We are built to survive and even thrive under difficult conditions. Look at the human body. Our muscles grow when load stress breaks down their fibers. They are then repaired through a natural cellular process, becoming thicker and stronger than before.
Adversity is life’s very own workout session. Yes, we will feel the aches and pains. But after that, we will also feel stronger, more resilient, even more alive.
In his bestseller David vs Goliath, Malcolm Gladwell postulated how difficulties in life may actually help individuals achieve success. While we could appreciate the merits of adversity, very few of us want any part of it.
Here’s the good/bad news: you don’t go looking for adversity; it finds you. It finds everyone.
No one’s safe. We all know someone who got fired. Or someone who got passed over for a promotion they deserved. Someone whose business failed. Had a personal meltdown. Developed health issues because of a stressful lifestyle. It could well be you.
Some never find their way back. Those who do, come back stronger. Their personal muscle, proudly flexed. But what separates the comebacks from the casualties?
As a personal coach, I use strategic questions to help professionals gain empowering perspectives. Here are eight important questions to consider in times of difficulty:
1. Who are you without your past achievements?
“Adversity introduces a man to himself.” — Albert Einstein
An undesirable situation may challenge or even hurt your success, image, confidence, or livelihood. But only you can change your character and values.
If you handle difficult times with authenticity and humility, your self-esteem grows. When you respect yourself in difficult times, you’ll notice the respect from those around you.
2. What can you learn from this that you can’t learn anywhere else?
It’s never failure if you have learned something. Remove labels on experience — good or bad. All events and experience teach us something. We learn more about ourselves during tough times. You never know what hidden resources or assets you may have — until dire situations call for them.
Thomas Edison insisted he didn’t fail 1,000 times to invent the light bulb; he merely used 1,000 steps to do it.
3. What advice would you give your best friend if he’s going through this situation?
To see the bigger picture, you may have to step out of the picture.
Observe how your perspective changes when you detach yourself from your situation.
As you offer help to yourself, you bring out the self-compassion necessary to let go of the self-blame attached to the setback.
4. Who have you forgotten still believes in you?
Speaking of friends, adversity can help you identify your true support network. Who is willing to struggle alongside you? Who has made sacrifices for your dreams? Who will make you warm soup in the cold lonely night?
Facing and overcoming challenges together with your team can build an irreplaceable bond. This is also as good a time as any to identify and weed out any fair-weathered friends (because unfortunately they exist).
5. What are your strengths and how do you make the most of them?
When setbacks hit, even the best of us can have our confidence shaken. Remember that whatever happened to you doesn’t have to be your identity — unless you allow it to. This is when we lean on our talents and strengths, instead of dwelling on our weaknesses.
Positive psychology is fast recognized as an effective way of managing our self-confidence. What have you been doing well? What do people compliment you on? What do you want to be known for?
6. Imagine that you have achieved your goals. What changes did you make for that to happen?
Sometimes the answers to our problems lie dormant within us. They stay hidden because of an inconvenient truth we may be unwilling to acknowledge.
Adversity is often the alert siren before the real storm. Missed the promotion? Maybe you weren’t as ready as you thought you were, and certain burnout awaits had you been promoted.
That doesn’t mean you change your goals. You could, however, change the way to get to your goals. Reflect on what’s working and what’s not. Align them to your purpose, identity, and strengths.
7. How will you share your adversity in an acceptance speech after you’ve succeeded?
Almost every successful person has a resume full of setbacks and difficulties. Steve Jobs, J.K. Rowlings, Walt Disney, and many others experienced significant struggles before their earning their time in the limelight of success.
It’s not what happens to you, but your attitude and response to what happens to you that matters.
Visualize yourself coming up on top when it’s all said and done. You would have a powerful motivation tool to pave your way to the podium one day. Congratulations in advance.
8. What will you do now so your future self can thank you?
Thinking forward — instead of lamenting or regretting — is the all-important step to staying present and focused. Take action. What do you need to do now? What is important about this five years from now? When will you begin?
Research has shown that cultivating an attitude of gratitude has enormous benefits. It reduces toxic emotions like frustration, resentment, and regret. Hard as it may be, find it in yourself to be grateful for your experience and the lessons you have learned. You’ll be more in control of your emotions and destiny.
Success isn’t the absence of failure, it’s reaching the desired outcome because of failure. If you don’t allow your adversity to have the last word, it will just have to shut up for now and be a voice for your future success.
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