“Tough times never last, but tough people do.” The quote from the late pastor and author Robert Schuller is the title of one of his inspirational books. And it’s also a mantra for embracing the difficulties that life inevitably throws our way—and coming out on the other side better off for the experience.
Here’s what science says about adversity.
Psychologists Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun have studied and written about how, after experiencing loss or trauma, some people feel a greater appreciation for life, feel closer to their family and friends, and even more spiritual or inspired. They named the experience post-traumatic growth or PTG.
The upside of the PTG study is that it gives us hope. It reflects the narrative or theme played out in movies, books, and music. There is always a light at the end of the tunnel, a silver lining to every dark cloud, and a promise that things will get better after we experience a setback.
But while most of us like a good comeback story, the overcome-all-odds scenario can be challenging to create in our own lives. So, exactly how can you pace yourself to outlast a difficult time or job situation, an illness or loss? The key to overcoming adversity lies in a positive mindset. But positivity alone won’t push you past a significant challenge in your personal or professional life.
So, try following this 6-step checklist to overcome adversity.
1. Let yourself feel.
So often, we’re told to suppress our feelings. Don’t worry about it. Let it go. But, in reality, ignoring your feelings is unhealthy. When you’re experiencing a particularly challenging time in your life, acknowledge it. It’s okay to be frustrated, scared, angry, or disappointed. These are real feelings! So, start by acknowledging how you feel at your low point (experts suggest journaling about those feelings). By coming to that moment of self-realization about your feelings and emotions, you can work towards moving forward.
2. Set an expiration date.
After identifying your feelings, give yourself a time limit. Maybe you feel sorry for yourself or helpless. If you want to overcome your situation, you can only sit in that state of anger (or pity, or fear) for so long before it paralyzes you from moving on. So, first, be honest and give yourself some grace. Next, set a deadline. For example, “I’m allowing myself to feel really discouraged right now. But tomorrow morning, I’m going to go for a walk and clear my mind before I head to the office for my sales meeting.”
3. Follow the 24-hour rule.
When you find yourself in a difficult situation, it’s best not to react. Before firing off an email or text, or getting into an argument or discussion, give yourself 24 hours to think through your predicament and formulate a plan before responding.
4. Keep things in perspective.
Understand that everyone has their ups and downs. No one’s life is perfect. Rich, poor, famous, unemployed, single, married—regardless of our status, we’ve all got something we carry with us. So, start by acknowledging that you’re not alone in your journey. And then, try to look at your challenging situation as an opportunity. Maybe your difficult situation will allow you to learn, grow, sharpen your skills, or motivate you to make a positive change. Trust that life is going to throw some stuff at you. But it’s how you choose to look at those situations that has the power to create positive outcomes. Identifying the good or the benefit in your current situation can help you move in the right direction.
5. Control what you can.
We often hear these words of wisdom. You can’t control the situation, but you can control how you react to it. So, during difficult times or situations, ask yourself, “What is within my control that can make my situation better?” By working to control your mindset—never getting too high or too low—you can position yourself to better command your emotions, thoughts, and outcomes.
6. Put a plan in place.
To get on the other side of a tough situation, you need to know where you’re headed. Talk yourself through it by identifying your exact problem and outlining the steps to fix it. “This is my challenge. Now, here’s what I’m going to do about it.” At the same time, understand that you might not have all the answers, and that’s ok. Don’t be afraid to reach out for help—use your resources.
While everyone approaches and deals with adversity differently, this list outlines some helpful ideas and practices that might work for you. But no matter which tips you use, you have to get real with yourself to get the best results. By being introspective about the type of person you are, you can better understand how you should approach adversity—and how to best overcome it.
I’ve learned that some people can’t start to fix a problem until they feel better, while others can’t feel better until they fix the problem. Which is you? Think about your answer and align your approach accordingly. You’ve got this.