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We all know that person whose life is a complete and utter trainwreck. Their posts on social media are all for attention and validation. They have perpetual money problems, relationship problems, work problems, and never accept personal responsibility for what’s happened to them.
These people are fascinating and yet horrifying to watch.
I know a few in my own sphere of acquaintances. It’s sad to see and oftentimes I wish I could just shake them a little bit and give them a roadmap to help them take back their lives.
But people don’t change until they’re disgusted enough with themselves to actually change. Sometimes they see that their life is falling apart but don’t do anything about it because they’re not prepared and instead start panicking.
They stick their heads in the sand, thinking that maybe if they ignore it, the problem will disappear.
For those of you who are ready to pick up the pieces (even if they’re still in midair), keep reading for 4 ways to gain back control of your life.
First things first.
How exactly is your life crumbling to bits right now? What things are you going through that make you think “This is it. This is the end of all good things in my life.”?
Think about it. Write them down with an actual pen and actual paper. Form the words deliberately, and don’t fool yourself.
Taking inventory of the things that indicate your life is falling apart will help you grasp the real magnitude of what’s going on.
Common examples might be things like…
- Losing your job
- A friend or family member dies unexpectedly
- Experiencing abuse
- Being a victim of attack/assault/other
- Failing out of school
- Finding out you’re pregnant when you didn’t want to be
- Receiving a bad diagnosis
- You realize you’re addicted to something
Expectation vs. Reality
We’ve all seen that illustration, right? The expected path vs. reality? No? Well, I drew one for you. Here:
Getting from point A to point B is never a straight line. There are always ups, downs, steps backward, and giant leaps forward.
We never get to the end of life exactly how we expect to.
It’s expected, ironically, that things will not go as expected.
Currently falling to pieces around you, yes?
Expectation? Not really, but kinda. Reality? Absolutely.
There’s no point in fooling yourself about the reality of what you’re experiencing. Insisting that “it’s not really abuse” because he didn’t mean to hit you is just you fooling yourself.
You didn’t land that job because you bombed the interview, not because the hiring manager is racist.
I actually love the phrase “everything happens for a reason.”
Because sometimes the reason is “you made a choice, and it was a dumb choice.” As freewill beings, we always have a choice, whether we realize it or not. Sometimes the choice is between making two dumb decisions.
But it’s still a choice.
Take Extreme Ownership
Sit back and look at the words you wrote that accurately describe and define how your life is falling apart.
Instinctively you’re going to want to blame others for these things. That’s the natural, human reaction. We all are blame-averse and taking responsibility for a lot of things is just straight-up difficult.
But shirking that responsibility and blaming others makes us feel worse and others lose respect for us.
The solution is to practice extreme ownership.
Jocko Willink and Leif Babin wrote a book on this, taken from lessons they learned while fighting in Ramadi during the Iraq War.
What’s the gist?
You take ownership—responsibility—for literally everything in your world, whether or not you are actually responsible for something.
It doesn’t mean practicing self-blame-and-shame or beating ourselves up for our mistakes and missteps. All it means is that we take responsibility for our actions. We own up to them and take the blame instead of inflicting the blame upon ourselves.
Taking extreme ownership opens up a whole new world of freedom and flexibility. It strengthens your character and reputation. When you own up to mistakes instead of blaming others for your shortfalls, people notice.
As social animals, we all hate to lose the respect of others, and there’s no faster way to lose that respect than to blame someone else for our problems. But as humans, we hate to make mistakes. Taking extreme ownership is not always easy, but it always makes us feel better in the end.
Don’t you feel gross about yourself when you blame another person for your problems?
Figuring out what to do when your life is falling apart is, in essence, just a mindset shift.
When you view your mistakes, missteps, and the crumbling edges of your life as lessons instead of failures and catastrophes, something interesting happens.
You learn from them.
They’re no longer these giant monsters trying to destroy you from the inside out. They lose the edge of terror and become easier to handle.
After taking an appropriate amount of time to process whatever your situation happens to be, the next step is to extract the lesson from it.
What Lessons Shine Through?
- Losing your job: you learned what management styles, industries, coworkers, company culture, or office layout don’t work for you.
- A friend or family member dies unexpectedly: you learned the value and importance of telling people you love them while you still have time with them.
- Experiencing abuse: you learned what healthy relationships don’t look like and know the red flags to avoid it in the future or help others who are currently experiencing what you have survived.
- Being a victim of attack/assault/other: you learned that you need to know how to defend yourself, either with martial arts or a personal weapon such as a concealed firearm or a bottle of mace.
- Failing out of school: you learned about the importance of self-motivation and discipline, finding learning styles that work for you, and recognizing symptoms of apathy that might indicate you need professional help.
- Finding out you’re pregnant when you didn’t want to be: you learned that actions have consequences—unprotected sex leads to pregnancy. You learned what values you truly hold and whether you’re up to the demanding task of being a parent when it’s inconvenient. (I hope you are.)
- Receiving a bad diagnosis: you learned the limits and measures of your own strength of mind and body. Are you going to let this diagnosis decide your life, or will you decide your life in spite of the diagnosis?
- You realize you’re addicted to something: you learned that you have an addictive personality; that knowledge helps you kick the addiction. The first step towards overcoming any addiction is to realize that these kinds of behaviors are not inescapable. When you sit down and reflect on your life in a way that allows you to understand your current situation, you learn that being addicted to something like drugs, alcohol, social media, or anything else doesn’t necessarily mean that you’ll forever be stuck with that familiar feeling of emptiness. After you learned that about yourself, next comes the steps towards recovery. When you decide that you’re ready to ask for help and change your ways, therapy sessions or the right inpatient drug rehab program will help you get back on your feet.
You’re not going to solve all your life’s problems in one day. You probably won’t solve them all in a week or a month or a year, either. You need to give yourself grace and take time to work through everything.
Despite our culture of instant gratification, there’s power in working through things slowly when you can. Take the time to grieve, process, and regroup.
When your life is falling apart, you’ll be sorely tempted to try catching all the pieces before they hit the ground. You’ll want to start bailing out the water before you’ve even plugged the holes.
Taking the time to pause, breathe, and define your next steps will save you a lot of grief and difficult times ahead.
Call to Action
We often hold things inside ourselves with clenched muscles and shallow breathing. This just makes us feel worse! No matter what’s happening to you right now, I want you to take a deep breath. Hold it for a few seconds and then slowly release it, and visualize the tension and stress leaving your body.
You’re not alone in your struggles.