If you’re going through hell, keep going – here is how

14 minutes reading time

Rare are the people who don’t face some kind of an extreme catastrophe, collapse or agony at least once in their lifetime. Most people go through several of these kinds of crises in their lifetime.

Breakups, illnesses, accidents, violence, bankruptcy, natural disasters, there are so many ways how life can shake you to the core. Countless are the ways you can find yourself in hell.

Hell is a big part of how life on the Earth is designed. If you watch Discovery Channel or Animal Planet for a few hours, the hell part quickly becomes more than obvious (I have a lion playing with a half-dead zebra in mind).

With technology, laws, knowledge, education, morality, social systems and many other mechanisms, we try to build safety nets for as many people as possible to avoid life-threatening or devastating situations.

Nevertheless, finding yourself in hell several times in your lifetime is still a very likely reality. There are absolutely fewer physical threats than there were hundreds of years ago, but there are many other types of crisis you can find yourself in – from emotional to financial ones.

The main question is: what to do when you find yourself in such devastating situations? What can you do when going through hell?

The answer is quite simple. If you’re going through hell, keep going. Just make sure you’re going in the right direction. It’s that simple. And this blog post will teach you exactly how to achieve that. So buckle up and let’s learn how to travel through hell like a boss.

Have a mission bigger than problems

Possess a vision and mission stronger than any of the problems you face

First, if you find yourself in the middle of hell, you need an emotionally strong vision and mission that keeps you going day by day.

I’m not talking about some dreamy vision of how you will enjoy life on a beach doing nothing after the crisis goes away, but a vision that makes you fight for something greater than life. It’s a mission that makes your current hell only a temporary and obsolete situation.

Your mission can be fighting for your family, a positive change you want to make in the world, a legacy that you must leave behind, something God (or whoever) sent you on this planet to accomplish and so on.

It must be a strong positive cause and you must feel it in your heart and bones. Your mission must be something worth living and fighting for, no matter how hard life is.

When you have a clearly defined mission or the so-called powerful why that inspires you beyond any obstacle, you need a visual reminder that will keep your vision and mission alive on a daily basis.

You need something that you look at every morning (and when you encounter an obstacle) and that reminds you why you must persist. A photo of your family, a mission statement, thank you notes from people you helped or even the Bible.

When travelling through hell, you need to carry a life mission reminder with yourself, something that can ignite the fighting spirit you possess in a single second. It’s like an emblem that turns any wussy energies into a “never retreat, never surrender” mentality.

Goal Journey Map Template

Build a superior strategy to get yourself out of hell

Extremely rare are the people who get out of hell by pure luck. I’ve seen it, it can happen. People in financial troubles winning a lottery. People meeting a soulmate a few weeks after a nasty breakup. People having such good genes that they miraculously recover from a severe illness.

But I’ve also seen many people who hoped for a stroke of luck, and yet their prayers weren’t heard. I’ve seen people hoping so strongly for things to get better while drowning in shit and nothing happened. Soon their hope led to them giving up and then transforming into zombies.

I wouldn’t count only on luck when I find myself in hell. It’s much smarter to build a superior strategy that you follow in tough life situations. A bulletproof strategy that leads to the exit. And if luck knocks on your doors while you’re working hard to get yourself out of a shitty life situation, even better.

So, just after clarifying your life mission and your fuel (“why”) to work hard to get yourself out of hell, you need to build a superior strategy for how exactly you will achieve that.

You need to stop and think what would be the best strategy for you to reach the hell’s exit. You need to prepare something like a Goal Journey Map, with a detailed flexible step-by-step plan.

The things that you need to define in your “getting out of hell” strategy are:

  • Introspection and habit changes – Your firm decision about what you will stop doing (things that got you into hell) and what you will start doing (things that will get you out of hell). In other words, which habits you will change. With self-reflection, you must have a clear picture of what got you into the situation (did you do anything wrong, what have you missed, what you learned etc.) and make sure you don’t repeat the same mistakes.
  • Process phases – If you want to get yourself out of hell, you must always go through several consequential phases. These can be the emotional stages of overcoming failure (shock, denial, frustration, depression, experiment, decision, integration) or different types of objectives and general milestones you must meet to get yourself out of hell (getting educated, changing habits, finding new supportive people etc.).
  • Milestones and the process you will follow – This is the most important part of your strategy. Process is the hard work you put in daily to get yourself out of hell. Process are everyday small steps that lead you to great achievements, meeting milestones and finally reaching the exit. More about the process in the next section.
  • Supporting environment – You cannot succeed alone in life. In the same way, you cannot get out of hell all by yourself. You always need strong support from your environment – trends, people, communities, books etc. Thus, a very important part of the strategy of how to get out of hell is finding and building yourself the right support.
  • Innovations – Many times, you need to innovate your way out of hell. You need to think about all the creative moves you can play, how can you turn setbacks to your advantage, you need to find a new angle of seeing your shitty situation in a more positive way, and so on. In your strategy, you must brainstorm and define all the innovations you can think of that can help you get out of hell faster or with fewer resources.
  • Metrics – Metrics are an extremely important part of the strategy and process you follow. They show your progress, they give you hope that you can reach the exit with small daily steps, and they should inspire you to fight even harder. When you see the first few dollars saved, the first few kilograms lost, the first smile on your face, your wounds getting healed and so on, it all gives you additional motivation to continue fighting and digging yourself out of hell. There are many different metrics you can use to follow your progress.
  • Feedback mechanisms – Together with metrics, you also need a very well set feedback mechanism that gives you all the data from your environment (people, net worth, trends etc.) and your inner processes (feelings, thoughts, body measurements, etc.) to see if you are going in the right direction.
  • Branches and forks – Every strategy and plan must be as flexible as possible. Branches and forks are potential pivots or changes in your strategy that you can make when your progress stops. You can plan some of the potential pivots from the beginning (your plan B, C or Z) or you can brainstorm pivots when you encounter a new setback. A very important part of any plan is a decision about how you will stay flexible on the road out of hell.

It usually takes 1 – 2 days of calm, relaxed planning to prepare a superior strategy. But when you have the strategy, it gives you additional motivation and zeal to start with all the necessary hard work to get yourself out of burning hell.

Follow the process

Follow the process

As we said, there are two ways you can get yourself out of hell. One is getting lucky and the second is following a carefully orchestrated process based on your superior strategy. The best option is to get lucky while you follow the process.

The good news is that by following the process, you increase the probability of getting struck by luck, based on the saying the harder I work, the luckier I get. So, let’s focus now on the process and what it really means.

There are two categories you have to distinguish – first we have the final event, the goal you want to achieve. That’s getting yourself out of hell, in our case. And the second category is the process, the daily hard work you put in to get to the final event. The process are everyday steps that lead you towards the exit.

The process is what requires discipline, sacrifice, commitment and delayed gratification. The process is your sweat and tears, it’s the life’s test of whether you really want to get yourself out of hell or not.

Because if you really want something badly enough, you’ll always find a way; if not, you’ll find an excuse. And that leads us back to the powerful “why” that you must have.

The powerful why or mission is the fuel to follow the process. Here are a few simplified examples of what following the process means:

Event Process
Have a strict limit on Do every SINGLE day

From obesity to a healthy body

  • Phase 1: Exercise
  • Phase 2: Diet
  • Phase 3: Lifestyle changes
  • Overeating
  • Eating after 5pm
  • Sugar and simple carbs
  • Junk food
  • Alcohol
  • Cigarettes
  • Don’t eat for 16 hours
  • Exercise
  • Eat green veggies
  • Eat 3 healthy fatty foods
  • Eat 3 pieces of fruit
  • Drink water
  • Get enough sleep
From bankruptcy to the first$1,000

  • Phase 1: Costs under control
  • Phase 2: Increase earnings
  • Phase 3: Consolidate debt
  • Phase 4: Save first $1,000
  • Expenses – Use budgeting
  • Emotional spending
  • Cut all expenses
  • Find ways to save more money
  • Develop new competences
  • Contribute ideas in your company
  • Network
  • Ask for a raise

You can’t get yourself out of hell if you aren’t willing to follow a carefully orchestrated process, which usually means a big lifestyle change. Changing a lifestyle is hard, that’s why your vision and mission must be so great and powerful that you have no problem at all redesigning your life and habits.

Injured? Consult with your doctor or physiotherapist and prepare a plan for how you will get to your optimal performance. Then do all the exercises every day, take supplements, stretch, follow the plan, measure your progress and make sure you are surrounded with motivational people when you want to give up.

Nasty breakup? Reconnect with people, analyze what went wrong, read 10 books about intimate relationship management, vent on a piece of paper or in an online forum, and when you are ready, start dating again. Every breakup is an opportunity to connect with new people, you just need to see the steps to getting there with time.

Whatever your “hell” situation is, there were many people in a similar situation before. Find them, consult with them, read the books they’ve written. Get all the knowledge necessary to build the right strategy and then just follow the process. Follow the process, that must be one of your mantras.

When things get tough, just repeat to yourself: follow the process, stand up and fight.

Have realistic expectations

People usually overestimate what they can achieve in one month and underestimate what they can achieve in one or five years. Getting yourself out of hell is rarely a task that can be achieved in a week or one month. Usually it takes several months, if not years.

Don’t have unrealistic expectations for how fast you will reach the exit. Unrealistic expectations will kill your spirit and motivation. You must keep the long-term view. Getting out of hell is often a marathon or a long series of many sprints, not only one quick sprint. Small problems that can be solved quickly are not the same as being in hell.

  • It took me 3 years to get out of debt after I had to liquidate a VC fund during the 2008 financial crisis. Three whole years to get myself out of a really bad financial situation.
  • It’s the 4th year since I’ve started working on healing my shoulder/ulnar nerve injury. Things are better every year, but they are yet far from okay. It took me thousands of dollars and hundreds of hours of stretching and physiotherapy to even be able to exercise.
  • I’m working hard for the 5th year to lose weight and get rid of fat once and for all, since I was obese as a kid. There’s a lot of hard work, dedication and setbacks to face. After five years of hard work, I’m still not where I want to be. But I keep going.

Hell is one big place. The devil has many faces. Problems tend to multiply. Going through hell is a very tough and challenging adventure measured in months, if not years. It’s like doing the Ironman, Spartan Race and Ultra-Trail du Mont-Blanc over and over again.

But remember, soft times make soft people and tough times make strong people. So, when you get out of hell, you will be the real Iron Man.

Don't repeat the same mistakes

Make sure you are going in the right direction

If you’re going through hell, keep going. That’s true. But you also need to check in regular intervals if you are following the right direction. You don’t want to go in circles, it’s too hot in hell for such nonsense.

To make sure you go in the right direction, you need two things – (1) completely new habits and (2) a set of metrics that measure your progress.

Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result is the formal definition of insanity. It’s also the formula for doing circles in hell (if your bad habits got you there).

So, the first thing you have to do is make sure you don’t repeat your past mistakes – all the behavioral patterns that got you into hell. If you got yourself into hell based on several small stupid decisions or one big stupid decision or even both, you must stop making stupid decisions.

Nothing helps if you persist at things that don’t work.

Maybe wrong decisions got you into hell, maybe it was only bad luck. No matter the reason, you need a set of metrics that clearly show your progress and how you are taking baby steps towards the exit. Only things that are measured can be managed.

There are many different life metrics you can measure, depending on what kind of hell you are facing. There are also several things you want to achieve by having a clearly defined set of metrics:

  1. Knowing exactly where you are and having realistic expectations about how fast you can progress
  2. Making sure you’re going in the right direction
  3. Avoiding any fake feeling of progress
  4. Gaining additional motivation when you see that hard work pays off
  5. Having a compass on what to focus on and how to set priorities

Healthy habits, set of carefully set metrics and consistently following the process is what will get you out of hell.

Never retreat, never surrender, that is the law

When you have a carefully defined strategy, process and metrics to follow, the hard work begins. At this point, your mantra should be never retreat, never surrender. Every day, you just make sure that you perform all the actions that will get you one step closer to the hell’s exit.

When going through hell, there are always tough days, there are always days when you want to give up; especially when you have to take one step back, in order to take two steps forward later. You see other people who are luckier, you have to face unexpected setbacks and challenges, but you must never give up. Never ever give up.

Every time you encounter an unexpected setback, every time you lose motivation, you have to take a deep breath, adjust your strategy, stand up and keep fighting. Day by day, week by week, month by month, year by year, until you reach the exit point.

Sometimes you’ll slip back to your old habits and sometimes you will feel exhausted. Sometimes you’ll be fed up with all the shit you must overcome and sometimes you’ll cry about how unfair life is.

But you can always take a day or two off, forgive yourself for not being perfect, look at your past progress, and then stand up and go back to fighting. Every day is a new beginning and thus an opportunity to take one step closer to the exit doors.

Imagine Sisyphus Happy

Dig yourself out of hell only with creative, positive and assertive energies

Negative feelings can be a great motivator to find the way out of hell as quickly as possible. Fear makes you run extremely fast. Anger can make you fight with all your might. But here is one big catch – negative feelings always backfire.

Buddha said that holding on to anger (or any other negative emotion) is like grasping a hot coal with the intent of throwing it at someone else. In the end, you are the one who gets burned.

Of course, you are caught in extremely negative feelings when you find yourself in hell. There is almost nothing else but a pile of shit and negative feelings. But you must be very careful about what you do with all the negativity.

If you suppress it, you will get depressed, bitter and fatigued. If you express it in an unhealthy way (losing temper, trampling other people, doing extreme sports etc.), you will only hurt yourself and others.

Thus an important part of getting yourself out of hell is learning how to deal with all the negative emotions. If you don’t learn to deal with negative emotions, you can quickly out yourself in even worse situation.

Thus you must employ different psychological techniques, such as taking walks in nature, practicing proper breathing, writing a self-reflective journal, going to group or even individual therapies, or whatever else it takes to neutralize negative feelings. You have to build your future on positive emotions and actions, not on negative ones.

It’s easy to smile when you are in heaven. It’s hard to smile when you are in hell. But that’s exactly what builds character. Imagine Sisyphus happy.

Focus on the positives and manage your mind properly

Much like you must properly manage your emotions, so you must properly manage your mind in tough life situations. When you are in hell, cognitive distortions tend to pile up.

It’s simply too hot to think straight. You often only see the negative things and consequently you grant your mind the permission to take you to the darkest corners in hell. You don’t want that to happen, you want to march towards the exit, not into even darker corners.

That means you have to even more consistently manage your mind. From doing emotional accounting and cognitive reframing exercises to focusing on all the positive things and things you are grateful for as well as employing optimal thinking and the abundance mindset.

These are all extremely useful mind exercises when you find yourself in hell. They are your core survival tools that help you not go insane and completely lose your mind when the atmosphere gets too hot.

Some things need time to heal

In general, there are two types of hell. One type of hell are the situations that only get worse if you do nothing (bankruptcy, obesity etc.). The second type of hell are the situations where only time is the real healer (injuries, breakups, loss of dear ones etc.).

This second type of hell carries a special life lesson, which is the following: Many things are way out of your control and you must learn to accept them.

In many life situations and especially in relationships, there is nothing you can do to improve the shitty situation. In such cases your strategy shouldn’t be to fight, but to surrender.

You can only reframe how you see the situation and/or actively grieve until all the negative feelings pass by. In some cases, only time can get you out of hell. It’s something all human beings must accept.

When you are neck deep in shit, don’t let your head down.

If you’re going through hell, keep going

If you’re going through hell, keep going – The guide summary

Hope is not a strategy. Giving up won’t get you anywhere. Drowning in self-pity won’t solve your problems. There are no miracles on the horizon. You might have to let some things go, you might have to say “f*ck it” to release some tension, but at the same time you have to stand up and fight (or surrender is some cases).

Now you have the exact steps for what to do when you find yourself in the middle of hell:

  1. Have a vision and mission that is stronger than any obstacle on your way out of hell.
  2. Build a superior strategy of how you will get to the exit point.
  3. Every day, follow the process and have realistic expectations about how long it will take to reach the exit.
  4. Define a set of metrics that will clearly show your progress, and be proud of every step forward.
  5. Smile and enjoy all the warmth hell provides – learn to transform negative energies into a healthy assertive and fighting spirit. Think of the peaceful warrior mentality.
  6. Don’t let your mind take you to even darker places in hell. Manage your mind properly.
  7. Make sure you never retreat and never surrender, keep on fighting every day. And remember: some situations only get worse if you do nothing, while others demand from you to actively grieve and let go.

Good luck on your journey!

About the author

Consulting and management coaching

Blaž Kos has managed venture capital investments over the past 12 years and participated in the development of the start-up ecosystem in the region. Today, he advises companies on growth strategies, process optimization, the introduction of lean agile methods and the digitalization of business. In addition to the Slovenian blog, he also writes an English blog, which was selected among the 50 best bloggers in the world in the category of personal and business growth.
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