What to do when life gives you lemons

When life gives you lemons, where do you find the sugar?

If your life is anything like mine, it can go from good, to great, to awful, back to good, and then to blah all within 24 hours! And when you seek encouragement from those around you, oftentimes you are hit with the age old saying: “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade.” Okay, great. But, unless your name is Beyonce’, I think it safe to assume that you need a little more instruction on making this lemonade. Life has so graciously given you the lemons, but where is the sugar? Where do you find the positive ingredient this mixture needs to go from bitter to better?

Well, I think the answer is more obvious than you may think. It’s you. You are the positive ingredient. You are the sugar.

Allow me to explain further. Everything in life is a decision: how we act, what we say, how and what we think, what we believe, and even how we feel. Emotions are a choice. Pain, sadness, happiness, these are all choices. And while these emotions are dropped upon us by direct situations in the form of situations we cannot control, we can control how we choose to feel about them or whether we choose to feel anything at all. By definition, emotions are simply brief, conscience experiences characterized by intense mental activity.

The trick to making the best of when life gives you lemons?… finding the calm during the storm.

It took a bit practice (and ridiculous patience), but I have, for the most part, figured out how to not allow my emotions to control me. I have figured out how to be the sugar to life’s lemons.

Recently, a friend really ticked me off. I mean, I was fuming mad. The entire situation seemed one-sided, unwarranted, erroneous, and intolerable. And right when I was at my “snap and go off” point, I stopped myself. I smiled, yes literally smiled, took a breath, and hit the reset button in my brain (that button that prevents us from starting at sane and escalating to 50 shades of f*ckery). Emotions are brief, intense, but nonetheless brief.

So I asked myself if my 10-15 minutes of extreme irritation were worth ruining my whole day, possibly damaging a friendship and saying some regretful words?

when life gives you lemons - woman on swing

No, it was not. Instead, I responded to by friend by saying “let’s just agree to disagree” and I removed myself from the conversation. Will all conflict resolution be this easy? Of course not, but I can offer some guidance to help you manage it in a more practical way.

There is a process that, I feel, the human mind tends to cycle through when met with adverse situations, conflict, or negativity.

  1. Defensiveness. This is automatic and most of the time we do not realize it is happening. We immediately begin to defend ourselves, even if the circumstances do not call for such. Defensiveness is caused when we feel that something about us, personally, is being challenged or criticized.
  2. Ill Feelings. Whether this be toward the other person (if applicable), the situation, or ourselves we start to feel some type of negative way. These feelings are typically emotional, but can lead to physical discomfort, i.e. that feeling in the pit of your stomach otherwise known as nausea or a headache.
  3. Rashness or Impulsiveness. We completely stop thinking and just start reacting, with our words and with our actions. This is a very dangerous thing. At this point, we have zero conscious control, but 100% possess the ability to cause some serious emotional, mental, or physical damage.
  4. Worry and Analyzation. We replay the event over and over again, picking out where we were right and wrong, how unfair it was, how upset we were, how the other person was wrong, ultimately causing ourselves excessive anxiety and stress.
  5. Regret or Remorse. Most of us are decent human beings and do not enjoy being negative about or toward anyone or anything. Eventually, our conscience kicks in and we begin to feel terrible about what took place. The problem is that we cannot take something back once it is done or said, no matter how we feel after the fact.

Wouldn’t it be nice to bypass all of this unconstructiveness and apprehension? Though that may be a tall order, it is a very doable and also a very fulfilling at the same time. You simply have to be able to visualize and prioritize. To help in your lemonade making, here is the route that I take in order for a divergent situation to not get the best of me:

Realize that a conflict is taking place.

Do not be in denial about what is happening. That will heighten the defensiveness and the rashness. Conclude that there is something taking place that is probably not going to end well if someone does not get a hold of the situation. this is something everyone will have to learn as they grow up. Take a second and pump the breaks.

Look beyond the conflict.

So you didn’t get the promotion. How will your immediate reaction or response affect possible future promotions? How much long-term damage are you doing with your words and actions in this moment? Will you end of regretting or apologizing for what is or is about to take place? As the saying goes, don’t make a long-term decision based on short-term emotion.

Request an armistice or ceasefire.

Plainly put, call a truce. Stop the conflict before it progresses any further. There is such a thing as a point of no return, especially when dealing with negative situations, where things cannot be erased or undone and words cannot be taken back. Try not to go there. Breathe. This is your opportunity to be the bigger person.

Make good on the truce.

Once the agreement is made to stop the opposition, let that be the end of it. Don’t gossip about what happened, don’t obsess over it, and don’t worry about it. Let it go. All these things will do is add unwanted and unneeded anxiety and stress to your life. Give yourself a break and just let it be what it is.

That tough decision, that promotion you were passed over for, that relationship that didn’t work, that friend you just cannot stop bickering with is not the end of the world. Life is beautiful, it’s upsetting, it’s phenomenal, it’s stimulating, it sucks, it’s magnificent, and it goes on. No matter what, it always goes on. The direction in which it goes, however, is up to you.

Image credit: flickr

Written by Sham Williams

Sham Williams is an active blogger and writer currently working on a finance book and the creation of a self-empowerment conference.

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