A while ago, I was laid off from a 9-5 job. It was not one I particularly loved, and I remember feeling bored and stifled with it.
Nevertheless, I started to panic, because at least it paid the bills and the thought of financial uncertainty terrified me.
But here’s where my own missteps came in: As I started to assemble a resume, apply for new jobs, desperately hoping I would find employment soon, a voice in the back of my head get chiming in.
I’ll feel so much better once I get that job interview!
I know everything will be okay once I get the job offer.
I will be happy again once I am in a new job.
Once I get that first paycheck, I know I’ll smile and feel better about everything.
Do you see the dangerous pattern going on here?
You’ve probably done something like this, too. And it can sabotage your ability to move on.
Relying on external factors to make you happy.
Only we can do that and that’s why we are going to start this quest with developing self-awareness. Because the more in-tune we are with our own thoughts, our own sense of joy, and our own triggers, the easier it will be to practice that mindfulness we need to be kinder to ourselves, more confident in ourselves, and able to hold ourselves accountable to building on with the next chapter in our lives. So let’s get started.
“Once X happens, only then will I be or feel Y….”
At some point in our lives — we’ve all done this. And as we learn to heal and move the hell on from this divorce, we may still fall into what I call the X-Y Trap. We say to ourselves that it will take a certain external situation (what I call the X) in order for us to achieve an internal state (what I call the Y). While this occurs in everyday situations, the X-Y Trap loves to linger during the divorce process. Do any of these phrases sound familiar?
“Once the papers are signed, then I will be happy.”
“I’ll be happy again when I find a new partner to be with. Somebody who will be so much better than my ex-spouse.”
“When I move out of this house with all its memories and ghosts, I’ll be happy.”
“As soon as I quit feeling so overwhelmed, then I can work on being happy.”
They sure sound familiar to me, because I know as I was learning to move on, I would fall into this trap as well!
So, how do we avoid falling into the X-Y Trap? And, if we are already ensnared, how can we get the hell out of it?
Only by changing what goes on internally can we start finding happiness.
It’s simple, but not easy.
We must start thinking in terms of looking inward and relying on ourselves to be happy. No amount of money or outside validation or relationship status will do it for us. It must come from inside. We must consciously choose to be grateful and choose happiness, even when we feel overwhelmed and feel like we are a complete mess. Even when we feel like we are alone or feel betrayed or feel bad or impatient or feel like we will never get through the divorce and emerge on the other side, stronger and more confident than from where we started. Those feeling all derive from outside influence that we choose to react towards in a way that does not help us.
Regardless of where we are in the divorce process, we must all consciously choose to be happy, to be grateful, and to find joy in the fact that we are here, we are alive, and we are being given a second chance in this life. We must choose internally to embrace the fact we are now becoming independent—not only financially and now having the ability to live on our terms — but now independent to rely on ourselves to be happy — something no outside forces should determine for us.
Exercise — Discover your internal happiness.
It may have been years — if at all — that we have looked within ourselves to find a happiness that does not rely on external factors. It may seem overwhelming and impossible, especially when we are stressed-out and grieving. But it does not have to be. Take a look at the easy exercise below, with examples to get you started.
Step 1: Name the things you have relied on to be happy. Some of my own examples are below if you need to get started.
A certain number in my bank account will make me happy.
Being in a relationship with a man who treats me right will make me happy.
Step 2: Flip the script. Acknowledge how external ideas may have painted an illusion for you that your strong, kick-ass self actually doesn’t need. Then turn that idea inwards—making yourself responsible. Take a look at my own examples!
Now that I think of it, whenever I have been more financially secure, that did not actually determine my happiness. I remember still feeling unsatisfied with certain things in my life. So maybe it’s not the money that determines my happiness. Today, I will start making an effort to not focus on money as a key determiner of my happiness. Instead, I will start to acknowledge all the simple, little things that I am joyful about, such as snuggling with my dog, walking by the old row-houses in my neighborhood, and being grateful that I have a roof over my head and good food to eat. These simple things may not be much, but they are just what I need.
No relationship in the world is going to make me happy if I do not love myself and treat myself right. From now on, I am going to focus on myself and work on myself. I need to start putting myself first—speaking up for myself, taking better care of myself, and finding joy in being alone. I choose to enjoy this new journey of loving myself — the greatest love story a person can have.
Step 3: Whenever you are triggered and thinking that you need something external to make you happy, do this exercise.
Do it often. And the more you practice finding internal happiness, the more your life becomes filled with gratitude, not needing to rely on some outside factor you cannot control to make you happy. You are strong enough to find that within yourself.