I’ve written recently about a few tools to help you get through transitions: creating a ritual and allowing yourself to make “harder/stuck” choices on occasion. The next tool is about feelings, so I need to share some of mine with you first.
When my husband and I separated at the end of the summer, I was devastated. It felt totally unexpected to me, even though, in retrospect, I should have seen it coming.
In the months since then, I have felt scared about my future, worried about my son, rage about feeling abandoned, grief about what we’ve lost, vulnerable about sharing this with other people, and generally raw with so many emotions.
I’ve lost sleep. I’ve woken up wondering how I will bear all of this. I’ve felt embarrassed about a second failed marriage. I’ve felt betrayed that what he said in couple’s therapy didn’t seem to be true. And I’m scared right now telling you this.
But I’ve discovered that my vulnerability is one of my greatest strengths. I know that sounds weird. And yet after years—most of my life really—of being tough and hiding everything real about myself, I’ve found that revealing what’s true about myself is what makes me strong.
Hiding what’s going on makes me weak. Being honest about how I feel—with myself and with others—gives me strength.
That doesn’t mean I like feeling this way. Buddhism teaches acceptance of what is. Okay, fine, I accept that he wanted a separation. I accept that our marriage is over. I accept that I feel like shit.
But that doesn’t mean I have to stay feeling like this.
Acceptance is not the same as condoning. Acceptance is not the same as stasis.
You can accept that you feel the way you do now while deciding that you want to feel another way—then planning actions to help you feel the way you want to feel.
That is the next tool to help you get through a transition: create a to-feel list.
This is a tool I’ve been using for years. I’ve written to you before about how I don’t make New Year’s resolutions. I create a to-feel list instead.
Barring extreme circumstances, feelings are universally attainable—any time. You don’t have to wait for the transition to be done to feel the way you want to feel.
I want to feel joy again. I want to feel happy again. I want to smile again.
I don’t have to wait for this pain to end before I feel joy, before I feel happy, before I smile.
How do you use this tool?
First, write down all the feelings you’re experiencing right now. You’ve got my list above. Now write yours.
Next, start brainstorming (“feel-storming”) all the ways you’d rather feel. Then go through and pick out three or four of the feelings that most jump out at you. Now write those on a separate piece of paper—big, with space underneath each feeling.
For each feeling, you’re going to come up with a few actions you can take to achieve that feeling. And write those down.
Here’s my example.
I want to feel: accomplished, happy, peaceful, and strong.
Ways I can get those feelings (mine overlap):
- Make my bed in the morning
- Do the dishes
- Clean the litter boxes
- Go for a walk
- Listen to uplifting music
- Ask my son to tell me jokes
- Close my eyes and breathe deeply
See how small and simple those actions are? Nothing big. But each item can make a big difference over time. And each item can make a significant difference the moment I do it. Making my bed will make me feel accomplished as soon as I do it. Listening to uplifting music makes me feel happy (or less bad) right away. Breathing brings me peace pretty quickly.
Are these items going to cure me of my “bad” feelings? No. That’s not the point. We are NOT trying to transcend or circumvent the “bad” feelings. Remember from my last note that it’s okay to make the occasional “harder/stuck” choice. The point with your to-feel list is to get you closer to feeling the way you want to feel—whenever you want to feel that way … not having to wait until the transition is done.
So, go ahead and make your list now. Put it where you will see it everyday. And put it on your phone, too, so you can pull it out whenever you need it!
Let me know what you come up with and what works for you.