How to make progress, no matter how hard it gets

Photo of Red Mountain reflected in the Salt River at Tonto National Forest, Mesa, Arizona

As the parent of a college freshman, I have learned a lot this year about how to teach key approaches and responsibilities involved with just “adulting.”

Things like how to actually make sure that institutions receive your communication.

And if they do receive it, to make sure that appropriate action is taken on that communication.

And then to follow up 15 times to make sure the action actually does happen, even if someone says emphatically it will.

“Mom,” my son Josh said, “It seems like most of adulting is just following up then following up again.”

Truer words have not been said.

We can’t predict what will happen

Life and work can be cruising right along, and all of a sudden you are hit with a multitude of one or many of the following scenarios:

-Business slows down.

-People we love unexpectedly get hurt or die.

-Health issues creep in and take over our life.

-Big technology changes threaten to disrupt our work lives.

-Romantic relationships end.

-Big important plans change that force us to re-think our dreams.

-Projects mess up.

-Jobs end abruptly.

How can we keep going when we feel like crap?

I wish every person were afforded the grace of taking off a significant period of time when things hit the fan.

Unfortunately, due to personal, environmental, familial and financial responsibilities, sometimes you have to keep going even when you feel like curling up and retreating from the world.

Here is a practice I use all the time – informally called the GROUND Method:

1. Grieve
When something big and jarring happens in your life, it is unhealthy just to grit it out and pretend it is not happening.

Let yourself express emotion in a safe setting. Cry. Rage. Express all the unfairness and fear the situation brings up for you.

If you have access to mental health care, you can do so with a therapist. If not, do it in a safe space where you won’t be disturbed.

For big losses, this grieving may take place over weeks, months, even years. But if you have to keep moving forward in life, you can make space for it in a way that still allows you to take care of your needs.

2. Release

With grief for a loss of anything (an opportunity, a person, a way of being), we are often hit with a big wave of what we should have done differently to reduce or even prevent the loss.

It is normal to have these feelings.

Over time, if you keep replaying the regret, it just serves to make you feel worse, and makes you embody the feelings of regret, fear and doubt.

Instead, write down the big list of your coulda/shoulda/wouldas. Say goodbye to them, then burn the paper.

Alternatively, in a technique my husband Darryl uses, speak them into a glass of water, then go outside, find a plant, and pour the water into the roots.

Pay attention to mini regret spirals as they pop up, and use your trusted friend circle to pull you out and stay on track.

3. Organize

Now that you are oriented to the new truth of your life, you need to create a very clear picture of what actions and activities will help you get to a better, healthier, more stable place.

When you are going through rough emotional situations, your energy reserves are often very low.

Focus on the essential, and remove any responsibility or project that is draining you of critical energy you need to take care of what is needed.

Get extremely clear on exactly what you need to get done to be stable, and nothing else.

4. Understand

Now that you know what to do, you need to understand exactly what resources you need to get the activities done. These can be things like other people, money, information, technical support or space.

Be very specific about the kind of support you need, changing general descriptors to specific

From “money” to “$2,312.00 by Friday, June 30.”

From “emotional support” to “ask my best friend Desiree to hold space for 10 minutes while I rage on the phone.”

From “referrals” to “5 past happy clients from 2024 forwarding an email where I describe my services.”

5. Narrow

From your big list of what you need to do, and the resources needed to get these things done, put your big list of things to get my life right into time-bound buckets.

Prioritize the things that have to happen in the next week.

Then break them down into almost insultingly small activities like:

“Send email to Jenny asking the name of her therapist” or “Open the 3 bills sitting on the front table and read what is in them.”

6. Deliver in Tiny Steps

Each day, look at your week-sized list of tiny activities and do one.

Then do another one.

Then, if you have energy, do one more.

Thank yourself for any level of activity, then rest.

Notice that you do not have to feel good to take the first step (advice from my past coach Mark Otto).

The act of taking tiny steps will slowly make you feel better and more in control.

The GROUND cycle continues

You may find yourself going through this process on a regular basis.

Because as soon as you make progress on one thing, you may get hit by an unexpected new thing that knocks you off balance again.

Use the GROUND method to feel the disruption, then get back to a place of personal agency.

What I do want you to know is that things will get better.

I believe in your resilience, and I believe that we all need each other to make it through the rough times.

You have faced and overcome adversity in the past, and you can do it again.

It is amazing what we can live though, and turn into powerful lessons and life experiences.

Remember who you are.

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