Life is a continuous ebb and flow of success and hardship — if you’re living, you’re going to experience adversity from time to time. And if you don’t know how to handle life’s inevitable setbacks, you’re destined to underachieve and fall short of your goals. While challenges can become huge obstacles for some, others are able to flourish when things get tough. Those who are successful know how to use their adversities and failures to their advantage, while the rest of us can have a hard time just getting out of bed the morning after a major flub.
Why is it that some people are able to bounce back from adversity, while others can be completely defeated by the slightest inconvenience? If you want to be someone who excels in the face of challenge, consider these eight ways that successful people persevere through adversity and turn their despair into opportunity.
1. They Prepare Their Response Before Catastrophe Strikes
Expect the worst and hope for the best; in other words, consider your worst case scenario and plan for how you would react. This is a practice that dates back a few thousand years; ancient-Greeks who followed Stoicism used premeditation as one of their most effective methods for navigating the challenges of everyday life. This practice consists of visualizing the day ahead and anticipating all of the challenges that could arise.
This Stoic tool is particularly powerful because it helps to put things into perspective and prevent the mind from amplifying stressors into a much bigger problem than they actually are. Envisioning yourself in a predicament and preparing your plan of action is a great way to build your mental strength — something you’ll need when and if you face a crisis. And while you shouldn’t dwell on the potential of disaster, neglecting to plan ahead will leave you in a complete panic if and when it happens.
If the worst does happen, having thought about it ahead of time will prevent you from becoming completely swamped with panic and fear. Instead, you’ll be able to keep a level head and rationality that will keep your anxieties and stress at a manageable level.
2. They Defeat Their Negative Attentional Bias
When you’re going through a challenging time, it can be really easy to feel like the world is crumbling around you. When one setback hits, we oscillate between dwelling on what led up to this moment and anticipating the next pitfall that’s going to pull the rug out from under us.
Psychologist Dr. Utpal Dholakia explains that optimists are able to cope with setbacks more effectively, and this is due in part to their ability to selectively pay attention to the positives of their situation. This phenomenon is described as attentional bias in which a person tends to focus more on the positive aspects of a bad situation rather than feeding into the negatives.
And the biased attention that an optimistic person is able to give to their setback is what makes them successful in overcoming their adversity. It first allows them to make sense of the devastation that has occurred in their life and then provides them with the opportunity to find the silver lining that helps them turn their negative experience into an opportunity for future growth.
While it’s important to get a grasp on the reality of your situation, you’ll hold yourself back from moving forward if you frame everything in a negative way. Rather than focusing on the bad parts, it’s critical to cultivate an optimistic mindset and positive outlook in order to optimize your ability to adapt.
3. They Create Inextinguishable Motivation
You can’t expect to know what you’re doing if you don’t know why you’re doing it. And it’s even more imperative to have a clearly defined ‘why’ when life gets tough. You hear those rags to riches stories all the time — celebrities like Oprah Winfrey, Jim Carey, and Stephen King. Each had a laundry list of hardship and struggle that they had to overcome to achieve the level of success they have today. They were able to triumph in the face of adversity because of their fierce dedication to reach their goals.
Dr. Anthony Burrow, a developmental psychologist and director of the Purpose and Identity Processes Laboratory at Cornell University, has dedicated much of his life’s work to researching the benefits of developing a sense of purpose in life. Much of his research has found that those who have a strong sense of purpose in their lives are better equipped to handle daily stress. And the ability to regulate your emotions to adapt to unexpected challenges will help you soar.
In fact, one such study conducted by Dr. Burrow and his colleagues found that participants who reported having a sense of purpose had a net worth $14,680 greater than those who weren’t clear on their ‘why’ in life. If you have a clearly defined purpose, you’re bound to have a drive and passion for your goals that can’t be extinguished. And that motivation will carry you through the adversity and setbacks that you’ll face on your way to achieving your dreams. But if you don’t have a strong reason of why you are pursuing something in the first place, you’re giving adversity the power to completely knock you off of your journey to success.
4. They Know How to Get Out of the Neutral Zone
More often than not you don’t have control over what happens to you, but you can take control over how you react. Feeling sorry for yourself will only hinder your ability to come up with a solution to your situation. It’s impossible to determine your next steps if you are spending all of your time moping around and playing the “what-if” game.
But it’s important to understand that coming to terms with a new reality isn’t as simple as flipping a switch in your mindset. Late American author, speaker, and consultant William Bridges was a pioneer in researching and understanding the transition that occurs when an individual experiences a major shift in their life.
Bridges defines transition as the psychological reorientation made when a person comes to term with change. This transition is a process that happens over the course of three phases: letting go, the neutral zone, and the new beginning. During the letting go phase, a person will begin to let go of their identity of who they were before they encountered a life-altering event. As a person transitions to the neutral zone, they’ll struggle with their sense of identity in not knowing who they are or who they will be in the future.
Those who struggle to overcome adversity often stick in the neutral zone for a long time. The ability to move past that feeling of loss and hopelessness and propel into the phase of new beginnings is what allows successful people to come to terms with their adverse situation. During the new beginning phase of transition is when people begin to rise above their struggles by finding ways to rebrand themselves, take on new endeavors, and commit to thriving in their new reality.
As much as we may wish we didn’t have to experience adversity, one of the best things that you can do when facing it is make peace with the situation. By accepting the situation for what it is, you allow yourself to start the process of moving on and overcoming your struggles.
5. They Lean on Their Sense of Humor
It may seem cliche, but laughter truly does have a therapeutic effect on our bodies that we need to cope with stress. In fact, smiling and laughter release the neurotransmitter dopamine, which is responsible for producing feelings of happiness and stress relief.
It may seem impossible to find the irony in a catastrophic event, but sometimes it can be your first step to coming to grips with your reality and moving forward. And while you may not be laughing in the midst of a major setback, in time you should be able to find a bit of humor in your stroke of bad luck. Not only will it lighten your mood, it will also aid in building the resilience that you need to face some major hardship.
6. They Seek Out the Silver Lining
“Adversity is an effective, thorough, and highly personalized teacher.” — Ralph Marston
It’s true what they say — adversity is a great teacher. That’s why successful people view their adversity as an opportunity for personal growth and improvement. It’s through our struggles that we have the opportunity to learn some of life’s most important lessons. Having the ability to face adversity head on will allow you to build resilience that will not only help you overcome your situation, but will also prepare you to better handle future challenges.
And sometimes setbacks are an opportunity for us to change our plans and reinvent ourselves. The ability to not only embrace adversity, but also find opportunities to better a situation are what separates the successful from the underachievers.
7. They Take Inventory of Their Strengths
One of the reasons that successful people are able to bounce back from a challenge is because they know they are capable of hard work. Though they may feel distraught or upset about an unexpected situation, they never allow themselves to feel powerless. Instead, they take an inventory of their strengths and find ways to propel themselves forward.
Psychologist Albert Bandura coined the term self-efficacy, which is defined as a person’s belief in their ability to succeed in a particular situation. Through extensive research, Bandura has found that self-efficacy is not only a critical component of how a person feels about themselves, it also acts as a major factor in whether or not a person is successful in reaching their goals. People with a strong sense of self-efficacy are more successful in overcoming adversity because they view challenging problems as tasks to be mastered. They approach unfamiliar situations with confidence that they will be able to adapt, and that mindset helps them succeed despite challenges and setbacks.
But when you fall down the rabbit hole of despair and hopelessness, you’re taking away your ability to move forward and find future success. Instead, you need to have confidence in yourself and know that you have talents and abilities that you can use to overcome your challenges. Don’t hesitate to write out a list of all that you have to offer and come up with ideas for how you can utilize them to your advantage.
8. They Invest in Themselves
“There’s one investment that supersedes all others: Invest in yourself. Address whatever you feel your weaknesses are, and do it now.” — Warren Buffet
The greatest investment a person can make is in their own personal development, and successful people recognize that there is no greater time to invest in themselves than when they are faced with adversity.
Not only do they have the ability to overcome their challenges, they also know the importance of coming out as better people on the other side of it. They look for additional opportunities to become wiser and more in control of their destiny. Whether it be through conversations with mentors, webinars, or reading self-help books, successful people won’t hesitate to invest their time and a bit of money into ensuring they are continually improving.
It can be tricky to prepare for unforeseen hardship without creating unnecessary stress in your life. After all, the thought of listing out all of the things that could possibly go wrong in life sounds daunting and disheartening.
However, there are a number of healthy actions that you can practice on a regular basis to continuously work towards having that growth mindset that is going to be critical when you are facing adversity.
- Take a few minutes to write down your purpose — what is your goal and why do you want to achieve it? And don’t just settle for the first answer that pops into your head; challenge yourself to dive deeper into your reasoning. The deeper you dig, the more you’ll learn about your true motivation. Keep this hand-written purpose statement handy so that you can refer back to it when you start to feel your motivation dwindling.
- Practice framing things positively in your everyday life, especially if you find yourself favoring a glass half empty mentality, so that when a truly challenging situation arises your brain is trained to look for the silver lining. A mentor once said to me:
“If you had $2,400 in your savings account, and someone stole $100 from you, would you spend the remaining $2,300 trying to get that one hundred bucks back? Obviously not, so then why is it that we let one bad hour in our day ruin the rest of our 23 hours?”
- Update your resume regularly, even if you aren’t planning on looking for a job anytime soon. Not only will this ensure you’re prepared for an unexpected job hunt, it also challenges you to be familiar with your strengths and capabilities. In times of adversity, it’s important to know your skills and have confidence in your ability to utilize them.
- Don’t wait for a setback to start investing in yourself. If there’s something you want to know, learn, or better understand, take the initiative to get there. If you’re the best version of yourself when you encounter a setback, you’ll be better prepared to push through any challenge.
These regular practices will equip you with the tools to help you come to terms with a difficult situation and begin to plan out your ‘new beginning’ phase, and that smooth transition is key to successfully overcoming adversity. Though you will go through the normal emotions and frustrations that come with setbacks, your journey to get back on track will be much more successful if you approach it with the right mindset.
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