Adversity causes some men to break, and others to break records. – William Arthur Ward
Life is Full of Adversity and Struggle
In the 1998 film Meet Joe Black, Brad Pitt plays the role of the Grim Reaper (Death) who takes over the body of an unsuspecting man in order to experience what it’s like to feel human. Part of that experience includes making a deal with Bill Parrish (played by Anthony Hopkins) where he graciously gives him a few extra days to live. In return, Bill must allow him into his life so that he can experience what it’s like to be human.
Towards the end of the film, Joe (Brad Pitt’s character) mentions that there are two certainties in life: Death and Taxes. I wanted to mention this because I would like to add another element to that list in the form of adversity.
Just as death and taxes are an unavoidable part of life, so is adversity. In fact, life is full of ups and downs, victories and struggles, and huge momentum shifts. This is just how life is, and adversity is a big part of that experience. It’s a part of the experience that many of us would ideally like to fast-forward. However, adversity doesn’t need to be a negative experience. In fact, dealing with adversity can become a very positive and nourishing experience that can lead to massive growth and development.
The problem with adversity is that most people never see it in a positive light. In fact, most see adversity as a sign that the world is out to get them. However, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
In many instances, adversity provides us with an opportunity to learn some tough lessons that can help us improve our life and circumstances moving forward. However, in order to see adversity in this way, we must first acknowledge some truths that might initially be a little difficult to stomach.
The Truth About Adversity
It is often said that it’s not what happens to us but how we respond to what happens that makes all the difference in the end. When it comes to facing adversity, this couldn’t be further from the truth.
When facing adversity it’s important to acknowledge that we always have the freedom to choose how we respond to people, events, and circumstances. We can respond in a very negative or limiting way, or we can choose to respond in a more optimal and productive way that can potentially open doors and windows of opportunity that we weren’t aware of before.
To dig even deeper; all of us have the freedom to choose our own beliefs, words, thoughts, and the attitude we bring into every situation. In fact, we also have freedom to choose the level of effort and determination we bring forth into every moment.
When you have a thought, this immediately triggers feelings. In fact, the internal dialogue you have with yourself manufactures your emotional experiences. Therefore if you think/talk negatively about a situation then this will typically cause you to feel stressed, fearful or overwhelmed. And this certainly has nothing to do with the situation, but rather everything to do with how you have interpreted the situation.
Given all this, it’s clear to see that how we handle adversity has nothing to do with what happens to us, but rather everything to do with the “kind of person” we bring into each situation. As such, it’s absolutely paramount that we accept full responsibility for the role we play in each moment. You are after all in the driver’s seat of your life, however, it’s easy to forget the power you have when you respond emotionally to our circumstances.
With that in mind, it’s important to acknowledge that the only thing that matters is:
How I see the obstacle I face…
How I respond to this adversity…
How I maintain my composure when facing adversity…
The story I tell myself about what is going on…
It essentially always comes down to the story you tell yourself. In fact, it is the story that will either empower you or deflate you emotionally; it is the story that will either help you move forward or hold you back; it is the story that will either open the doors to opportunity or send you into the pits of despair. Adversity has absolutely everything to do with the story! The story you tell yourself is what effectively determines your next steps moving forward.
When Adversity Strikes
When adversity strikes you must immediately let go of any expectations you may be holding onto. All the plans you put in place may suddenly not be viable anymore. Holding onto these plans and expecting that there is only one path toward your goal will not help you effectively deal with the situation at hand. In fact, resistance at this stage will immediately create internal conflict which will force you into a downward spiral into the pits of despair.
What you must do instead is immediately let go of any plans or expectations you had coming into this situation. To do this, acknowledge that:
I fully accept what has happened without resistance…
I accept that some things are out of my personal control…
No matter how well you plan ahead, things will often not go to plan. There will always be unexpected obstacles and setbacks along your path that will completely derail your efforts.
This is not the time to whinge, whine and complain about your situation. Success isn’t a straight line. In fact, the course that gets you from where you are to your desired goal will take many twists and turns. Very little might be under your direct control, and therefore nothing is really every predictable.
Fully accept the fact that right at this moment you are facing a “plot twist” along your journey. This plot twist is of course in the form of a setback of some kind that you must now deal with. Now, of course, you could just completely remove yourself from the situation and do nothing. Yes, you could do that, but typically doing nothing changes nothing. Worse still, doing nothing could actually make things worse. Keep that in mind when you’re frozen in time and too overwhelmed to deal with the problem at hand.
Right now, right here is your moment. This is your moment to do something meaningful, to stretch yourself, and to even act out of desperation to make things right. In fact, this state of desperation could be the catalyst that sparks your creativity and helps you move through this situation in an optimal way. However, this creativity will of course never come if your perspective of the problem BECOMES THE PROBLEM.
Just think about it. How you see the situation could, in fact, be the problem. If you see the setback as a negative experience then you are closing yourself from an alternate perspective of the situation. In fact, how you see the situation might be very different to how another person sees the situation. And because they see things differently than you, this allows them to respond to the setback in a more optimal and helpful way.
Now of course when it seems as though the world is conspiring against you, it’s difficult to think positively about your circumstances. And this is true. You must, therefore, take the time to step back from your circumstances in order to calm your emotions.
Take a moment to remove yourself from the situation. Now take a few deep breaths in and out and tell yourself:
I am calm and collected…
I can see things rationally…
I’m not attached to a specific outcome anymore…
I am open to the possibilities that may now exist…
Here you are acknowledging that you are in full control of your mental and emotional faculties. Moreover, you are acknowledging that you are open to the possibilities that there might be something here that you weren’t expecting that you could potentially take advantage of.
This is, of course, all well and good. However, it can be difficult to think this way when facing adversity. It’s typically difficult because of the stories we tell ourselves about the situation. As such, if you’re having trouble opening yourself up to the possibilities, then reflect on the story you are making up about these circumstances. Ask yourself:
What story am I telling myself about this?
Is it empowering me or hurting me?
If the story is hurting you from seeing the situation in a more positive light, then immediately get to work on changing your story. Yes, I do mean literally to change the story you are telling yourself. Tell yourself another story that is more empowering and meaningful that can help you work through this setback far more effectively. Only then will you see the problem in the most optimal light.
Now of course when we’re emotionally wrapped up in a situation it’s difficult to genuinely tell ourselves an empowering story that can help us deal with this situation most effectively. Changing our story requires a perspective shift. It requires you shift how you think about the situation. With that in mind, you might find it helpful to think about your setback in the following ways:
Failure today might have saved me from greater disaster tomorrow…
I haven’t chosen this, but I decide how it affects me…
When setbacks come, I must work twice as hard…
Every situation is an opportunity for me to act…
The challenge makes me a better person…
The obstacle is an advantage not a hindrance…
What matters is what I do with what happens…
What impedes me, also empowers me…
My efforts will determine my results…
Obstacles are the fuel for my ambition…
This sucks, but I will be okay…
These are just some of the ways you can think more optimally about your circumstances. In fact, thinking about your setback in this way will help you to effectively change the story you are telling yourself. And when you change your story, a world of possibilities will open up for you.
The final step of this process is, of course, to acknowledge that your setback is a problem that can be solved. Once you acknowledge this you can then effectively work on solving this problem. Ask yourself:
What went wrong?
What is the problem here?
What can be done to improve the situation?
What am I potentially missing that could be of value?
For a more detailed exploration of what it takes to work through problems more effectively, please read Overcoming Life’s Problems and Becoming More Resourceful.
The Value of Adversity
Facing adversity is typically never much fun, but as we’ve already discussed this, of course, depends on how we see the situation. But let’s just acknowledge the fact that adversity sucks and will always suck. It’s never fun, but it is a part of life and we must, therefore, learn to deal with it and make the most of the cards we are dealt. In this context let’s take a look at the value that adversity can bring to our lives.
For starters, adversity often challenges us in new ways, and challenges help us gain valuable experiences that we would typically not have been exposed to if we played things safe. And of course, this is of value for you because new experiences can help build and strengthen your character, which effectively helps you deal with even greater levels of adversity in the future. So in other words, adversity actually provides you with the opportunity to develop mental strength and resilience. But there is more…
Adversity provides you with the opportunity to practice challenging yourself in a new way; to practice patience, humility, and courage; to practice self-discipline; to practice becoming more resourceful, and so much more. In fact, above all else, adversity provides you with an opportunity to grow, develop and learn from the experience in ways that you never planned or imagined.
What can I learn from this experience?
Given what I now know, how can I do better next time?
And of course, as you grow and as you learn to think about the adversity you face in a more optimal way, new paths open up for you that can lead to breakthroughs and even new beginnings that you weren’t expecting.
Yes, it is certainly possible that you may not be able to successfully overcome some of the problems you face, however, this doesn’t necessarily mean that you have come to a dead end along your journey. What seems like a dead end might, in fact, be a perfect opportunity for a new beginning that can take you down a more advantageous path towards an even bigger and better goal.
Breaking down new paths in this way does, however, require personal initiative, a little creativity, and tenacity on your part. In fact, you must stubbornly acknowledge to yourself that:
I refuse to allow this to break me…
The attitude you bring to every situation matters. In fact, it matters above all else. With the right attitude in mind, you will be able to get through anything no matter how grim or dire your circumstances be. And of course, your attitude is reflected in the thoughts you allow yourself to dwell upon consistently while facing adversity. These thoughts, of course, manifest in internal dialogue, and this internal dialogue often comes in the form of the questions you persistently ask yourself.
The questions you ask yourself will either empower you or will weaken your resolve. Empowering questions are focused on solutions that help you move forward while weakening questions are focused on blame, regret, excuses and complaining. For instance, questions such as:
Why did this happen to me?
Why do I always make a mess of things?
Why didn’t I just do this earlier, then I wouldn’t be in this mess?
Why is it that I just can’t catch a break?
Why does it seem as though everyone is out to get me?
These are of course weakening questions that will get you absolutely nowhere. These are the types of questions you should avoid asking yourself at all costs. Instead, you should refocus your energies on asking more empowering questions that will move you closer to the desired outcome. For instance, you could ask yourself:
What are the benefits of this situation?
What’s the value in experiencing this setback?
What’s the opportunity here that I could take advantage of?
How can I turn things around and take advantage of this situation?
How can this help me move forward in a better way?
The first set of questions will typically throw you into an endless loop that will keep you stuck, while the second set of questions will typically open doors of new opportunity and insights that will unlock new paths that you can take full advantage of. But even if all that happens is that you learn from the experience, then asking these questions will have been worthwhile.
Taking Positive Action
So far up to this point, we have been mentally preparing ourselves for moments of adversity that we will inevitably experience. However, it’s now time to step out and tackle this problem head-on. Yes, it’s in fact time to take the necessary action to effectively overcome this setback once and for all. 🙂
Stay Focused and Mindful
When dealing with adversity it’s important to stay present and mindful of the moment. When we are present and mindful this naturally helps improve our focus, which subsequently allows us to gain more clarity about the situation at hand and about our possible options moving forward.
In addition to this, it’s important that we stay objective. Don’t cling on emotionally to a specific outcome, otherwise, you may not be able to see the situation clearly. Moreover, it’s also wise to stay self-aware of your thoughts and the feelings you bring forth into the situation. These thoughts and feelings can either help you or they can easily mislead you. Being self-aware will ensure that you always stay in control of your mental and emotional faculties.
All this essentially comes down to your ability to focus on how things really are and not on how you imagine or hope them to be. This distinction is important and will help you to effectively deal with the situation at hand.
Break Things Down
Facing adversity and setbacks can become rather overwhelming very quickly. These can often be unexpected circumstances that suddenly knock us off balance. While off balance we are unable to see things clearly and therefore cannot take decisive action that can help us move forward.
In order to get yourself “on-balance” once again, you must take charge of the situation. One way to do this is to turn adversity into a problem.
Turning adversity into a problem is helpful because when you are dealing with a problem, you are in the midst of handling something that comes with a solution. This immediately puts you in a very different frame-of-mind. You are no longer at the mercy of circumstance, and you are no longer tempted to play the victim card. Instead, you are empowered to solve this problem because you now see it in its proper perspective.
Given this, it’s time to get a little intimate with your problem by asking:
How could I break this down into a problem?
How could I present this problem in the form of a question?
What process must I follow in order to solve this problem?
What specifically do I control about this problem?
What part of this problem should I tackle first?
How will I tackle this part of the problem?
What’s the first action step I must take?
These questions lay down the foundations of the actions you will take that will help you solve this problem. In this way, you are able to begin building the momentum you need to move through this problem successfully.
Take Immediate Action
Now that you are in a frame-of-mind for solving a problem, it’s time to take immediate action that will help move you forward.
Of course, there might still be a lot of uncertainty and you might very well not yet have all the answers you need at this stage to help you solve this problem. But all these things are of course irrelevant.
Solutions to your problems don’t often come during times of contemplation; although that is certainly a part of the process. Breakthrough insights often come while we take proactive action to solve the problem. This happens because while you are taking action you gain new experiences, and with new experiences, you gather more information, and more information leads to unique insights that you never had before. And then, of course, these insights can lead to unique perspectives that can help you find the answers you are searching for.
Even if along the way you make a plethora of mistakes; that is perfectly okay. Mistakes and even failed attempts will help you learn from your experience. Moreover, every wrong move you make essentially improves your chances of success because you now have a better idea of what doesn’t work, and this, therefore, gives you a clearer understanding of what potentially might work in the future.
Find Heroes and Mentors
If you’re still struggling and don’t seem to be making much progress, then it can be helpful to find heroes or mentors who can help provide you with some guidance.
Heroes are typically role models who you look up to. You don’t necessarily know these people. You rather admire them from a distance. Mentors, on the other hand, are people you know who have a vast array of knowledge and experience; who have typically gone through the same kind of adversity you are currently struggling with. These are people who can guide you along the next steps through your journey.
Find heroes and look for mentors that can lead you down the right path. At times a little guidance is all you need to make a breakthrough.
Future Proof Scenarios
Finally, it’s wise to future-proof yourself against potential setbacks that may arise and the adversity you are likely to face in the weeks, months and years to come.
You will of course never have all the answers, and you will not always know what could be hiding around the corner, however, this doesn’t mean that you cannot prepare yourself in advance for certain scenarios that may arise.
You could, for instance, use Murphy’s Law as a guide for what could potentially go wrong. At the very least Murphy’s Law will help you keep your expectations in check and your mind open to the possibility of threats along the horizon. Ask yourself:
What if this happens?
What if I make that mistake?
What if this particular person lets me down?
What if I don’t understand how to do this?
What if I get rejected?
What if I am unable to…?
What if? Then I will… If not, then I’ll just… And if that doesn’t work then I can… Alternatively I could…
These questions will not provide you with all the answers you will need along your journey, however they will pose very interesting scenarios that will force you to think about the direction you are moving more carefully and meticulously. In fact, going through these questions could very well lead you down a path you were never expecting.
Time to Assimilate these Concepts
Did you gain value from this article? Is it important that you know and understand this topic? Would you like to optimize how you think about this topic? Would you like a method for applying these ideas to your life?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, then I’m confident you will gain tremendous value from using the accompanying IQ Matrix for coaching or self-coaching purposes. This mind map provides you with a quick visual overview of the article you just read. The branches, interlinking ideas, and images model how the brain thinks and processes information. It’s kind of like implanting a thought into your brain – an upgrade of sorts that optimizes how you think about these concepts and ideas. 🙂
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Gain More Knowledge…
Here are some additional links and resources that will help you learn more about this topic:
- 3 Steps to Move Through Adversity @ Inc.
- 4 Strategies to Help You Bounce Back from Adversity @ Psych Central
- 5 Things About Overcoming Adversity that Athletes Can Teach Us @ Entrepreneur
- 5 Ways to Deal with Adversity in Business @ Huffington Post
- 10 Strategies that will Help You Triumph Over Adversity @ Business Insider
- Adversity is Linked to Life Satisfaction @ Scientific America
- Coping with Adversity from “Inside Out” @ Psychology Today
- How Adversity Leads to Success @ Entrepreneur
- How to Overcome Adversity @ WikiHow
- How to Teach Your Team to Thrive in Adversity @ Inc.
- In the Face of Adversity @ Psychology Today
- The 12 Steps to Overcoming Adversity @ Elite Daily
- The Oven of Adversity @ WND
- When Adversity Strikes, What Do You Do? @ Harvard Business Review