Rosemary Lichtman, Ph.D. and Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D.


Remember playing car-racing games at the arcade, trying to stay on the virtual road while going as fast as you can? In those videos, sharp curves keep switching and obstacles suddenly appear, causing you to crash and burn if your reactions aren’t fast enough.


It may be fun to play a game, but what about when life itself mirrors this wild ride? Whether you're actually on a dangerous road or navigating the twists and turns of life, you don't always get advance warning of the risks ahead. When these do occur, they can put your carefully orchestrated plans in jeopardy.


Do these unforeseen hazards sound familiar? You've just gotten your finances under control when you bite down on a hard candy and break a tooth. How will you fit the cost of a crown into your budget now? Or you've worked hard to make your new exercise routine a habit but, over-doing it, you tear a muscle that will take months to heal. So now you're back on the couch, trying to recover. And the diet you carefully followed after the holidays was derailed with the arrival of your weekend guests. Will you be able to get back on track once they leave?


If you find yourself in the midst of a constant stream of challenges that threaten to overwhelm you, you may be looking to tone down the level of your emotions and reactions. Here are some ways to begin:  


Give up the illusion of control. If you're a sandwiched boomer, you may have already noticed you don't have control over how your growing children or aging parents behave. Juggling work and family, do you still hang on to the belief that you can determine the way they act? It's time to let go of unrealistic expectations and the idea that you can create a perfect outcome. What you can change is how you react to what comes your way. Focus on looking inside as you shift to more positive emotions. And turn the challenges into a time for growth.


Relinquish the guilt. Do you blame yourself when things don't turn out the way you expect? Are you having trouble maintaining a balance between work and family or your partner's needs and your own? Try not to beat yourself up for your choices - learn from them. Instead of dwelling on mistakes, forgive yourself, let go of negative feelings, regroup and try something else. You're doing the best you can, so give yourself some credit and ease up. After all, you're human and deserve another chance. Friends will give you perspective as you share your feelings and concerns.


Act as if you’re committed. Make a plan outlining the objectives you need to meet in order to accomplish realistic goals. You're more likely to succeed when you’re optimistic and enthusiastic about working hard to bring your aspirations to reality. For motivation, give yourself reinforcements along the way. Draw on your strengths - both personal and spiritual - as you act to break through barriers. Use all the support and resources available to bolster your own efforts.  


Have a Plan B ready. Your path may not be a straight line but you don't have to feel defeated by slip-ups if you've worked out a contingency plan ahead of time. Take the opportunity early on to brainstorm novel ways of reaching your goal and continue to refine your strategies as you learn from your mistakes. Be flexible. When your reactions aren’t set in stone, you can improvise as you discover what works best and then modify your behavior based on the feedback you get.


There may be limits to what you can accomplish when threats materialize, but give yourself permission to begin the process without expecting perfect results. You'll develop resiliency as you meet the challenges head on and turn your setbacks into opportunities.


© 2013, Her Mentor Center


Rosemary Lichtman, Ph.D. and Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D. are consultants in family dynamics. If you're coping with marital stress, acting out teens, aging parents, boomerang kids or difficult daughters-in-law, they have solutions for you. Visit their blog and website,, to subscribe to their free newsletter, "Stepping Stones," and download complimentary eBooks, "Courage and Lessons Learned: Reaching for Your Goals" and "Taking Control of Stress in a Financial Storm."

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