Overcoming Adversity

Adversity in life is inevitable. Overcoming adversity–dealing effectively with setbacks, frustration, and resistance–is the single most important skill you can develop, in business and in your personal life.

Whenever you find yourself in a challenging situation, you have only 3 options:

  1. Wait for the situation to change
  2. Change the situation
  3. Change your response to the situation

Let’s look at each:

1. Wait for the situation to change

Ask: Is the situation likely to change on its own? If not, then clearly this isn’t an option for you. Some situations, however, are short-term, and the answer may just be to wait them out. For example, when you’re stuck in traffic or there’s a long line at the store. But while you’re waiting for the situation to change, you may also want to consider changing your response to the situation (see #3 below).

2. Change the situation

Sometimes you have the necessary influence to change a situation immediately through your own action. However, when you have that kind of influence, the situation doesn’t really qualify as adversity, right?

For a challenging situation over which you have little or no influence, the only way you can change it in the short-term is to remove yourself from it. (Note that it may be possible to change the situation in the long-term, as you will see in #3 below.) The pitfall with this solution is that even if you leave your current situation and go to another, you take YOU with you. For example, have you ever left a job or a romantic relationship only to find that the next one turned out to have many of the same problems?

So ask yourself: Is this adversity I’m experiencing part of a pattern for me? Have I had similar challenges in different situations, and is it likely that I will have similar challenges in a new situation? If so, then changing the situation might not be the best choice for you. Of course, I’m not recommending that you stay in a situation that’s bad for you. But when you leave, make sure you learn from the situation so that you don’t relive it again and again in different circumstances.

3. Change your response to the situation

This is the most proactive and empowering option, and it’s always available to you, even when you choose either of the previous two options.

There are 3 parts to this solution:

  • Change the meaning you give the situation
  • Change how you talk about the situation to yourself and others
  • Change the way you act and react in the given situation

In a strange way, you have more influence on things outside you when you focus solely on yourself–your own thoughts and behavior. You expand your influence in subtle, yet powerful ways when you act with high integrity and personal responsibility. As Wayne Dyer likes to say, when you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.

Viktor Frankl taught us that the last of the human freedoms–the power that we all have that no one can take away from us–is our ability to choose our response to any given situation.

To act with such a high degree of “response-ability” can be challenging because we have been conditioned otherwise. We live in a culture where blaming and complaining are a way of life. We blame the Republicans, we blame the Democrats, we blame our parents (for their parenting flaws), we blame our grandparents (for their genetic flaws). We complain about our boss, we complain about our employees, we complain when it’s hot, we complain when it’s cold.

In order to stop blaming and complaining, you must change the meaning of the situation. Instead of seeing it as something that was “done to you,” you can choose to see it as a neutral event that isn’t personal, or even a positive experience that you can learn something from. Changing your language will reinforce this change of meaning. Instead of asking, “Why did this have to happen to me?” ask yourself “What lesson can I take away from this?” or “How is this experience a gift?”

By changing the meaning you give the situation and changing the language you use, you’ll then discover that you have the power to respond in any number of ways, not just the knee-jerk reactions you’ve made in the past. And by choosing new responses to old problems, you’ll not only discover powerful solutions, you’ll also break free of the habitual patterns that have been limiting your growth and progress.

You’ll have changed YOU, and therefore your experience of the situation. And that’s the key point: What you call “adversity” is just your experience of a given situation. Overcoming adversity is nothing more than choosing to experience the situation differently.

Copyright 2006 Curtis G. Schmitt

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