No matter how dark and difficult the place you find yourself, there are ways to change your life for the better. When we are faced with adversity, we sometimes forget how much choice we have. It might even seem as if choice has been taken out of the equation completely. After all, why would we choose to be in this dark and difficult place? Doesn’t the very fact that we met an obstacle mean that we don’t really have any control anyway?

To really get the most out of life, and to change your life for the better, you have to learn to differentiate between control and choice.

True control over the events of life is an impossibility. Life, by its very nature, will hand us a serving of difficulties – whatever it wants, whenever it wants, and however it wants. There is no amount of personal development that will give you control over things like death and other people’s behavior. When we try to control life – and inevitably fail – we are both unsuccessful and unhappy.

Choice, on the other hand, is something that we always have, even when we think that we do not. We have choice when we decide how we look at a situation, how we remember it, where we focus our attention, and how we shape our intentions. Even people experiencing the worst that life has to offer have reported that even in the darkest of times they still had choice.

In short, we do not have control over everything that life throws at us, but we have choice about how we respond to it.

Some of our greatest potential can be accessed when we recognize that we are at choice and we start making some changes to move our life in the direction that truly serves us.

There are two different categories of behavior that help you change your life for the better. The first is ongoing practices that you can do regularly and consistently to create positive change in your life. The second is about how you handle situations and how you can reframe a circumstance to move it in a more positive direction.

Ongoing tips to change your life for the better.

Learn what makes you happy: Truth be told, many of us never learn what really makes us happy, or even how to tell if something makes us happy at all. Yet, knowing what makes you happy is one of the most important skills for moving our life in the direction that we want it to go. If you are not sure what makes you happy, start to pay attention to how you feel as you do things. Do you feel good? Notice the sensations associated with feeling good so that you can more easily tell in the future. Rinse and repeat. Check out some of the ways to tell if something is not working for you by reading this article.

Do what makes you happy: Yes, it is that simple. When we do what makes us happy, we are happier. Sometimes people tell me they worry that doing what makes them happy means they’ll fall into a pattern of instant gratification and irresponsible behavior. And yes – sometimes what makes you happy in the moment might meet these qualifications, but, if you’re listening closely enough to yourself, you’ll realize that these behaviors rarely make you truly happy over time.

Learn what makes you healthy: Self-care is essential to a better life. Self-care is regularly and consistently doing things that take care of you. I am not talking crazy diets or intense regimens unless that is truly what you need. But, our perceptions and our ability to make decisions are intimately linked with how well our physical body is operating. Just as our physical body is influenced by our emotional well-being. Neglecting any part of ourselves makes it difficult to change our life for the better. Take some time to find out what really works for you in terms of keeping you healthy and it will support you every step of the way to a better life.

Do what makes you healthy: Enough said. You need to know what makes you healthy and then you need to take action on it.

Cultivate positive self-talk: Positive self-talk is a skill that finds its roots in compassion. When we develop this skill, we learn to take our own side and treat ourselves like the good person we aspire to be. Positive self-talk is not lying to one’s self or denying what it true. It is delivering the truth in a kind way and learning to fully support ourselves in the realm of our thoughts. Cultivating positive self-talk helps us develop other skills that allow us to shape our life in better ways and feel more at peace in each moment.

Cut out what you are tolerating: Realize when you are merely tolerating people, places, and things in your life. Living this way lets us slip further and further away from what will make our lives healthier and happier. Make a regular practice of identifying the large and small things that are no longer working and then let them go. This is will increase your sensitivity to your own needs and open you to the life you truly want.

Situational tips to change your life for the better.

The previous set of tips help us consistently step in the direction of a better life. You can practice them any time to help build your relationship with yourself and define what you want out of life. However, we are often looking for a way to make our life better when we are challenged by distressing circumstances. Here are some additional techniques to help you create positive change during challenging situations:

Think outside of the box: The solution is not in the problem itself. Many times when we are challenged we spend our time focusing on our pain or loss. We can productively interact with our reaction to a challenge by giving ourselves the space to have our feelings about whatever is going on. However, it is important to recognize that additional time spent trying to get back what we lost, or to change a circumstance to what we wanted it to be, will not bring us closer to our desire for a better life. We might believe that “If we could only [insert aspirational yet unrealistic description about a past event here]” then we would be happy again. The truth is we can be happy again by finding an alternative option that will work for us. While you’re brainstorming any and all alternatives, you may even land a next step that you’ll like even more than your last option. Some of the greatest leaps forward in our own happiness happen when life steers us away from what we thought we wanted towards something new that we discover we want even more.

Notice the places where the problem is not: When life gets challenging we can forget to see all that is still going right. We feel extremely overwhelmed and we can actually stop other areas of our life from thriving. So, when you start to say to yourself, “my life is a total mess!” – stop. Step back and take stock. Is it truly a total mess, or can you feel gratitude for how well some areas of your life are doing? Remember to step outside the current problem and consider it from within the folds of the good things in your life.

Remember what feels good is good: This is one of the ways that an ongoing practice of understanding and doing what makes you happy serves you during your most difficult times. If things are not working for you and you know what it feels like to be happy, then it is all the easier to find your way out of a bind. You just search for what makes you feel good and keep doing it and following it until you are in a better place, breadcrumb style. If you are looking for a way out of a challenging circumstance and you are not experienced in doing what makes you happy, you’ll find this a little more challenging, but not impossible. Ask yourself simply, “what would feel good to me right now?” Or, if I don’t like what is happening, “what is an alternative to this that I would like?” Remember to think outside the box. Don’t get stuck thinking that the thing you can’t have is the thing that would make you happy.

Take action but not from distress: It is so important to DO things to change your life and not to sit still if you want to see change. However, it takes a bit of practice to be able to take action that is productive rather than reactionary. Make sure the changes you are implementing are driven from your true and lasting needs and desires.

Make it manageable: You might need a total life overhaul, but doing it all at once is usually impossible and will probably leaving you feeling overwhelmed. Try picking an area of your life that you think will make the most difference and design changes in that area. Once you feel you have integrated those changes and seen some results try working in another area. Rinse and repeat.