Health and Wellness,  Mental Health

How to Keep Going When Life Gets Hard

Has life ever kicked you in the shins?

Not a knockout punch like a major life event, but when you’ve decided to pursue a Thing that is important to you that requires time and effort to be invested. Like starting an exercise routine, taking up a hobby or in my case, getting serious about growing my blog and Instagram traffic.

Last month, I spent hours creating a content calendar for October. I created a detailed content plan for each day of the first week of October, detailing the content for stories, reels and static pictures. I prepped images. I was set to see major growth and I was excited. Then….just like Nelson on The Simpsons, life kicked me in the shins and said-

Cue the setbacks

First my son got strep throat plus a nasty cold virus, and he missed a week of school feeling miserable with a fever over 100 degrees every day.

As soon as the kiddo started feeling better, I had horrible pain in my mouth. After one ER visit and three dentist visits, I had to have a molar pulled because it was fractured and had become infected.

Then I caught the strep throat and cold. I am just now getting back to normal health and life.

I hadn’t spent time on my blog for almost a month, and I felt like I was starting all over again.

How Do I Keep Going When Life Gets Hard?

Why is life so hard for me, or “why does this always happen to me?”

Whenever I decide to pursue a Thing, something happens to blow up my plans and the Thing doesn’t happen (feels like it, anyway). It’s incredibly frustrating, and sometimes I feel like my life is harder than my friends or neighbors. They have it so easy. I have talked about this with my therapist, and over the past year I have gathered some nuggets of wisdom that I hang on to in times like these:

  • Your unique circumstances REALLY DO require you to carry more weight in your daily life than others. My ADHD brain has to work harder every day to accomplish things that are easy for my friends. I have a child with disabilities, I’m the breadwinner in our family, and I support my widowed mom. None of this is easy, and while I have friends that have one of these circumstances, none of them has everything that I do. I felt validated when my therapist told me, “You really do deal with more than most people do.”
  • Stop comparing your life to everyone else’s. We all know this, right? It’s so hard not to compare ourselves and our lives to others. I see my friends being surprised with dinner out or a weekend away (Cam would never think of this) or their kids making great plays in whatever sport they do (Eric doesn’t do sports). Sometimes I think dang…I want that. I have to do some reflection and have some gratitude for what I have-so my husband doesn’t do surprise date nights, but he can fix pretty much anything in our house. Eric doesn’t play football but he does draw fantastic pictures.
  • “You’re so hard on yourself. But remember, everybody has a chapter that they don’t read out loud.” I found that quote on Pinterest and it hit me in the gut. I’ve always been a perfectionist and held myself to very high standards…higher than what others hold for me. I create a lot of internal pressure on myself and it’s exhausting. I told my therapist that I feel like I am at war with my mind every day, all the time but on the outside, no one knows that I struggle. If this sounds like you, let me tell you-give yourself some grace. Be kind. Read the first two bullets again, and remember that no one is perfect.

How do I start over when things don’t go as planned?

So your Thing didn’t happen like you wanted it to, and now you can start over or give up. Maybe this is the second, fifth or tenth time you’re starting over. What can you do to make this time more successful than the last?

  • Feel your feelings, but don’t unpack your bags and live with the negative ones. Give yourself permission to feel sad, angry or frustrated. These are natural! If you’re a Bluey fan, remember the checklist that Chili gave Bingo? Have a little cry, pick myself up, dust myself off and keep going. And if all you can do is the crying part, just do that one for now.
  • Adjust your goal. Make sure that you’re setting yourself up for success by having a realistic goal that you can actually achieve (with a bit of effort). If you’re going to start exercising from…never exercising, it probably doesn’t make sense to start with a goal of exercising 30 minutes every day (I have done this more times than I can count and it always fails). My goal of posting 7 times to Instagram a day was too aggressive and unrealistic. Set a goal that you can achieve, and if you beat it you can give yourself a YAY and then move that bar a little higher.
  • Review your plan. You’ve got a plan, right? Whenever I have set goals without a plan, I never achieve them. Never. When it comes to blogging, I work on my post outline during the week and write the post on Friday afternoons (yes, I work full-time; we have what’s referred to as “Friday Hours” which means on Fridays you can log off earlier than normal). This works for me, and it’s sustainable. My plan to wake up earlier to exercise always fails, and I recently learned why-my ADHD brain has a different circadian rhythm and is much slower to wake up in the morning than a neurotypical brain. I am officially letting myself off the hook for not being a morning person, and give you permission to join me.

How do I stay motivated when things get hard?

So you’ve got your realistic goal and a plan for success…now how do you stick to it and stay motivated? What if life comes along and pulls another Nelson? Since I have learned that I am ADHD, I’ve adjusted my motivation techniques because what works for other people doesn’t work for me.

  • Focus on your reason for doing the Thing. This may not work for all ADHD brains, because an abstract concept of delayed gratification is real hard for us. If I tell myself to eat more vegetables because it’s healthy, that will never happen. Saying I need to exercise because I will feel better is still not good enough. Can you tell eating vegetables and exercising are challenges for me? I blog because I want to give parents the information and support that I wish had been given to me, and because I want to earn additional income (do I wish it could replace my full time income? Absolutely, but we’re starting with realistic goals here). I eat vegetables because I do not want to develop diabetes like my dad. I exercise because I need to live as long as I can because my son is going to need me.
  • Break the Thing into smaller pieces. If you have a brain like mine that gets overwhelmed at large tasks, break it into smaller pieces. You’ll get the dopamine hit from completing the small piece and you have the inertia to keep going. Exercising for 30 minutes straight is almost impossible for me, but if I plan to do three sets of ten minutes, that’s much easier because I have options that I can do while I’m in a meeting that doesn’t require my participation or to be on camera. Meal planning for the week with low-effort veggie sides (like canned green beans, steamed frozen corn, or roasted broccoli) sets me up for success.
  • Keep a Done List as well as a To Do List. I love lists. Lists help keep me sane, because I will forget anything that I don’t write down. When I make my to do list for the day, I also include a “done” list. I include things like eating a healthy breakfast, showering, brushing my teeth. Visually seeing a list with some things already checked off gives me the dopamine boost to attack the harder things.
  • Add novelty, pressure, competition or interest. ADHD brains thrive on these four things. If you are struggling with motivation, add a sprinkle of one of these strategies to your plan and see if it works. Use a free workout video on YouTube that is a bit non-traditional (Zumba, belly dancing or jumping games), give yourself a deadline for your outline, see if you or your partner can eat more veggies in a week, or watch your favorite binge-worthy TV show while you do a “lazy girl” exercise routine.

Life is hard, but dreams don’t expire

I keep the latter half of that sentence on my letterboard in my office. Life kicks everyone in the shins, some of us more often than others. You’re not alone. If your dream, your Thing, is important enough to you, use Chili Heeler’s checklist and keep trying. It might be hard and uncomfortable, but girl, you are the only one who can make that Thing reality.

I’ll be cheering for you the whole way.

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