Have you ever struggled in your life? I know I have. In fact, I had a huge struggle just this week (more on that in a moment!).

No one’s life can be wonderful all the time. We all have ups and downs, even if our downs are usually hidden from public sight.

But it’s the way you handle the tough times that shows your true character and determines how rich a life you have.

How Do You Handle Your Struggles?

The thing about times of struggle is that they have a strong gravitational pull. If you’re not careful, the struggle will suck you in like a black hole.

Before you know it, you’re wallowing in pity, negative energy and everything else that comes with the struggle mindset without realizing until it’s too late. It’s easy to get into the struggle mindset and stay there but much harder to get out.

The other way to look at your struggles is as life’s way of building character. This allows you to look for the learning opportunity and even the positive in the situation.

“When our brains constantly scan for and focus on the positive, we profit from three of the most important tools available to us: happiness, gratitude and optimism.”
– Shawn Achor

And as Kelly Clarkson’s song goes, “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”. The trick is to remember this when you’re in the midst of struggle and before you go down the slippery slope of feeling sorry for yourself.

My Struggle on the Inca Trail

This week, I had a chance to practice looking at a struggle as a way to build character. It was during my “bucket list” trip to Peru.

We were about 2 ½ hours into our day-long hike on the Inca Trail to the Sun Gate at Machu Picchu when I started feeling tired, weak and nauseous.

We were at high altitude and I hadn’t ever hiked for more than 2 hours. My heart was pounding from the effort and I had to take breaks every few minutes. The stone stairs were steep. Every step felt hard.

Well into my struggle, I started crying. Now, I pride myself on being fit and strong, but this hike made me feel old and out of shape. I was feeling pretty sorry for myself.

Worst of all, I was the “weak link” holding back my daughter (who would have been able to run up the mountain while carrying our backpack) and our guide from a pace that would have gotten them to the Sun Gate hours earlier.

The Gift of Gratitude

That’s when my daughter snapped me out of my funk by reminding me that I am fit at sea level, but this is 9,000 feet up, and our guide encouraged me to rest for a while and go at my own pace.

That was the “wake up” I needed. Suddenly, I remembered the power of my daily gratitude practice.

As we hiked, I started counting all the people and things I was grateful for. One gratitude for every 5-6 steps, including:

  • My daughter for coming with me on this “bucket list” trip
  • My daughter for carrying the backpack the whole way
  • My team members for taking care of things while I’m away
  • Our guide to show us the path
  • The hiking boots that kept me on firm footing
  • Being able to walk
  • The weather being sunny (even though we’re here during rainy season)

The list of gratitude went on, and it made me feel hopeful and optimistic.

“Gratitude has been proven to be a significant cause of positive outcomes”
– Shawn Achor

Eventually, we made it to the famous Sun Gate where we saw the magnificent Citadel at Machu Picchu, bathed in sunlight, and experienced the ancient spiritual magic of this place as the wind blew through the surrounding mountains to welcome us.

That made the struggle totally worth it.

We even got there in time for the sun to be shining on the Citadel, lighting it up like a jewel.

Bank the Good Times

Standing up on the mountain, feeling the wind and the sun and looking down on the sparkling Citadel, I knew it was a positive moment in my life. A moment that I could draw on in the future when I needed something to be grateful for.

So I “banked” that moment by taking an image of it in my mind’s eye. One that I’ll be able to call on whenever I need to.

When you have your “ups” and positive moments, treasure them in the moment and also capture them so you can lean on them when you’re struggling.

And whenever you’re in the struggle mindset, remember to shift to gratitude and don’t be afraid to do it in a more intensive way!

What Are You Grateful For?

Whether things are going well or you’re struggling, make room for gratitude in your life. It helps put things into perspective and puts you in a more productive frame of mind.

What are the three things you’re most grateful for right now?

For me, it’s gratitude for my health, being able to do work I love, and having a wonderful family and team who support me in everything I do.

And now, I’d love to hear from you!