15 Things To Do When The Going Gets Tough

by Liz Jansen

when the going gets tough

The day I left my marriage was one of those days. We both knew I was leaving, but circumstances compelled me to move up the date. My new boss had called a staff meeting in Toronto so my commute was longer than usual. To avoid traffic, I took a toll highway, where I got pulled over by the police for having a dirty license plate, which could make it difficult for the camera to discern my registration. I arrived late, upset, and barely able to think straight.

We’ve all had those days, weeks, or even months. Illness, job loss, relationship break-ups, death of a loved one, life transitions, caring for aging parents, and financial insecurity affect us all at some point. Whether they’re voluntary or involuntary doesn’t change their ability to disrupt our lives.

Doing even one of these things can help dissipate that dark cloud that seems to be hanging around.

  1. Acknowledge your feelings. They’re real and neither right nor wrong, they’re trying to get your attention. Allow them without filtering or judging, but don’t dwell on them. Attempting to block or resist can amplify them and lead to physical illness. Stoicism was a hallmark of my ancestors. They couldn’t afford to let grief, regret, or self-pity bog them down when survival was at stake. I’d inherited their quiet fortitude in my energetic DNA, but I had no basis to embody it as they had. Yet, to my detriment, I suppressed my feelings for many years.
  2. Conserve your energy for the things you can control. Don’t waste your precious reserves on worry, anger, and trying to change what’s outside your sphere of influence. What’s the point? You don’t change anything for the better and you propagate negativity.
  3. Take a time out. Exercise your curiosity. Unplug from the bombardment of email, text messages, and sensationalized news. Even ten minutes spent alone can recharge your energy.
  4. Smile. It transforms you and those around you. The act of smiling, as hard as it may be at the time, activates neural messaging that release a litany of benefits for your health and happiness. Smile at someone and they can’t help but smile back, and that changes both your days. (Read: There’s Magic in Your Smile.)
  5. Accept that you’ll make lots of mistakes. It’s how we learn. We don’t intend to make mistakes, and try to make wise decisions, to the best of our ability. Admittedly, some mistakes have greater consequences than others, but keep them in perspective, learn from them, and move on. Beating yourself up doesn’t change things or move you forward.
  6. Measure your wealth in intangibles. The size of your bank account, motorcycle, or house is not a measure of who you are. Staying true to your values, your skills, and your heart speaks volumes.
  7. Recalibrate. Compare yourself to your purpose, desires, and situation. Don’t base your actions on other people’s ideas, goals, and recommendations. They’re seeing and commenting on your situation through their eyes and experiences. While they may mean well, it’s more important for your health and happiness to be true to who you are.
  8. Challenge your perspective. One lazy Sunday afternoon when I was married, I lay on the sofa looking up at the massive beams and the house I’d waited so long for and worked so hard to finish. I was deeply unhappy and dissatisfied with my life, but loved the house and clung to it like a safety net. Did I really think this building on this particular plot of land was the only place on God’s earth where I could be happy? Of course not! Coming to that realization was liberating and gave me an infusion of energy.
  9. Challenge the stories you’ve believed. When the nurses returned newborn me to Mom after bathing me, a pink bow clung to a few strands of fiery red hair, forming a spout on top of my head. The cultural training had begun: Girls wear pink, even with red hair. No matter who our parents are or what culture we’re born into, we’re raised with deep-rooted beliefs and expectations. Often stories get passed down through the generations without question and have lost their relevancy, yet we accept them without question. Who says it’s so?
  10. Keep moving. Maintaining a steady throttle on your motorcycle often gets you out of uneasy situations. Slowing down can get you mired down, or cause you to lose control, and you’re still in the situation! When the going gets tough in life, and you feel like you’re not getting anywhere, do something. Write down something you want to get done in the day, no matter how trivial it seems, then do it, and cross it off your list. Your sense of accomplishment and new energy will surprise you.
  11. Ask for what you want. What’s the worst that can happen? You can get a “No” and have to move on. Our culture values independence and self-sufficiency, yet we’re communal beings. Other people aren’t mind readers and are often unaware you need help. I used to hate having to ask for help to lift my motorcycle onto the center stand. I still don’t like it but I’m getting better. People are usually happy to help, and you never know whom you might meet! (Read The Art of Asking: How I learned to Stop Worrying and Let Other People Help.)
  12. Practice gratitude. My grandfather was a master of gratitude. Having lived through civil war, extreme poverty, and famine, nothing could displace the gratitude he felt for living in a country of freedom and peace. Early frost wiped out the grain harvest? They had their freedom. They’d manage. And they always did.
  13. List the things in your life you’re grateful for. It doesn’t change the unpleasantness of your situation, but it helps re-establish balance.
  14. Let go of your attachment to a particular outcome. It’s easy to get upset when things go wrong, or at least not as we expected, When my scheduled weekend of motorcycle instruction got cancelled at the last minute, I was disappointed. I’d planned my time and budgeted on it. But it freed me up to attend an author event where I met people willing to help me launch my book.
  15. Be kind to yourself. Eat well, go for a walk, preferably in nature, attend an exercise or yoga class, and get plenty of sleep. You’re worth it! Tomorrow will come and you want to be ready for what’s ahead.

What’s your favorite go-to activity when the going gets tough? Tell us in the comments and let us know how it helps.


Author, writer, student and motorcycle aficionado Liz Jansen combines her artistic mediums to create stories that inspire readers to embark on their own journey of self-discovery. No helmet or jacket required.

4 Comments on “15 Things To Do When The Going Gets Tough

  1. Wise words, Liz. Knowing to do these things is a lifelong lesson (well for me!)…Perhaps, the greatest gift for me, to me, is to be able to laugh at myself.

    • It’s life-long for me too Rosie. I have to keep going back to the list.:) Laughing at oneself is good! Thanks.

  2. Liz where were you doing my young life when I could have used, but maybe not understood, all this terrific advice. You have been through much and I admire your
    perseverance and your ability to write about it so that it gives meaning to others.