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How to Improve from Bad to Better
Easy come, easy go, but steady diligence pays off (Proverbs 13: 11 MSG).
The mistake we often make when we are in bad situations is that we try to make one step up from bad to better; but that is not feasible in the regular scheme of things. Here's why.
On the rung of the progress ladder, there is a good step between bad and better. To stand on the bad step and call for better is like wanting to jump upward from the first floor to the third floor of a building without passing by the second. That jump will remain a fantasy; it will not happen.
Good is the link between bad and better, and until we can recognize and appreciate the good in our bad situation, we are not likely to reach better. Here are two examples:
- A man’s wife abandons him and he becomes desperately lonely (that’s bad). He can invite the first gold digger who preys on his loneliness to share his bad life, and hope that her companionship will make his life better; or he can step up from bad to good by seeking healing for his emotional hurt and making himself ready for a better relationship.
- An unemployed woman falls into a bad financial situation. She can borrow money in an attempt to make it better; or she can step up from bad to good by adjusting to a less expensive lifestyle, and in the process learn better saving habits.
The quick solution is likely to take the situation backward from bad to worse. The challenge is in finding and embracing a good perspective on the bad, then celebrating the good until it turns into better. There are three steps altogether.
Step One: Isolate the Bad
No situation is all bad. Identify the bad part, not to focus on it but to deactivate it so that it does not overwhelm and cripple the whole system—body and mind.
In the situation with the abandoned husband, an honest inward search might help him discover the specific factor that is threatening to change his life in a negative way.
The bad part may be his bruised ego—having to face the truth that his wife left him because she preferred someone else or because she felt unsatisfied in the relationship. He can prevent this bad from getting worse by reflecting on his contribution to his dilemma and getting help to remedy his faults; or by practicing humility, asking the wife’s forgiveness and working on reconciliation.
He may decide that the bad part is having unmet needs—physical, social or emotional. He faces the reality that his wife is not coming home, and he learns to shift his focus from satisfying to controlling his desires. Determining what’s bad makes it easier to prevent the bad from getting worse.
The Serenity Prayer sets the right attitude for people in all kinds of bad situation. “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference” (Reinhold Niebuhr). When the bad falls into the category of “things I cannot change,” change the perspective and see the good in it.
Step Two: Discover the Good in the Bad
No matter how dark and frustrating our situation might be, it is our responsibility to lay the foundation for better, by embracing the good in our circumstances. The preparation is a mental exercise which calls for faith and focus. It requires a sense of purpose. It is the most challenging in the self-help process from bad to better, and it is absolutely necessary.
Many people can identify with the woman in the bad financial situation. Rather than sit in the darkness dreaming of how much worse it can become, we can open the window and view the good in our circumstances. Here are five considerations to begin with:
- (1) We have options on how to spend our morning hours: sleep in, catch up on our reading or writing, or begin the habit of an early morning walk.
- (2) Our creativity surfaces and we discover new ways to live on a smaller budget because we are determined to survive.
- (3) We have time to refresh the skills we have but never used on the job.
- (4) We have the opportunity to pursue job positions better than those we left.
- (5) Our circumstances may extract enough humility to have us ask for favors; in the process of relating our stories, we hear other people’s struggles and realize how blessed we are.
Good fortunes come with every new situation. When we embrace them, we develop gratitude and expectation. We learn to enjoy life as is. Our positive attitude and demeanor make us desirable, and we attract favors which strengthen our conviction that life is good. At that point, it makes sense to expect that a good life can become better.
Step Three: Celebrate the Good
Pollyanna is the forever-happy character in the Eleanor H. Porter novel (1913) also named Pollyanna. When Pollyanna temporarily lost the use of her legs, she was unable to find the good in her bedridden situation. Only then, did the community let her know that her continual spirit of happiness had changed their lives positively. The good had gone unmentioned, causing Pollyanna to doubt whether she had done any good at all. When they spoke about it, they actually experienced it.
How many good things go unnoticed? How many good things happen to us which we never mention, let alone celebrate? We promote whatever we think about and share in our discussions with one another. When we talk about the good in our bad situations, we influence other people to do the same. We can only spread good so far, and for so long before it boomerangs; and it is a universal law that we reap more than what we sow. More good is better.
- (1) Think of a bad situation in your life right now.
- (2) Isolate the bad and devise a plan to disable it.
- (3) Write five good factors which you can see in your bad situation.
- (4) Think of three people with whom you can discuss the good.
The process from bad to better is helped or hindered by our personal perspective. We can choose to go through life physically crippled, emotionally drained, or spiritually confused because of one bad factor in a situation. Or we can isolate the bad factor, sabotage its influence and move forward, focusing on the good that remains. Appreciating and promoting the good eventually leads to better and beyond.