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July 2015

Normal Doesn’t Mean Necessary

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This is a phrase I often use in coaching.  It means that, while our response to life’s challenges, including stress, overwhelm, fear, anger, and even despair, are normal, they aren’t necessarily required.  In other words, we can learn to be more resilient.  And, since life is full of ups and downs, the more effective we are at dealing with life’s challenges — big and small — the greater our capacity to influence our attitude, health, happiness, energy, performance and overall wellbeing. 

Try this:

First, pay close attention to how you naturally respond to adverse situations.  (As with one of my prior blog postings, here’s a good excuse to grab that journal or notebook!)


  • Your thoughts surrounding the circumstances.  What thoughts surface as you consider the adverse circumstance?  What do you consider to be adverse?  How does the situation impact different aspects of your life?  How might others view the same situation?  To what extent do you have control over the situation?  Why?  Why not?
  • Your emotions.  When faced with a challenging situation, what emotions or feelings surface?  When do you fall into helplessness or despair?  When do you feel anger and resentment?  When do you experience positive emotions, such as hope, compassion, acceptance, forgiveness, passion or joy? 
  • Your actions.  When faced with adversity, what do you do?  When do you take proactive steps to mitigate or minimize the negative?  Under what circumstances do you actively engage in steps to resolve challenge you face?   Are there patterns surrounding your behavior?  For example, when do you find yourself dwelling in apathy…unable or unwilling to take steps forward (instead, you sit back and let the situation control you)?  When do you find you have the courage and ability to step up to the plate to take action?  How can you create more of the ‘triggers’ that fuel positive action, giving you more of what you really want in life?

Next, acknowledge what “is.”  Recognize that you are human and that the thoughts, emotions and actions you experience, whatever they are, are normal for you.  BUT, don’t stop there!  Remind yourself that normal does not mean necessary.

Challenge your thoughts…how can you positively influence, even if in a limited way, your life’s circumstances?   Go ahead, write them down!  Think of the most positive person you know.  How might he/she view the same situation?  What if the thoughts and beliefs you are carrying with you were not true?  What more empowering beliefs could you “try on” instead?   How do those new thoughts change how you see the situation?

There are always things you can do to influence circumstances.  For example, while you may not be able to control the fact that you have cancer, there are steps you can take to ensure quality of health care, surround yourself with supportive people, and practice extreme self-care (including eating and sleeping well, exercising, and engaging in activities that are emotionally and spiritually empowering, such as being outdoors or meditating). 

Recognize that the emotions you feel fuel the actions you take….or don’t take!  For example, when you feel apathy, you are likely lethargic, believing that you lack control over your circumstances.  Why bother taking action since it won’t matter anyway!?!   Similarly, when you feel anger or resentment, instead of taking action to improve events, you may look outwardly for people and/or things to blame instead.   Ask yourself what emotions would better serve you in life at this time.  What emotions would allow you to deal with the current reality?  What emotions, if embraced, would allow you to move forward?  Go there…imagine, as vividly as possible, what life will be like on the “other side” of adversity.  Then, determine what steps (even small ones) you can take to work towards that image.

With awareness comes choice.  By becoming aware of your thoughts, emotions and actions when faced with life’s challenges, you can consciously leverage them to minimize the impact of challenging situations and move forward in life in a positive and powerful way.