In the course of living, all of us face trials, obstacles, setbacks and failure. There are physical tragedies of illness. There are emotional setbacks when we feel betrayed, or when we lose a loved one. There are natural tragedies, such as the recent tsunami that engulfed parts of Japan. Unemployment, suffering, disease, and wars are enough to cause even the most valiant spirit to lose heart.
One key success factor to living life to the full is how we choose to live our lives meaningfully in the midst of adversity. If you are engaged in any meaningful enterprise in your life, with a large vision and healthy goals, it’s a given that you will encounter adversity.
Today I would like to share some helpful insights I discovered from positive psychology research into effective coping. Coping refers to the ways by which people manage to survive, and even thrive in the face of stress, trauma, and adversity.
But First, A Story: Potatoes, Eggs and Coffee
Once upon a time, a daughter complained to her father that her life was miserable and that she didn’t know how she was going to make it. She was tired of fighting and struggling all the time. It seemed just as one problem was solved, another one soon followed.
Her father, a chef, took her to the kitchen. He filled three pots with water and placed each on a high fire. Once the three pots began to boil, he placed potatoes in one pot, eggs in the second pot, and ground coffee beans in the third pot. He then let them sit and boil, without saying a word to his daughter.
The daughter moaned and impatiently waited, wondering what he was doing. After twenty minutes, he turned off the burners. He took the potatoes out of the pot and placed them in a bowl. He pulled the eggs out and placed them in a bowl. He then ladled the coffee out and placed it in a cup.
Turning to her, he asked, “Daughter, what do you see?”
“Potatoes, eggs, and coffee,” she hastily replied.
“Look closer,” he said, “and touch the potatoes.” She did and noted that they were soft.
He then asked her to take an egg and break it. After pulling off the shell, she observed the hard-boiled egg.
Finally, he asked her to sip the coffee. Its rich aroma brought a smile to her face.
“Father, what does this mean?” she asked.
He then explained that the potatoes, the eggs, and coffee beans had each faced the same adversity, the boiling water. However, each one reacted differently.
The potato went in strong, hard and unrelenting, but in boiling water it became soft and weak. The egg was fragile with the thin outer shell protecting its liquid interior until it was put in the boiling water. Then the inside of the egg became hard.
However, the ground coffee beans were unique. After they were exposed to the boiling water, they changed the water and created something new.
“Which are you?” he asked his daughter. “When adversity knocks on your door, how do you resopnd? Are you a potato, an egg, or a coffee bean?”
In life, things happen around us and things happen to us, but the only thing that truly matters is what happens within us.
~author unknown (I found this story here)
Find Benefit In Adversity
Difficulties strengthen the mind,as well as labor does the body. Seneca
Change Your Thinking About Adversity
The way we choose to think about and view adversity even before it happens will be key in how we cope with the adversity. Research shows that resilient people are able to glean some value in a loss or negative life event. It could be a change in life perspective, feeling a greater appreciation for their life, or gaining a sense of personal growth.
In prosperity, our friends know us; in adversity, we know our friends. John Churton Collins
People going through difficult times cope most effectively when they have close friendships and support. Don’t be afraid to reach out to loved ones for support during hard times. If you go through a loss, be sure to look reach out to your church, or to a support group.
Since I am writing from a Christian point of view, I will also point out that prayer is probably one of the most powerful ways to draw strength in times of adversity and suffering. God is All Powerful. In the hardest times of my life, pouring my heart out to God with honesty (acknowledging all my feelings, both positive and negative), has been a source of power for living.
Use Adversity to Examine Your Priorities
UCLA professor Shelley Taylor found that women coping with breast cancer developed amazing strength. Through interviewing them, Dr. Taylor found that many of them re-ordered their priorities, scaling back on work to spend more time with family and friends.
Learn the Success Strategies of Resilient People
Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit. Napoleon Hill
Ask Yourself The Right Questions
Here is a list of questions that will help you as you go through hard times. These questions will help you see the emotional and mental resources within you that you may not have been aware of previously.
• “How did I manage to get up this morning (make it to this appointment, get through yesterday, etc.)?”
• “How I been keeping going day after day when there seems to be no hope?”
• “How is it (“What have I done so) that things are not worse?”
• “How come I have not given up yet? What has held me back from completely giving up?”
I have often found these questions from Anthony Robbins to be very helpful for approaching adversity with the right mindset. I encourage you to print them out and keep them handy.
Morning Power Questions:
• What am I happy about in my life now?
• What about that makes me happy? How does that make me feel?
• What am I excited about in my life now?
• What about that makes me excited? How does that make me feel?
• What am I proud about in my life now?
• What about that makes me proud? How does that make me feel?
• What am I grateful about in my life now?
• What about that makes me grateful? How does that make me feel?
• What am I enjoying in my life right now?
• What about that do I enjoy? How does that make me feel?
• What am I committed to in my life right now?
• What about that makes me committed? How does that make me feel?
• Who do I love? Who loves me? What about that makes me loving? How does that make me feel?
Evening power questions:
• What have I given today?
• In what ways have I been a giver today?
• What did I learn today?
• How has today added to the quality of my life or how can I use today as an investment in my future?
• What is great about this problem?
• What is not perfect yet?
• What am I willing to do to make it the way I want it?
• What am I willing no longer to do in order to make it the way I want it?
• How can I enjoy the process while I do what is necessary to make it the way I want it?
Take a Break From the Adversity
Resilient people have found ways to distance themselves from adversity so that it does not dominate their lives. This does not mean that they deny the reality of their circumstances. It’s important to be honest about the magnitude of the situation, including all the range of emotions we are feeling. But at the same time, it’s important to take a break from the stress of that adversity.
You may want to schedule time with a friend to go to a comedy club, or to rent a funny movie. Humor can go a long way in lightening the burden of adversity.
You can use the prior strategies of positive psychology that I’ve written about over the last few weeks to take this break.
Find Inspiration From These Books
The Resilient Self: How Survivors of Troubled Families Rise Above Adversity by Steven J. Wolin M.D. and Dr. Sybil Wolin. This is one of my personal favorites. I wrote a bit of this summary in an article that I wrote about staying emotionally strong during adversity.
Yes You Can!!: Go Beyond Physical Adversity and Live Life to Its Fullest, by Dr. Janis Dietz. Dr. Dietz provides helpful strategies for learning to live with chronic physical limitations.
Failing Forward: Turning Mistakes into Stepping Stones for Success, by John C. Maxwell. This is one of my favorite motivational books. Dr. Maxwell does a great job of helping us see the benefits of failing in a way that will be strategic versus catastrophic.
How to Handle Adversity, by Dr. Charles Stanley. Dr. Stanley covers a Christian viewpoint on how to handle adversity using the Bible and Christian faith as your guide.
Disappointment with God, by Philip Yancey. Mr. Yancey is one of my favorite Christian writers. He writes about the very honest questions we often fail to verbalize to our friends.
credit: the U.S. Army
I hope you found this article helpful. How have you coped successfully with adversity?
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