One of the concepts that has really helped me (both as a teacher and through life in general) is the concept of impermanence.
I don’t enjoy exercise, but setting a clear end goal definitely helps me keep going. While I’m exercising, I’m often out of breath, tired, and aching. So counting down to my last set or my last few minutes reminds me that those feelings won’t last.
However, this is something that I also try to keep in mind when things are good as well. I’ve found that if I’m not deliberate about paying attention to the moments of delight that cross my path, I feel like I blink and the day has slipped by. I’ve brushed my teeth and I’m looking at my plans for tomorrow and wondering where today went. Remembering to notice and appreciate joy when I experience it makes that experience more vivid, and easier to call back in my memory once it’s gone.
This also helps me to become more aware of trends. Patterns. Yes, I want to persevere through difficult situations, but I also need to be aware that I am a human being and I have limits. When I pay attention, I may notice that there is something in my life that is consistently causing me distress. And if I notice it, I can explore why that happens, and I can choose how I’m going to respond to that. Maybe it’s something that I can change. Or, maybe it causes me difficulty, but it’s something that’s connected to things that bring me joy, and maybe — hopefully! — that more than outweighs the difficulty.
Or maybe it’s something that is not helping me, and it would be best to let go of it. Maybe it’s a hobby that I used to enjoy but that I’ve grown away from and now feels more like an obligation. Maybe it’s a friendship with someone whose interests have diverged from mine. Maybe it’s a responsibility that isn’t really fulfilling anyone’s needs (including mine). Maybe it’s just something that has become a routine, even though it isn’t really necessary and doesn’t serve any particular purpose.
Our culture celebrates “grit.” Pundits claim it’s the key to success. It has its own television channel and video game. Poets exhort us, “Rest, if you must, but don’t you quit.” Gym rats, coaches, and drill sergeants shout, “No pain, no gain!” And well-meaning friends attempt to reassure us that if we just (stay positive, try harder, you can do it, give it another shot, keep going, have faith, hang in there, stay strong … insert whatever other tired phrase fits) that things are sure to work out. (Have you tried essential oils?)
But the truth is that sometimes giving up is actually the best option. The catch is that word “sometimes.” Because sometimes, it’s not! So it’s important to pay attention to our selves and our situations, both of which are continually changing, so that we can effectively decide whether it’s better to hold on or to let go.
Letting go of things can be difficult, but it’s healthy. It’s an acknowledgement that who we are isn’t the same as who we use to be. And that’s normal. Change is constant and universal; it’s not just a part of life but an unavoidable part of existence.
Acknowledging change in ourselves doesn’t have to involve any disrespect to the person we used to be. I mean, maybe we’ve become a better person; I hope I have! But at the same time, if I hadn’t been that person, I wouldn’t have become who I am now. Being the person I was has brought me to the person I am. And I’m grateful to my former self for doing that.