks!: How the New Science of Gratitude Can Make You Happier, shows that merely keeping a gratitude journal—regularly writing brief reflections on moments for which we’re thankful—can significantly increase well-being and life satisfaction.

Start today, every morning pick three things you are grateful for at that moment and then in the evening before bed write down another three.

Things can be tiny; I'm grateful it wasn't raining this morning. I'm grateful that Fred said hello to me. Or they can be things that are profound.

I'm grateful that I'm connected with my partner. I'm grateful that I've two healthy children.

Try to think of a different set each day and when you write down the words try to feel grateful or happy.

And if the word gratitude doesn't resonate with you then choose words like happy, wonderful or feeling good to explain what you are thankful for.

Get specific and continuously change up what you are grateful for, our minds are typically focussed on keeping us safe from harm and thus will mostly think about the negatives. 

Being grateful helps us rewire our brains to be more focused on all the things that are going right in our lives.

Just doing these four things every day will start to change your viewpoint of the world and help you learn to let go of unhelpful thoughts and emotions.

And the next time life throws you a curve ball you'll be well prepared to handle the consequences.