It's not always easy: Coping tips from psychology

Commit to your goals. Throw your knapsack over the wall!

Tal_Ben_Shahar.tifTal Ben-Shahar is an Israeli psychologist who writes on the topics of positive psychology and leadership.  He has written best-selling books about happiness. While a professor at Harvard University, he created and taught the most popular course in Harvard’s history, Positive Psychology, a psychology course about fulfillment, happiness  and flourishing in life.

In his book, Happier, Dr. Ben-Shahar writes:

 Imagine your life as a journey. You are walking, knapsack on your back, making good progress, until suddenly you reach a brick wall that stands in the way of reaching your destination. What do you do? Do you turn around, avoid the challenge posed by the barrier? Or do you take the opposite approach and throw your knapsack over the wall, thus committing yourself to finding ways of getting through, around, or over the wall?”

knapsack - wallknapsack knapsack

Your knapsack has your important possessions in it.  You are unwilling to just leave them behind. You are determined to find a way to get to it.

Similarly, in life, if we are working to meet our goals, we need to commit to doing whatever is necessary to overcome any obstacles that get in our way. Once you make a commitment by throwing your knapsack, full of your hopes, goals and dreams, over the wall, you won’t be willing to walk away and just leave them on the other side.  How many times have you failed to reach a goal because you turned away from it when faced with some difficulty? How many times have you walked away from the things that are important to you  because you felt that it would be too difficult to find a way past a barrier. When you commit yourself to finding a way “through, around or over” a hardship, you are much more likely to achieve what you are hoping to.

knapsack - brick wall

Ben-Shahar goes on to say:

The importance of commitment cannot be overstated. If you believe you can get over the wall and make a commitment to doing so, you greatly increase your chances of it happening. Make a decision. Committing yourself whole-heartedly to that decision will turn it into the right decision for you. Go ahead. Throw your knapsack over the wall.

Figuring out a way to get around a barrier can be tough, even scary.  But courage is not about not having knapsack - stepping stonesfear, it’s about going ahead anyway. Approach difficult tasks, the brick walls that you encounter, as challenges to be mastered rather than as threats to be avoided. Look at them as stepping stones to success rather than as stumbling blocks that get in your way.

One way to increase your chances of overcoming the barrier is to making a public commitment to achieve your goal.  Announce your intention to accomplish your ambition to your friends, family, professors, mentors.  Put it in writing and display it in a prominent place. This can help you to feel the pressure needed to encourage you to stick with it. We usually feel obligated to follow through with something after we have made a public commitment, due to both the internal psychological pressure and the external social pressure.  According to what has been called the commitment and consistency principle, psychologists know that people like to feel that they are consistent with the things that they have previously said they will do, and feel a responsibility to show their consistency by standing by their original decision. Research in psychology has shown that making a public commitment actually leads to both short-term and long-term behavior change.

knapsack - public commitment

knapsack - regretResearchers have studied people nearing the end of their lives, and asked them about their biggest regrets. It has been found  that inaction is regretted more than action. People are much more likely to regret those things that they had not done than they were to regret what they had done. They regretted the things in their lives that they hadn’t done because they had believed that the hurdles were too great.

Don’t regret what you didn’t accomplish because you came up against a wall.  Throw your knapsack over the wall, so you will need to find a way to continue with your journey.  Commit to a goal that is personally important to you and take a giant step forward toward reaching the destination you have been aiming for.


Take care, and throw your knapsack over the wall. Make that commitment.

Rhonda Gilby

This blog is not a substitute for psychological counselling. If you do feel that you are currently in a situation in which you could use some additional help with issues that you are dealing with, please check out the resources presented here.