This year, for the first time ever, I planted a garden. At the beginning, it was fun, rewarding and easy. I began harvesting lettuce within two weeks and peppers barely 30 days later. Every day was a miracle as I watched green tomatoes forming on my wandering vines. Then, just as I anticipated ripe tomatoes, I noticed something awful. Huge juicy caterpillars were munching my vines and my baby tomatoes. Not only were they devastating my plants, their overwhelming presence shattered my idyllic garden image. Almost overnight, my garden became both a challenging endeavor and a reality check. Much as I’d like to believe that disappointment or challenges don’t happen to all of us on a regular basis—the truth is they do. And because it is SMART to stay focused on solutions rather than the problem, here are 8 suggestions anyone of us can use to overcome the hornworms (or any other challenge!) you face in your life.
#1 Tell a different story. During my last few posts I’ve mentioned the book I have been reading named “Thinking Fast & Slow.” It is an excellent reminder that every one of us views the events in our lives as a “story”. The thing is, we are the ones creating that story. So, if you don’t like the story you are experiencing, start making up another one. Seriously. My first story about my hornworm challenge was that they were contaminating my garden and taking all the fun and rewards away. Obviously, that story was not a hopeful one. Instead, what I did was start telling myself how I would be so much better next year because I would know what to do instead of being surprised. Just a simple shift of the “story” you are experiencing can determine if it is a comedy, a drama, an inspiration or a horror. No matter what you are going through—you decide the story.
#2 Look at the experience from another angle. Plenty of social scientists say that if you are constantly looking at people and lifestyles beyond your world, you will be unhappy. That’s because we constantly compare ourselves to others we envy. On the other hand, if we instead start paying attention to the millions of those who have less than we do, we develop a much more compassionate and grateful perspective. All I had to do to rethink my hornworm experience was to imagine how such an invasion could potentially ruin anyone who was a farmer with fields of tomatoes. Or what about a mother who needed her garden to feed her children? While my experience was annoying, it was far from disastrous. Going through a challenge? All you have to do is remember those who have it much worse.
#3 Let go of thinking life is fair. The problem with thinking life is fair is—who gets to decide? Most of the time, each of us wants things to be fair from OUR perspective alone. Frankly, most of us don’t have the wisdom, compassion, and understanding to be in charge. Face it—life is not fair. Bad stuff happens every day to people who don’t deserve it. Demanding fairness is really just you having a temper tantrum for not getting what you want, or think you deserve. Plus, believing something is not fair is fighting with the reality of what is happening right now—and believe me, that is not something you can win.
#4 Don’t take it personally. In the book The Four Agreements” by Don Miguel Ruiz, we are reminded to not take anything personally. This certainly applies when we are challenged by any trouble. In fact, Ruiz says, “…taking things personally is the maximum expression of selfishness because we make the assumption that everything is about ‘me.’” In other words, it would be silly for me to take it personally that hornworms attacked my garden. Hornworms are hornworms. They did not hunt me down to make my garden an example of anything. Chances are good that when we blow anything out of proportion we are taking it all personally.
#5 List your options. Sometime not too long ago, I read that whenever we are feeling the most desperate we believe we have no options. When people have no options, they often resort to drastic or violent actions. Instead of backing ourselves into such a corner, we would do well to use our imagination to come up with alternatives. It is actually very rare to have no choices or options—we just can’t always think of them when we are hurting. That’s why sitting down by yourself or with trusted friends and listing your options can free you from feeling powerless. Instead of ripping out my entire garden because I couldn’t stand the invaders—I decided I needed to educate myself and find out different solutions to overcome the problem. And yes, once I started looking I had several choices. So do you!
#6 Resist blame shifting. When bad stuff happens to us it is very easy to start blaming others for our troubles. If only someone had told me about hornworms I wouldn’t have been so surprised—NOT! Again, the world does not revolve around our individual lives—it is not the government, your spouse, your friends or your acquaintances who are responsible for your happiness. It’s you and me. Only when we stop blaming others, can we make the changes within our control to create peace and happiness in our personal experiences.
#7 Next! I recently read a biography about a famous person who was an excellent salesperson. I can’t even remember who the person was, but I thought they had a great strategy that allowed them to face negativity. Instead of getting bummed out by having customers constantly tell them “No!” this person would just say to themselves, “Next!” In other words, instead of wallowing in the negative, they just moved themselves on to the next experience. Thinking “Next!” is a great way to let go, move on, and embrace the opportunity waiting around the corner.
#8 Get physical. One of the worst things any of us can do when we are feeling depressed or anxious is to lock ourselves in a room and bury our heads under a pillow. Of course, I’m not talking about anyone who has a serious and chronic issue with depression—those people should seek out professional help. But the rest of us would do well to remember that physical exercise has been proven in most cases to be an effective way to overcome temporary depression. It also connects us to the world around us, and that too is always beneficial. Instead of wallowing in misery over losing my baby tomatoes to hornworms, I used the opportunity to weed out my garden and take certain actions that would help. And yes, I felt better.
In case you haven’t noticed, none of these tips are about “fixing” the problem of hornworms. Metaphysically we know that the way to a cure for any condition of limitation or lack, is to envision and become that which we choose to experience. Actually, if we struggle to “get” something or make something change, the harder the battle. Instead, by coming from a place of where the trouble does not exist or has been transformed into something new, only then are we free of the past and open to experience the better.
Years ago Thom and I heard a motivational speaker named Zig Ziglar who said, “There’s only one place you can go in the world to stop trouble and challenges in your life. That place is the cemetery.” Like it or not—stuff happens. Ultimately every one of my suggestions is simple encouragement to stop focusing on the problem, and start seeking solutions. I still don’t know if I have overcome my hornworm invasion, but there are tomatoes on my vines and the green bugs haven’t won yet! My experience with hornworms serves as a SMART reminder that no matter who you are and what experience you are going through, there is always something you can do to turn the situation around, move forward, and go on.
“No matter what advantages you are born with– money, intelligence, an appealing personality, a sunny outlook, or good social connections– none of these provides a magic key to an easy existence. Somehow, life manages to bring difficult problems, the causes of untold suffering, and struggle. How you meet your challenges makes all the difference between the promise of success and the specter of failure.” Deepak Chopra
“The primary cause of unhappiness is never the situation but thought about it. Be aware of the thoughts you are thinking. Separate them from the situation, which is always neutral. It is as it is.” — Eckhart Tolle