As I get ready to go to bed, one of the last things I do is set my alarm clock. It’s a moment of hesitation because I need to make a very important decision. Do I set it for the usual time or a half an hour earlier? I had decided it would be a good idea to do exercise a few times a week first thing in the morning because that’s the only time I have to exercise in my busy day. While I ensure that I get the right number of hours of sleep, it’s always tempting to want to sleep more or lay comfortably in my cozy bed for a little longer. I also think about the exertion involved in having to move my lazy limbs while I do my workout. It’s never easy. At that moment, I also try to remember how I feel after workouts: awake and energized throughout the day; not to mention the long-term benefits of regular exercise that I have observed in all the dimensions of my life (physical, mental, and spiritual).
Psychologists often speak about joy and pain as two sides of the same coin. Doesn’t our experience of life show the same? We need to study hard if we want a good grade. After the agony of labour comes the beautiful child. Looking back on difficulties in our life, we see how they proved to be something good for us. “No pain no gain” popular wisdom exclaims.
So why is it that we flee from events, situations, experiences, thoughts, ideas, and/or emotions that we label as negative? It’s only natural; no one wants to suffer. Neither do we wish to go out looking for suffering (unless there is some direct benefit). But life does bring with it much suffering. Rather than complain, we can learn to draw good from them. Perhaps a difficult person we need to work with can be the opportunity to develop more patience. Maybe we can challenge our negative perceptions of others and learn to be more flexible. Creativity could possibly be a great aptitude to undertake during tough times. In her book The Choice: Embrace the Possible, holocaust survivor Edith Eger says: “Our painful experiences aren’t a liability—they’re a gift. They give us perspective and meaning, an opportunity to find our unique purpose and our strength.”
In order to turn problems into opportunities, reframing, a tool used in psychology, is an important skill everyone can develop. A very important part of reframing is to have a vision of what you are aiming for; an image of resilience, of meekness, of courage, of living by the truth, etc. That is why having role models is crucial. While it is you who has to put the effort to reframe, to think, to visualize the ideals you wish to reach, brainstorming with someone else can also be very helpful.
Truly living by faith can help us to identify the ideals, the real goals, more quickly and easily because we have Jesus Christ as our first role model. Knowing that we are the beloved children of our Good and All-Powerful Father, difficulties in life are not only opportunities to grow in strength but also to trust God more. We may know, but it is only through challenges that we truly delve into and experience the truths of our faith. Our effort and God’s grace blend mysteriously together. If we go through a rough patch in our dealings with our spouse for example, our prayer and trust in God, coupled with the effort to improve our communication skills, make us grow both humanly and supernaturally. Reframing to grow in virtues ultimately supports growth in faith too. “Once a person is striving to improve in the human virtues, his heart is already very close to Christ.” (St Josemaria Escriva, Friends of God, no. 91).
So when you experience something negative, you can learn to choose which side of the coin you want to look at or widen your perspective on a situation and even look at it from different angles. It’s up to you. You can choose to complain and be unhappy, or choose to bring out the best in you, to develop all the potential you have, and to lead a joyful and fulfilled life.
For more on reframing, start by listening to this OptimalWork podcast.
Here is an interesting podcast on jumping out of bed the moment your alarm sounds
Edith Eger’s book The Choice: Embrace the Possible