10 ways to thrive during adversity
I walked a mile with pleasure,
She chatted all the way,
But left me none the wiser,
For all she had to say.
I walked a mile with Sorrow,
And ne’er a word said she,
But oh! The things I learned from her,
When sorrow walked with me.
Robert Browning Hamilton.
When something bad happens the first question we ask ourselves is why? The answer we so rarely realise at the time is simple - Change.
Adversity, failure, disaster - all opportunities for change. They are sign posts to an area of your life where there are unseen problems. When things aren’t right, and you’re not heading in the right direction they tell you to stop going down that path. It’s not right for you. They tell you to change tact and approach a problem differently. Or change your behaviour before you lose someone you love.
They turn our lives upside down, ripping us away from our path of choice. They force the change when we can’t see clearly for ourselves. It’s painful. It’s distressing. It’s the last thing you need. But like a friend trying to stop you from drunk texting an ex; adversity has got your back. Sometimes life tiptoes around you and throws little hints your way, but who wants a friend like that. Adversity tells you straight, and then throws your phone out the cab window.
Even so, adversity is hard to stomach. No matter how many times I remind myself that change is necessary, when my plans fail to come to fruition, I still feel the same devastation. I don’t know how many times in the past year alone, my plans have been thrown up in the air because life has intervened and I’ve had to start all over again. Each time it feels like trying to swim against a changing tide. A tide that follows no apparent laws of nature and can change in a day. What a difference a day makes indeed. So how can we learn to deal with it? Better still, how can we learn to thrive in such unpredictable waters?
Make your plans more fluid.
Aim to save as much as possible for example, instead of aiming for a concrete figure. Shit happens. It’s a fact of life that no matter how well you plan your goals for the future, life will always throw up the unexpected. If you make concrete goals, you’re unlikely to meet them, and that can make you feel like a failure. But you are only a failure when you stop trying, or if you never begin.
Look in a new direction and stay positive.
Whatever happens, all it means is that life has a different path in mind for you than the one you had for yourself. You thought you’d met the man of your dreams but life has other ideas. It’s telling you someone better for you is still out there somewhere, and life is doing all it can to bring you together. You can either focus on what’s wrong in your life, or what’s good. Either way, it is a choice you make for yourself.
Simplify your goals.
Instead of saying you want to be in a certain type of job, or relationship, or house or have x number of kids in five years time. Focus on the root of your dreams, the underlying need or desire. For example, if you have your heart set on a particular job, instead aim to be in a line of work that provides aspects of the job that you love. For example, flexibility, travel, or creativity. Simplifying your goals makes them easier to obtain and more likely to stick, regardless of what life throws at you.
Adopt a different approach to life.
Why do we panic about things we can’t predict? So much of the psychological pain we put ourselves through comes from fear of the unknown. I am the worst culprit of this. Previously, this need to control the future has led me to literally plan my life for the next 60 years. Right up to my death bed, more or less. And it was bloody depressing. We spend our whole lives wishing we could control everything and that life would go the way we wanted it to, but that takes all the fun out of it. The million possibilities and opportunities we have to look forward to do not come out of careful planning and consideration. They come out of chance encounters and new friends and thus… you guessed it, CHANGE.
Track your growth.
When we sail along with our heads in the sand, just dealing with one problem after another without paying attention, it can feel like life is just a long stretch of boring nothingness dappled intermittently with disappointments and tragedy. Pay attention to your journey. Where have to come from, where are you heading? How has your life changed? How have you changed in the last year? Find the pattern, try to see the point. What is life leading you away from, what might come next? All adversity leads somewhere.
Bounce back quicker.
Ok this is not always possible, but in many situations we waste so much time mourning the loss of one dream or opportunity. It’s gone, accept it, look forward. On to the next one. Nothing will change the past, and there’s no sense wasting your present. There’s no right answer to what you do next, but there is a wrong one; doing nothing. You have to make the decision to move on, it won’t happen by accident.
Believe in yourself.
Believe in your ability to make the best of any situation. Cultivate that skill the best you can, it will serve you well. Teach yourself to approach problems as questions that have a solution, or at the very least, a lesson. Remember that no matter what happens, you still have the power to make something beautiful and something positive out of even the worst situations. Recognise the power you have in you to turn a bad day into a good one. It begins and ends with you.
As often and as much as you can. Write down every tiny little thing in this world that you are grateful for. Read back over old that list often. Add to it constantly. Make it a habit so that the next time you are faced with something dark, painful or cruel, you will remember there is still a world full of love and beauty and miracles.
Remember your track record.
You’ve been here before. You’ve had your heart broken. You’ve had plans blow up in your face. You’ve failed over and over and over again. If you’re still standing today, your record for getting through those things is 100%. You’ve done it before, and you’ll do it all over again, many many times.
Remember, pain means growth.
If you’re hurting, you’re learning. This isn’t punishment, it’s training. The more you know the better equipped you are to handle life, and help others. All of this is knowledge you can one day pass down to your children and your grandchildren. Without pain, there would be no lessons, no improvements and no humanity. Pain strips away your ego and your pride. It humbles you and gives you compassion and insight. Our vulnerabilities are how we connect with others. Being able to bare our souls and tell someone things we’ve never shared before is one of the most beautiful experiences in life. One that wouldn’t exist if we had nothing to share, and nothing to hide.
Of course this isn’t to say that your future is set in stone. There are a billion possible futures in front of you. Every choice you make opens up different possibilities. They determine which doors may open for you next or what people you might meet. They determine the likelihood of you achieving your dreams. Life is a journey of exploration. Nobody can predict or control the future. So choose a path that takes you closer to your dreams, but let life take care of the details. You cannot prevent adversity and pain, but you can learn to see the merit in it. You can learn to be excited, instead of afraid of the unknown.
For more quotes on resilience and overcoming adversity click here.
How do lobsters grow - Rabbi Abraham Twerski on responding to stress.
Ted Talk: The opportunity of adversity - Aimee Mullins