One of the greatest honors for me was the opportunity to contribute a chapter in an anthology of stories, focusing on the strength of the human spirit, called “Living Proof, Celebrating the Gifts that Come Wrapped in Sandpaper.” My chapter, called “The Heart Whispers Truth,” highlights the lessons learned in my first marriage.
During speaking engagements this past spring in Florida, Chicago and Los Angeles, I used the opportunity to talk about the title of the book, which offers so much rich wisdom about embracing the wealth of knowledge that is embedded and revealed in our experiences. These talks inspired me to think about how we actually transform adversity into our advantage. What are we actually thinking, feeling and doing to successfully transcend turbulent times in our lives?
I reflected upon my own personal experience and recalled what I have witnessed with clients as they ultimately find and utilize the “gold” in their story, inspiring profound insights and greater fulfillment in their lives. I call this process The “F.A.T” formula. It brings new meaning to this word as it strengthens vs. disempowers.
The formula is really quite clear and straightforward. Whether you got a flat tire, felt rejected by a partner, got laid off from your job or are facing challenging health issues, this offers a sure path to greener pastures.
“F” stands for Feel The Feelings Fully:
In our Western culture, we often do everything we can to avoid feeling pain. We deny it, dismiss it, minimize it, distract ourselves from it and project our unwanted feelings onto others. But the truth is, what we resist persists. So this first step is to acknowledge and attend to the entire range of feelings that you may experience when facing hardship of any kind. Do you feel sad, angry, anxious, insecure, jealous, hopeless, disappointed? The way to move through it is not to avoid it, but rather to acknowledge it by expressing your truth and by treating yourself with loving kindness, compassion and patience. After working with clients for close to two decades, I am certain that most of our suffering does not lie in circumstance, but rather in how we treat ourselves in the face of circumstance.
In the first step, your affirmation to remember and repeat is:
“I feel what I feel at this present moment.”
“A” stands for Accept the Situation Fully:
In the first step, as we fully accept and express our feelings, we also let go of any and all debilitating judgment or shame about it.
What often prolongs the distress of any situation is our attempt to deny, fix, fight, control or wish it away. When we move into full acceptance of “what is” it frees up our psychic energy, heals our heart and leads us into a more peaceful state of mind.
Oprah Winfrey re-iterated a powerful reminder, from an unknown source, of how full acceptance can lead us into forgiving others and ourselves: “Forgiveness is giving up hope that the past could have been any different.”
The Serenity prayer is also a common favorite, as it shares so beautifully a perspective that is grounded in clear reason, peaceful resolution and accountability:
“God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can; and the wisdom to know the difference.”
In this second step of acceptance your affirmation to remember and repeat is:
“It is what it is.”
This releases us from the burdensome shackles that have weighed us down and held us back from moving forward. It holds a space for the possibility of transformation — the third and final step in the “F.A.T.” formula.
“T” stands for Transform & Transcend the Trauma:
In doing so, we make a conscious choice and commitment to transform the bummers into blessings, and the challenges into celebrations.
This is where your light shines its brightest, as you choose to use everything you have experienced as part of your classroom of life. It requires a perceptual shift to find the buried treasures, the blessings in disguise and the hidden pearls. Perhaps a painful breakup can awaken more insight into who you are and what you want, need and deserve in a partner. A physical illness or loss may inspire you to let go of sweating the small stuff or to advocate for others facing similar challenges. Regardless what it is, in this stage you have the power and potential to transform your disappointment into something positive, for your highest good and for the good of all others. This stage also motivates us to face, challenge and transcend our fears, which has cleverly been described as “false evidence appearing real.”
In this third “transformational” step of the “F.A.T.” formula, your affirmation to remember and repeat is:
“I am the most powerful change agent in my life.”
I’m sure you know some people who wallow in the feeling stage, prolonging their perception of “victimization,” which ultimately creates a sense of hopelessness, futility, bitterness and powerlessness. This can become a toxic handicap that prevents our ability to rise above adversity and let go of the past. We may also know what it feels like to camp out at the “acceptance stage” for an extended period of time. Regardless, I encourage us all to honor the space where we are and the pace at which we or someone we care about chooses to walk though these stages. If someone is mourning someone they love, for example, it would not be helpful for us to tell them to, “Snap out of it, accept it and just be happy you had quality time with them.” That person needs to be in their “feeling” stage for as long as they feel they need to be.
What this formula offers and reminds us of is that we do have the opportunity to turn lemons into lemonade. And when in doubt of its possibility, just think of those you admire most. My most favorite example is Nelson Mandela who, after spending 27 years in a prison, chose to lead one of the most powerful peace and freedom movements of all time.
If we follow these steps, when facing challenges we will surely transform what can feel like breakdowns into our biggest breakthroughs. Begin to practice this formula when facing anything uncomfortable. And please do share with us the magic and miracles that are sure to follow.