2019-12-09

End of year review 2/ 4: Struggles

December is my month of reflection, in which I write about looking back, taking stock, drawing learnings from your year and looking ahead to 2020. 

Last week, my focus was on successes and achievements which should be celebrated. This week is all about the struggles.

We all secretly expect life to be full of sunny days, joyful encounters and clear roads ahead. But that is not what it is all about. Life is also full of clouds and storms, confrontations and disappointments. 

The metaphor that comes to mind is that of a chessboard. I read about this in the highly recommended book on acceptance and commitment therapy by Steven Hayes et al. The authors write that we should stop looking at life like a chess game in which our positive and negative feelings are the white and black pieces fighting each other for dominance.

It feels comforting to imagine that one day, the good emotions will win and everything will be OK, but reality tells a different story. The battle is never over, as there are an infinite number of white and black pieces. Also, each piece attracts its opposite. The body-positive thought: “I accept myself” attracts the negative thought: “But look at your thighs or your pot belly.” 

When we think “I’ve done a great job”, doubt creeps in with: “How long can I stay on top?” or “It is really good enough?”

Instead, we should think of our lives and our mind as being the board itself. With an equal number of black and white squares, it’s the place where the chess pieces move around, but it’s not involved in the battle. No matter which pieces come and go or how complicated the game becomes, the chessboard remains solid and intact, ready for the next game. 

Being aware of the distinction between us and our thoughts and feelings enables us to accept even uncomfortable and troubling emotions and avoid being dominated or defined by them.

So when you think about the struggles that you have been through this year, remember the chessboard metaphor.

Allow yourself to be more accepting of all your emotions and to focus on what is important to you, no matter which thoughts and feelings show up.

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