As much as many of us wish that life was linear—like a video game, and once we level up, we’re there for good—life isn’t really like that. There are natural ebbs and flows of life, cycles and seasons that we go through, and lessons that we learn twice, three times, again and again. Sometimes life is great, sometimes it’s not.
Having just went through my own “ebb” phase when I felt like nothing I did was right and life was trying to overwhelm me, I know how frustrating it can be. But the phase of my life was not permanent, and as I tried to surrender to it and learn, I began to see that life was suddenly shifting the other way.
Learning how to navigate life’s ebbs and flows with flexibility and positivity is essential to having a healthy life satisfaction.
What are Ebbs and Flows?
Think of the ocean. When the tide comes in toward the beach, it’s called “flow” and when the tide goes away from the beach, it is called “ebb”. Our lives are full of these “ebbs and flows”, but when we’re talking about our lives, what exactly does that mean?
“Ebbs and flows” means that sometimes our life flows toward our hopes and dreams, and sometimes it flows away. In periods of flow, life is easy and full of meaning and movement. But when our life ebbs, we may be struggling against the current, fighting to get a grasp on what is important to us.
Most of us don’t have any problem with flow, but when ebb comes up and drags us under, we’re in struggle city.
You might be here now because your own life is in an “ebb” phase and you feel a little lost. Whenever tough times hit, it’s time to do some soul searching.
Because we often think of tough times as our life “regressing” or moving away from our goals. But in fact, often when we’re in an ebb stage of our life, it is a time for reflection, getting specific on our life goals and ultimate dreams. It’s a time for learning, listening, and trusting.
Another thing to consider is, are you moving through this ebb? As Winston Churchill said, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
If you find yourself in an ebb, don’t drop anchor! Don’t dig your heels in! Now is not the time to get stubborn.
Here are 4 great ways to navigate these ebbs and flows of life, particularly the “ebbs”.
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6 Ways to Navigate Life’s Ebbs and Flows
When we tackle these ebbs and flows, it helps us get through the tough times when we’re positive yet realistic and relaxed. It’s hard to do when you want to push and struggle. So do the deep dive into your life, right now, and go with the natural tide of your life.
1. Trust the universe
Trust that the ebb is there to teach you a lesson. When you’re feel lazy, unmotivated, sad, or when life isn’t what you want it to be, allow the current to take you.
If you’re a believer in god, this is where your faith comes in. Trust means that you have a firm belief that you can rely on god or the universe to get you where you ultimately want to be. If you don’t believe in a higher power, do you believe in yourself?
It can be hard to see the end result when you’re on a uphill climb, but you will reach a point when you will reach the top of the hill. Our lives happen in cycles. Remember that you’re not going to be in this struggle forever.
Let go and have faith.
2. Practice gratitude
When shit hits the fan, it can seem like your whole world is crumbling. But often, the crap in your life is localized. Maybe you’ve been struggling at work and you’re failing to make your boss happy. But how’s your home life?
When we allow our proverbial “shit” to seep into the good parts of our life, we’ve done it to ourselves.
Finding gratitude can be the missing link to keep your struggles in only one part of your life. “Gratitude” is the practice of intentional love and appreciation for the things in our lives. Maybe you’re deeply grateful for your health, your children, or even small things, like that cup of coffee in the morning, or a cool breeze in the springtime.
Finding gratitude can remind us that even when we’re struggling, there are things to be thankful for.
3. Don’t fight it
“Surrender” has become a powerful word in my life, and it just might to you as well. When we feel like we’re battling with our life, sometimes it’s best to lay down our swords.
I know this might seem counterintuitive, but when you surrender to a current, you’re able to see your situation more clearly. It’s like learning to surf. The surfing part is great, but getting back out there when the waves come to wash you under is exhausting! When you work with the water, you waste less energy, you get where you’re going faster, and it’s much more enjoyable!
It’s still hard work, you’re just not fighting with the water.
What in your life are you fighting with right now? How can you find a different path or work with your circumstances to get to where you’re going?
4. Accept that life is not permanent
Part of the beauty of life is that things have an end. How can we appreciate the joys in our life unless we are met with sadness from time to time?
I’ve said it before, but life is not linear, it’s cyclical. We travel through our lives in cycles, and eventually, yes, we will die.
What do you want to achieve before your life is over? If you were to die today, what kinds of things will you be leaving behind? A mess? Lots of money for your children? Memories?
It’s okay to not have the answer to these questions. And I don’t ask the question to inspire you to push to achieve all these things. I ask this question to allow you to metaphorically sit with your life and its impermanence and to think about the bigger picture.
5. Study your own psychology
If you’re a Type A person and you’re still struggling with the ideas of letting go, having faith, and practicing gratitude (because these are all passive things), then you’re in luck. Here’s an activity you can do while you’re in an “ebb” stage.
Do some soul-searching and ask yourself some questions. Now is the time to study your life. What put you in this position? What is giving you your struggles? When you stop to examine these things, you might be surprised where the new knowledge leads you.
Perhaps you didn’t realize just how much you hate your job. Perhaps you want to look for a new one, or maybe you want to start your own business. Maybe you realize that you want to move to a different city, or finally ditch your deadbeat husband.
Maybe you realized that a lot of the problems in your life were caused by bad things that happened in your childhood. And that’s okay, too.
It’s okay to make important decisions when you feel your life is struggling. You might just be pushed onto a new path: one with ease and delight, or passion and mystery.
6. Lean on the people you’re closest to
Fortunately, we do not live in a vacuum. The people you go through life with are presumably ones that you can trust and lean on in times of need.
When you’re going through tough times, it’s easy to push others away (whether to protect them or protect yourself) or to retreat to your mind to try to figure everything out. But as they say, two heads are better than one.
If you’re having a hard time finding gratitude, or accepting this challenging time of life, or figuring out what you can do to have an easier time, then perhaps it’s time to ask someone else what they think. It could be your mom, your partner, or a close friend. (Not your children though, unless they are adults. Children don’t have enough emotional knowledge or maturity to shoulder adult burdens.)
I firmly believe that we should not be fully independent. We are meant to go through life with others, with a community, and we are meant to rely on them when things get difficult. So let go of your “independence” and ask for help if you need it.
Our life ebbs and flows just like the sea. What can these things teach you about yourself and about the nature of life?
A lot, if we let them. If you find yourself in a tough time, know that it is not permanent. The tough time will end and you will be able to breathe again.
Rely on faith, rely on those around you, and take the time to learn more about yourself. You might be surprised at what you find.