It’s the phone call you don’t want. Its the word you were dreading. It’s the situation you didn’t ask for but were just handed. You just got some bad news and you feel like you just got punched in the gut.
We all have had our share of bad news. Some more extreme than others. Some more often than others. But there is no escaping this life without having to deal with dreaded circumstances along the way. I’d like to share a practice that has helped me walk through my difficult times.
Practice is an interesting word. You usually think of athletes or musicians practicing, but the same is said of doctors and lawyers who practice medicine or law. I like the idea of the basketball player practicing free throws, but do I like the idea of my doctor practicing on me as he removes my thyroid?
Practicing is the repetitive, recurrent action or skill applied to a particular discipline in order to improve or develop proficiency. The basketball player practices free throws to be more likely to make them in important game situations. And the more surgeries the doctor performs, the better she will become. The old saying is true in any field:
Practice makes perfect.
And the single most important practice that I have engaged in as I face bad news is the practice of gratitude. Which might sound like the dumbest advice ever, but let me explain
Gratitude is not about giving thanks for the bad news, being thankful for the cancer, or for the car accident. We are never thankful for travesties. No one wants to lose a loved one or lose a limb or good health. Bad news is bad. But we can never let it lead the way.
The most visceral, immediate and natural response to bad news is anger. Anger is that feeling that alerts us to when something is severely wrong. Anger is an important emotion, but it is also a deceptive one.
Anger is a better beacon than a guide. We do well to pay attention to its signal, but we shouldn’t trust it to lead us forward. Action based in anger won’t end up anywhere good. Anger will try and convince you to put a hole in the wall with your fist, or finish of that bottle of whiskey by yourself. These are not good solutions to assuage anger.
Take note of anger, just don’t obey what it tells you.
Once anger is acknowledged, turn to a more trustworthy practice: Gratitude. Anger and gratitude don’t play well together. They are like oil and water. They don’t mix. As you move into a mindset of gratitude, anger will decide to leave the room.
Too often gratitude shows up too late, after the fact. Then you end up regretting not telling the loved one how much they meant to you, or taking note of the joy you deeply experienced because of them. The practice of gratitude is the same as the basketball player practicing free throws. You spend time doing it before you need it, before its too late.
Again, gratitude doesn’t mean you are thankful for the bad news. It does mean you find all the other things for which you are thankful. And when you count your blessings, you find you are much more wealthy than you ever realized.