How to get out of valley?

(A quick guide to beat difficult times)

This is a short piece.

Anyone who has lived long enough has experienced the valley — the place when the lows in life hit you. You are enjoying life, feeling the rhythm, everything seems to be working and then suddenly you get hit from nowhere, throwing you off balance — it can be death in the family, getting diagnosed with a serious illnes, losing a job, divorce — you name it. The world is a full of surprises.

So, what to do in such situations? How do you get out of the valley and back on your stride, get the rhythm back. There is no straight answer and different people react differently to these surprises. Here is what worked for me….this may not be the answer for you but, then again, it might help in some small ways….

1. Stick to the daily habits- One of the the first thing to do is not to change the daily routine. The time you wake up, the time you take your meals, the time you go to walk, little things that make up your daily schedule, your daily habits.

When your body or mind is not at its best, let your daily habits guide you.

There is a great comfort in sticking to the “routineness” daily habits to pass through the difficult days.

2. Exercise: This seems to be one of the first casualties — but stick to it. Do not give up! There are many physical benefits of exercise but the mental benefits are equal if not more. Exercise helps to ground you and supply your brain the much needed endorphin to lift the mood. I usually go for a run….but follow whatever suits you.

3. Write a journal — If you did not have the habit, start one. Being in the valley is a good time for reflection.

Difficult times bring in interesting perspectives about life. Record those.

This will help you to download some of the anxieties of your mind on a paper. And these writings will also be very helpful guide when you are out of valley.

4. Write ten ideas: This is a concept championed by James Alutcher. James have gone through seriously difficult times in life and writes openly about his experiences. James highly recommends a daily routine of writing ten ideas on any topic…..it can be ten ideas on how to improve your neighborhood or ten ideas for a new movie…..anything.

The idea is to have the discipline to exercise your brain to come up with creative ways to solve problems…..everyday.

This worked for me in many ways. Writing ten ideas regularly opens up your creative thinking and you soon start discovering new ways to solve problems, seeing the world from a different lens.

5. Improve 1% — This has been suggested by a few and I have found this very effective. What ever you are doing, start improving on those by 1% everyday. This adds up over months….almost 3600% over a year. It is a small enough target to keep your mind focused but adds significant value over time in your life. For example, try to improve your runtime by 1% everyday or improve your sleep or any other area you want to chose.

6. Laugh: Try to find a way to laugh each day — I know, it can be difficult but give it a try. Watch standup comedians — the good ones are really good. I seriously like George Carlin and C K Lewis — there are many others. Find humor in daily life and the day will be slightly better.

7. Meditate: The positive benefits of meditation is now scientifically proven. It is a great habit to cultivate. Start small, improve by 1% everyday. Helps to calm your mind, improve focus and build the mental strength to reduce anxiety of the unknown.

8. Free yourself: Let go of the unnecessary, declutter — your mind, your surrounding. We pile up many unnecessary things over time, like sediments on the river bank. Clear those up.

Start with your room, from physical objects and then move to your mind, emotional baggages, unwanted acquaintances — get rid of the unnecessary.

9. Live Each day: Do not overthink and look too far. Focus on each day. Live your life through daily habits, writing journals and ten ideas, exercising and finding a way to laugh, meditate and before you know it, you have turned the page. Take one day at a time. The secret lies in breaking down each day into small blocks and breaking down each month into single days.

One of the learnings from Stoic philosophy is to be prepared for the bad times when you are having good times. That is when you are best positioned to prepare yourself. The reality in this world is that there will always be good and bad times — highs and lows, peaks and valleys. When we are enjoying the ride, we tend to think that bad things only happen to others. But, that is a cycle we can not avoid. So build up the habits and fortitude that will sustain you through difficult times. Seneca, a great stoic philosopher and advisor to Emperor Niro, once said,

It is in times of security that the spirit should be preparing itself for difficult times; while fortune is bestowing favors on it is then is the time for it to be strengthened against her rebuffs.

Stoicism is a great philosophical tool to keep in your arsenal to meet the challenges of life. There are many good writings on stoicism. If you want to go deeper on this, suggest to follow Ryan Holiday.

Here is to living each day at a time!