Essentially, the first dart that hits us is an event, situation, or difficulty that is unavoidable. It could be a loss, death, illness – you name it - anything that is ultimately out of our control but happens to us anyway, because life is life.
And isn’t this just how it is? It’s like the reel that begins to spin in our minds the second things don’t go according to plan. Our thoughts begin taking us into a future that is most desperate and fearsome. It could be as simple as a time when you’re inserted your foot in your mouth and offended someone. Suddenly, we have a million thoughts cycling through our heads: What if I did that differently? Oh gosh they hate me! I’m an awful person! What if they won’t ever work with me again? What if I run into them in the hall? Suddenly, one experience has grown into a full-blown catastrophe and none of those fears is really an accurate prediction of how things will unfold. It’s all in our heads. And worse yet, those thoughts have a significant impact on our bodies. These later darts are what makes us stressed out, burned out, and sick.
So what can we do about this?
Well, one obvious answer is to start practicing meditation and mindfulness. I was a little skeptical about the positive impacts this would have on me, but all I can say is the proof is in the pudding. Try it – it may just surprise you, too!
But the key is not to ruminate. In meditation, you learn how to clear your mind and focus on breathing. When you go off course and your thoughts begin to intrude on that emptiness, you simply practice recognizing the thoughts for what they are, and then bring yourself gently back to your breathing. We can also practice this in other ways. If you’re feeling stuck on something you did or wished was different, we can recognize and acknowledge the feeling (disappointment, regret, loss). The key is not to let the snowball gather too much momentum until your thoughts become an avalanche of what-if’s.
During a meeting the other day, I was reminded of the power of recovery and repair. Someone told me, “We can always repair things.” And she wasn’t talking about a broken down car, either. She was talking about a professional relationship that had not gotten the attention it needed. If we were the one to throw the first dart, we also have the power to repair things. It may mean some humility and could take some time, but usually we can recover and repair situations so that we can get things back on track. An apology can also go a long way, but even better is taking some time to understand the impact on the other person.
If we’re the victim of a dart that life has thrown our way, we need to be careful that we don’t throw more at ourselves. Try not to resist what can’t be controlled. Make sure to give yourself time to grieve a loss. Acknowledge your fears of change. It’s okay to be with these painful feelings for a time. And it’s often when we don’t spend enough time with them (because we think we should have gotten over them already, moved on already, or don’t want to deal with them), that we do even more harm.
Take care of yourselves.