What to do when you've hit rock bottom

How to Recover From Epic Failure

Everyone has at least ONCE epic failure. Some of us have several. The most important difference between great people and ordinary people is how they recover.

Most people dust themselves off, get back up and try again. If they’re resilient, they recover. They also become stronger and wiser because for it. Yet, few people rise above the average level of achievement afterward. They may come close. But every time they do, they’re blindsided by an explainable setback.

Sometimes, the failure and/or disappointment of this setback hits them so hard, they hit bottom again. But if they’re resilient, they dust themselves off, get back up and try again. In time, they become masters of the comeback. Some of them hit bottom three, four or several times.

But with each recovery, it’s harder to come back by sheer willpower. In time, most of them stop taking risks and give up on the dreams that once inspired them. This is how people with great potential confine themselves to a life of ordinary success.

If you can relate with this pattern, you’re not alone. Especially if you’re 35 or older. No one is invincible and you can only recover so many times on raw willpower. So if you’re at rock bottom for the second or third time, and you need a new recovery strategy, this could be the most important message you’ve read in a long time…

Your Commitments at Rock Bottom Could Shape the Rest of Your Life

People often cling to beliefs that got them where they are now, not realizing that those same beliefs are stopping them from getting where they want to go next. In most cases, these beliefs are formed at a low point in a person’s life.

I saw this countless times during my counseling days. Certain commitments have the power to “rescue” you from rock bottom. But that doesn’t mean they’ll serve you well once you’re back on your feet.

Think about your top three personal limitations. No matter what they are or how long you’ve had them, you weren’t born with them. Most likely, they’re the result of commitments you made when you were desperate. You probably don’t remember making these commitments. But some of them have long outlived their usefulness and become crutches.

This is why it’s important to be careful what commitments you make at rock bottom. In my experience, self-limiting beliefs are typically based on generalizations, such as “always,” or “never” or “last time,” or “from now on.” Here are a few examples…

  • “I’ll never ___ again.”
  • “From now on, I’ll always _____.”
  • “That’s the last time I ever____.”
  • “No more ____ .”

You can put ANYTHING, positive or negative, in one of these blanks, including commitments which APPEAR to be positive and empowering. For example…

  • “I’ll never date a self-employed person again.”
  • “From now on, I’ll always go to the gym when I say I will.”
  • “That’s the last time I ever hire a family member.”
  • “No more business ventures with friends.”

Some of these, I admit, are smart commitments. For example, hiring family members rarely works out. Business ventures with friends can destroy friendships. And yes, some self-employed people are only self-employed because they can’t handle the responsibility of working with others and answering to a boss.

We could list dozens of other “never” or “always” commitments which are smart. But commitments generalizations like “always” or “never,” can also become self-limiting. They do this by locking you into patterns of all-or-nothing thinking or the futile pursuit of perfection. Such beliefs allow no grace or flexibility if you make a mistake or if you change your mind later.

Most importantly, they limit growth by forcing you to live by rigid “rules.” True, growth requires structure. But it also requires flexibility and a willingness to reinvent your methods. Too much structure suffocates growth. It forces you into rigid positions; positions which you may later cling to more out of pride than commitment.

At times, you’ll need a rigid set of rules to live by. Especially if you’re recovering from a recent failure or trying to survive a toxic situation. But turning such rules into life-long dogma can prove self-limiting in the future stages of your life.

So when you’re at rock bottom, be on your guard against perfectionism and all-or-nothing thinking. True, they might serve you VERY well at first. But they can easily BLOCK you from growing past a certain level.

This is especially true for commitments which are based on sweeping generalizations like “always,” and “never,” which are the words of a perfectionist. Yes, I know. Many perfectionists wear that label as a badge of honor. I worked with a lot of them during my counseling days.

They valued their perfectionism because it helped them reach a certain level of success. But in time, they’d come to realize that their perfectionism was the VERY THING blocking them from achieving their fullest potential. The same is true for anyone. What got you where you are today, could STOP you from getting where you want to go tomorrow.

And again, sometimes the disappointment and the frustration of hitting that same “invisible” obstacle again and again, sends you crashing back to rock bottom. The first step out of this cycle is to stop setting rigid rules at your low points, and start asking questions…

3 Questions to Ask Yourself at Rock Bottom

I’ve often said that denial is the only incurable self-limitation. It’s easy to fool other people, and ourselves, about who were really are and what really matters to us.

But as the singer Bobby Womack once said..

“You don’t know what you’ll do till you’re put under pressure.”

This is true. Adversity is the magnifying glass of self-awareness. But it’s also tempting to bury what that self-awareness reveals. And the more we do this, the less self-aware we become and the less power we have to become our authentic selves.

This is why the intense pressure of hitting rock bottom can be a blessing in disguise. It gives you a chance to find out who you really are. If this idea makes you self-consciousness instead of self-aware, you’re probably asking the wrong questions. For example, people who hit rock bottom often ask questions like this…

  • “Why do I keep dating cheaters?”
  • “Why can’t I stop losing my temper?”
  • “Why are people so disrespectful to me?”
  • “Why can’t I just have a good marriage, like THAT couple?”

These questions have self-pitying, negative assumptions or affirmations “baked” into them. Thus, they can only create negative, doubt-inducing answers. Take the first question as an example…

  • “Why do I keep dating cheaters?”

Okay, so you got your heart broken because you “dated a cheater.” But did you KNOW they were a cheater when you first met them? If you didn’t, then you didn’t really date a cheater. You dated someone who you THOUGHT was a good person. True, maybe there were red flags that you ignored.

But asking why you “keep dating cheaters,” just affirms to your brain that you knew they were a cheater from the start and you dated them anyway. And yes, your brain will actually believe that whether it’s true or not. Smart people tend to assume that their brain is “smart” too.

But your brain only seeks patterns that match the patterns its familiar with. It doesn’t matter if these patterns make sense or not. Try this, next time you’re with a friend, ask them to say the word “silk,” five  times as fast as they can. Then, ask them what a cow drinks.

Most people will say “milk.” But cows don’t drink milk. They drink water. People will only answer “milk,” because…

  1. You “prime” their brain with a phonetic pattern by getting them to say “silk” five times.
  2. Most people’s brains already associate cows with milk because cows MAKE milk.

This isn’t just a clever word came. It’s small-scale example of how your brain seeks out patterns that match the patterns its been “primed” with. So why ask yourself questions which only reaffirm the same beliefs and behaviors that got you to rock bottom in the first place?

Don’t mistake me. I’m not suggesting you deny your problems. I’m just encouraging you to ask questions which will lead you to solutions, not to more problems. That said, here are three questions that have worked REALLY well for me and my coaching clients…

Question #1: “What can I change?”

There may be very few things you can actually change when you’re at rock bottom. But there’s always at least ONE THING you can change. Find out what that one thing is and focus all your attention on changing it. I don’t care how small or insignificant it seems.

In fact, small actions are usually better because they’re easy to complete. And that small success will give the confidence tackle something bigger. For example, you can wash the dishes in your sink. You can clean out the junk drawer in your kitchen. You can unfriend a few people on Facebook who you KNOW to be toxic people. Find something you CAN control and change it.

Once you’ve knocked out one task, ask the question again. Keep doing this. Every time you do, make a quick journal entry. Write down why you choose the task you did and how you felt once you’d finished it. You’ll be surprised at how much you’ll learn about yourself this way. And the more things you change, the more courage you’ll gain for tackling bigger challenges.

Question #2: “What must I accept?”

No one can control everything. The problem is, we often tell ourselves we can. We try to change people and circumstances which we either have no power over OR which shouldn’t be changed in the first place.

If we convince ourselves we can change these things anyway, we  start to expect it. In time, we start criticizing ourselves when we fail to change something we “should” have been able to. This is a direct route into self-consciousness and even depression.

If you’re at rock bottom, and you’re too worn out to get back up, I guarantee it’s because you tried to change something you had no control over. There’s only ONE WAY out of this prison of perfectionism: Acceptance.

Now, let me be clear. Acceptance is NOT passivity. Ambitious people often reject the idea of acceptance because they see it this way. They assume that if they accept something, they’re approving of it or “settling” for it. But if you have to approve of something before accepting it, that’s not acceptance. That’s approval.

Acceptance is acknowledging that there are things you CANNOT control and that your energy is better spent on things you CAN control. If you’re frustrated because your friends or romantic partners don’t want to be around you anymore, or because people don’t seem to trust you or respect you, there’s a good chance you haven’t been accepting people for who they are. The same is true if you feel like people keep letting you down.

People are imperfect. You can’t trust any of them to be “good.” You can only trust them to be human. To see people as humans, you must get your expectations out of the way. Imposing your expectations on people will only drive them away. It will also keep you from seeing them for who they are. But if you accept them as they are, they’ll be more likely to listen to you when you DO try to influence them.

If people keep surprising you with their actions, it could be because you were expecting them to act like someone they’re not. But acceptance is the pathway to authentic connections with others AND with yourself. It empowers you to see people as they are. Thus, it makes you a “safe person,” grow around.

Question #2: “How do I know the difference?”

This question helps you see the difference between what you can change and what you must accept. At first, it’ll be hard to answer this question. Especially if you’ve just started practicing acceptance. But the more you ask it, the easier it gets. In time, you’ll develop a deep inner calmness, which is one of the rarest qualities in the world.

I know this from personal experience. I was raised with the belief that I could achieve anything I set my mind to. Yes, this helped me accomplish a lot of things and to overcome some formidable obstacles. But it also gave me unrealistic expectations about my own ability to change the world and other people. Hence, I drove a lot of people away by imposing MY standards on them. Standards which were based on my expectation of who they “could” become, rather than who they were or who they even WANTED to become.

Like it or not, you can’t control everything. Especially other people. The sooner you find accept this, the more energy you’ll have to invest in the things you CAN control. So, to recap the three questions…

  1. “What can I control?”
  2. “What must I accept?”
  3. “How will I know the difference?”

You might recognize these three questions from the “serenity prayer…”

“God grant me serenity to accept the things I can’t change, courage to change the things I can, and wisdom to know the difference.”

These simple prayer will change your life. Even if you don’t believe in God. In fact, if you take “God” out, and your brain will still internalize these three simple ideas. In time, they’ll become embedded in your subconsciousness. In time, they’ll permanently influence the way you evaluate everything. And the secret to changing your life is to change the standards by which you value.

Now, if you’ve read this far, I’m guessing you want to go beyond a mere recovery. So here’s one final habit for breaking past your personal barriers and living your authentic and BEST life…

A Question That Will Make You the Wisest Person You Know

The most important thing in life is who you become. It’s more important than anything you’ll ever do or have. It’s also the greatest gift you’ll ever give to yourself, to humanity and to God.

Few things are more inspiring than to meet a person living at the top of their potential. I’m not talking about a perfect person either. I’m talking about someone who just “has it.”

You’ve met people like this. The second you get close to them, you feel their energy and confidence. It rubs off on you. Sometimes it takes hours to wear off. Think about the last time you met someone like this and read this closely: YOU can become this kind of person.

If you doubt this, I don’t blame you. It’s hard to believe when you keep hitting the same ceiling. But that will change when you start asking this question…

  • “Do I like who I’m becoming in this ____?”

You can fit ANYTHING in that blank. For example…

  • “Do I like who I’m becoming in this job?”
  • “Do I like who I’m becoming in this relationship?”
  • “Do I like who I’m becoming in this house?”
  • “Do I like who I’m becoming in this city?”

You can also ask it about little things…

  • “Do I like who I’m becoming in this shirt I’m wearing?”
  • “Do I like who I’m becoming in this music I’m listening to?”
  • “Do I like who I’m becoming in this picture on my wall?”

If ANYTHING in your life causes you to dislike who you’re becoming, why keep it in your life? Why stay in a job, in a relationship or in a city that’s turning you into someone less than your best self? It’s a common myth to believe that a great person can overcome any circumstance and thrive in any environment.

But it’s also a direct path into perfectionism and all-or-nothing thinking. No one is invincible. And for every mediocre job, relationship and/or environment, there are plenty of jobs, careers, relationships and/or environments which would bring out the best in you.

But the longer you spend and the more energy you invest into trying to make the wrong job or the wrong relationship work, or the longer you spend trying to thrive in the wrong environment, the more you sabotage your opportunity to find the BEST one.

And here’s else something to think about. The NUMBER ONE death bed regret is this…

“I wish I’d had the courage to live a life true to myself, not what others expected of me.”

This is what happens when you’re so concerned with what other people think, you never take the time to find what’s really best for you. Why shouldn’t YOUR life be one of those shining examples of someone who is living as their authentic self? And just imagine how many people you’ll inspire to follow the same path once YOU start following it.

Again, the most important thing in life is who you become. It’s more important than anything you’ll ever do or have. It’s also the greatest gift you can offer to yourself, to humanity and or to God. And the more devoted you are to becoming who you were TRULY created to become, the more you’ll inspire and motivate other people to do the same.

And if you’re still worried this question will make you a “selfish” person, ask yourself this question too while you’re at it…

  • “Do I like the example I’m setting for others by ____?”

Again, you can fit ANYTHING in that blank. For example…

  • “Do I like the example I’m setting for others by working this job?”
  • “Do I like the example I’m setting for others by being in this relationship?”
  • “Do I like the example I’m setting for others by staying in this city?”

I think you’ll find that this question leads you back to the same place. If you’re being true to yourself, you’ll become your best self. And again, your authentic self is the greatest gift you can give to the world. And the closer you get to living your best life and becoming your authentic self, the less likely you’ll be to end up at rock bottom again.

So guard yourself against perfectionism. Make a habit of asking what you can change, what you must accept and how you’ll know the difference. Most important, make it a LIFE LONG habit to ask whether you like who you’re becoming.

In time, even your setbacks will become an opportunity to grow wiser. Most important, EVERYTHING in your life, from your greatest successes, to your greatest challenges and failures, will become an outward expression of your authentic and best self.

-Stay Awesome

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