How do you handle adversity? All of us have periods where we feel any progress we make is completely uphill and difficult every step of the way. Other times it feels uphill all the way during a hailstorm walking over broken glass through a forest fire. Things can get unexpectedly tough and then they get tougher. An awful lot has been written lately about resilience and how it is a necessary life skill.
Have you seen anyone take adversity personally? This is different than adapting a “shit happens” mentality, this is adapting the position the Universe has deliberately targeted you because you are you. It is the feeling you are on God’s shit list for some reason you claim to not understand. Personalizing hard times can make the hard times even harder. This is like swimming against the current and throwing on a weighted vest before you jump into the water. A lot of us have a tendency to react so strongly to unexpected challenges we actually make them worse and harder to handle.
Perspective is what determines how we will handle our challenging life situations. This includes our internal reactions and how we talk to others about our challenges. Perspective keeps us in the game or hustles us to the exit, often prematurely. Some of us are head down and head on, while others lament any inconveniences as personal attacks and respond by dropping to their knees and crying about the unfairness of it all. If perspective and mindset are what makes the difference between sinking or prevailing, why are we so resistant to switching our thoughts to a better channel? If the secret to sailing through life is attitude and mindset, shouldn’t we take greater care about the way we think?
A tried and true therapy modality is called cognitive restructuring. Cognitive Restructuring – Simple thought switching, word changing, change the word, change the outcome. A popular concept in cognitive restructuring is thoughts lead to feelings which lead to behaviors (T-F-B.) The idea behind this is whatever we think will cause a feeling of one kind or another. How we feel about something dictates how we behave. This sequence can start and finish within the blink of an eye, but it will always be this order. If we diagram T-F-B, we see how important our thoughts are. Everything starts with our thoughts. Just like breakfast is the most important meal of the day, our thoughts kick everything off and will determine the flavor of our experiences. Negative thoughts invariably lead to negative experiences. And why wouldn’t they? Our thoughts reflect our programming and if we program ourselves to have a negative experience, it follows that we will. Simple equation, yes?
This is why it is important to not take adversity personally. There are differing degrees of adversity including mild annoyances, difficult work projects, and life-altering events. Life is a series of challenges, big and small. If we were to approach difficulties as if they are puzzles to solve, we can better manage the negative emotions around adversities. Puzzles can be interpreted as fun challenges rather than insurmountable obstacles. While some puzzles have more pieces than others, this makes the completion of the puzzle even more satisfying.
We can look at life as a continual process of reframing. A new frame will always change the look of a picture. This is not the same as judging. Reframing allows us to assign a value of our choice to a given situation with the intent of resolving it. Sometimes dealing with adversity can be a process of talking yourself into the right mindset to resolve it. If you have been reading me for a bit, you have likely noticed I am big on communication skills. Reframing is another way to communicate with yourself without making difficult situations even more difficult.
How we speak to ourselves when we are under duress will determine how we handle the situation. I am all for realistic assessment. However, after the assessment has been made, we still have to jump up and manage the situation. This is even more so if the situation has been assessed to be a gigantic dumpster fire. We can’t stay on the couch and watch it burn, the situation still has to be addressed. Is it really a dumpster fire or is it a festive trash container with natural heat and lighting? See what I did there?
We must be honest in our assessments of situations, they are what they are. But if we program ourselves to make them “less bad” they become more manageable. I am fond of the old saying “how do you eat an elephant?” Answer: “One bite at a time.” It sounds simplistic (especially if you’ve heard it before) but is it untrue? Not at all. All of us eat one bite at a time. It may be a small bite or a huge bite, but it is still one bite at a time.
Adversity does not have to be personal, even if it has been directed to you maliciously, it can still be handled situationally. It is our job to reframe and persevere. The reframe is the emotional difference between sailing into the wind and having the wind at your back. If you already know its going to be hard, why make it harder? Even though calculated malice is hard to manage due to it’s personal nature, it is still in our best interest to reframe and then manage the situation before we address the emotional fallout of a personal attack. As a former mentor once said to me “things can be personal, but we don’t have to personalize them.”
Reframe. Don’t take adversity personally, you don’t have to. Change the narrative and outcome of the story by making it smaller, fun, and manageable. Make adversity a puzzle you will find a solution to and solve. We are far less likely to go into a downward spiral if we are having fun.