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Find Your Way Back to Happiness with a Chronic Illness

Find Your Way Back to Happiness with a Chronic Illness |

*Note from A Chronic Voice: As Lisa demonstrates in this post, we can glean inspiration and insight from many things in life, even if they may seem irrelevant or unrelated. I do believe that knowledge gained is never wasted. It expands our capacity for understanding, and often helps with problem solving in other areas of our lives. Here Lisa shares with us some strategies she learned from a book about career, yet are applicable to the management of life with chronic illnesses. Read on to find out more about it, and how it brings her feelings of happiness and success.

*This post contains affiliate links. It will not cost you anything to click on them, but I will get a small referral fee from any purchase, which will be used to maintain this blog. Thank you!

In Search of Lost Happiness

When I first became sick with a chronic illness my life seemed to stop. Everything, or so it seemed, that I loved vanished in an instant. Adventures with my friends, dancing late into the night, hard-core workouts by day…I felt like I had lost myself. At the same time, I felt like I was drowning in a pool of life’s daily tasks that were quickly piling up on me.

The one thing I knew was that it was up to me to change what I could, to find the pockets of happiness from my old life that still existed and if I wanted to continue to live a happy life I had to find new opportunities for happiness to replace the ones I had lost.

A Life Strategy Gleaned from a Book

However, before I could focus on the positive, I felt I had to get rid of these new feelings of becoming overwhelmed all the time. With limited energy, even the smallest of tasks started to pile up on me and quickly became a long to do list that haunted me day in and out. In my most cynical times, the list almost seemed to mock me. “Ha ha…look how far behind you are. You’ll never catch up now!” That’s when I decided enough was enough!

Luckily, a friend introduced me to the book, “The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work.” Now you might be thinking – work?? How is a book about work going to help me when I’m stuck at home struggling to sort through my mail or do a load of laundry? That’s the beauty of the book – while its title is focused on increasing success and performance at work, there’s not a single principle in it that cannot be applied to life with a chronic illness.

To illustrate this, I want to share with you the one I found to be most successful for me in this regard. This strategy helped me tackle those unending waves of feeling overwhelmed any time a new task was put on my plate.

What Exactly is ‘The Zorro Circle’?

The Happiness Advantage discusses the Zorro principle. It shares how Zorro did not start out as a world-renown swordsman. At one time he wasn’t a famous swordsman at all but rather a man with very little in his life and many hardships. So how did he grow beyond his limitations, in this case, advance his sword fighting skills? The key to his success was having a circle drawn in the dirt, with him in the middle. He was only allowed to fight and eventually conquer what was in that small circle. As he progressed, the circle widened. Eventually he became Zorro, with a circle as wide as can be and the character we’ve all come to know.

Okay…reality check time! At times we can’t even get off our couch let alone participate in swordsmanship so how does this Zorro story apply to us? The key to his success, and ours, is that very basic principle of drawing a circle in the dirt. In short, we must isolate and conquer.

Isolate and Conquer

So how do we do that? Here’s an example where I had to draw one of my Zorro circles. I was referred to a specialist. Sound familiar? As you all know, with that simple referral comes scheduling the appointment, figuring out how to get records released, finding out if the provider is in network, and on and on. Yikes – it’s exhausting thinking about all these steps.

In moments like these, I need to stop and draw my Zorro circle. I order all these tasks and commit to accomplishing just one of them in a specific time frame. I remove from my mind all related and unrelated tasks; just focusing solely on the one at hand. Silly or not, when I achieve that step, I feel happy and successful! I then widen my circle…just a bit…and set a time frame for my next step and so on. Before you know it, my insurmountable, overwhelming obstacle, is overcome! Success!

You will be amazed at how many tasks the Zorro principle applies to in our daily lives – whether it’s vacuuming the house, doing laundry or making a grocery list, each of these tasks can be broken down into smaller segments. In other words, into its own circle. Start small and build from there. And remember, isolate and conquer! (Why didn’t I think to do this before I got sick too???)

Joy Can be Found in All Moments, Not Just the Fun Times

Admittedly, the reason I started with this strategy was that I felt that I couldn’t find happiness until I figured out a way to overcome these obstacles that were piling up and interfering with my ability to focus on positive, fun opportunities. However, the success I found with accomplishing each of my obstacles, that in and of itself brought me feelings of happiness and success.

While I was buried in the midst of my illness, I clearly had forgotten that joy can be found not just in fun, light moments, but also in achieving what one once thought they couldn’t achieve. Living with a chronic illness often makes what once was possible seem impossible. The Zorro strategy (isolate and conquer!) reminded me how rewarding overcoming big and small hardships can be. Try it – I think you will be surprised at the results!

*Note: This post is meant for educational purposes, and is not to be substituted for medical advice. Please consult your own doctor before changing or adding new treatment protocols.

Read More: Are You a Capable Person? What Does That Even Mean?

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The Zorro Circle strategy from "The Happiness Advantage" taught Lisa how to isolate and conquer, in order to succeed and manage life with chronic illnesses. ////////// chronic life / spoonie / invisible illness / life strategy / life lessons #pacing #spoonielife #chronicpain

The Zorro Circle strategy from "The Happiness Advantage" taught Lisa how to isolate and conquer, in order to succeed and manage life with chronic illnesses. ////////// chronic life / spoonie / invisible illness / life strategy / life lessons #pacing #spoonielife #chronicpain

Contributor Bio

Lisa M. Alioto profile pic

Lisa M. Alioto is a lawyer, career coach, and Myalgic Encephalomyelitis warrior with a strong belief in the power of positivity! She primarily focuses on writing articles about ME, along with invisible and chronic illnesses in general, with the goal of increasing awareness and providing hope, help and support. She is also the Vice President of the MN ME/CFS Alliance. Find her here: Facebook & Twitter.

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October 16, 2018 08:09

I love this idea♡ and what memories the word Zorro brought back! When I was a young girl, maybe 8 or 9, I LOVED Zorro! Lol!
I think that “love” is going to help me to remember to practice using your Zorro Circle Guide! I get SO overwhelmed at times by the things I need to do. Simple things! I’m no longer able to work, so the things I do are pretty basic, yet, still overwhelming. (After 7 years with an actual dx of Fibromyalgia, I still find this sad)
Visualizing an actual circle to help me tackle one thing at a time, GUILT FREE?! How extremely freeing will that be?!!
Thank you so much for this♡

Sheryl Chan
October 16, 2018 22:07
Reply to  Debbie

Haha! That’s good to know we have a Zorro fan (and therefore of this article, ha!) 😉 Lisa would be delighted to know, I’m sure! 🙂 Let us know how this method works out for you, I’d be interested to know! xx

September 19, 2018 13:05

This is one of the most insight blog and blog posts. I had never heard of Zorro principle. It’s makes things so clear! It’s like Epiphany!!!

September 10, 2018 20:58

Yes to celebrating small accomplishments! And yes to finding lightness in everyday moments. Thank you. I like the Zorro principle application too.

Sheryl Chan
September 11, 2018 13:07
Reply to  Verla

Hi Verla, indeed, baby steps are often what takes us far! I am trying out the Zorro strategy this week and so far it’s been helpful 😉 x

September 10, 2018 20:37

It’s true, we always focus so much on the outcome. We wait to be happy till we accomplished something big. But we have to learn to find happiness in the process and every small step is an accomplishment. Great message!

Sheryl Chan
September 11, 2018 13:06
Reply to  Kirsten

Hi Kirsten, agreed. I’m very goal-oriented myself, but need to also learn to enjoy the process as it progresses 🙂 Life is after all, one big progression! Sending hugs!