People who thrive despite life’s challenges can teach us a great deal about how to live well. One of their important skills (abilities/habits/disciplines) is that they handle life’s challenges and setbacks well. Everyone experiences difficulties along the way – illness, setbacks, disappointments, tragedies and losses, bad days and hard times.
People who thrive despite this tend to ride these things out because they have the skills to do so. Let’s explore what these skills are:
1. They recognise that they always have choices – and the main choice exists in deciding how to respond to whatever comes their way. No matter what challenge you face, you can choose how to respond:
- You can choose to collapse in an endless puddle of tears – that’s one option, but it’s not going to get you very far if you stay there;
- You can choose to stick your head in the sand and pretend that it isn’t happening – but that also has its limitations;
- You can choose to rage at God, the universe, the medical profession, whatever – but all that will do is raise your blood pressure and alienate your nearest and dearest because it wears a bit thin;
- You can choose to allow yourself to go through the grief cycle, with or without the help of a friend or counsellor. Many setbacks are losses – a diagnosis of a terminal or degenerative illness or condition; loss of a job; retirement; a break-up – and it is healthy to allow yourself to move through Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance. It is very useful to have someone to help you through this.
- You can choose to put on a brave face some of the time and with some people, and reserve your strong emotions for people who are in your core support circle. Having a core support circle is fundamental to thriving!
- You can take a philosophical stance. Examples would include “Everything happens for a reason”; “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger”; “This too shall pass”; “It is what it is”. All of these are ways of not allowing your situation to consume you.
- You can choose some combination of the above. The most important thing is that you make a choice. When you make a choice, the power is in your hands. None of these responses is inevitable – they might be natural, but they are not inevitable.
2. They recognise that there are things over which they have no control – the things that happen to them – but that their reactions and responses are a matter of choice. One of the most stressful things in life is investing loads of emotional energy into things you can do nothing about. Unfortunately some things are outside of our control and need to be accepted. In some instances, it simply is what it is.
That is not to say that you should not make an effort to find a solution. If you or someone you love has an awful medical diagnosis, you can get another opinion, research treatments and cures and try multiple options, but there may come a time when you need to let it go, make peace with what is, and simply make an effort to live as well as you can under the circumstances. Working with a coach or therapist can be enormously helpful under these circumstances.
3. They are able to maintain a sense of perspective and not overreact to what happens. They know where to find their internal pause button. This ability to pause, breathe and think about how to respond is incredibly powerful. No shooting from the hip. No huge drama. Just the ability to stop and think and gain some perspective before deciding how to proceed.
4. No matter what happens, they have a quiet confidence that they are able to get through it or past it and “rise again” so to speak. I love the saying “Everything works out in the end, and if it hasn’t worked out yet you haven’t reached the end”. It reminds me that, come what may, I’ll be fine. I’ll handle things ok. I’ll get past whatever it is that troubles me.
Maybe this can all be summed up thus. People who thrive despite life’s challenges and setbacks don’t indulge in lots of drama. They breathe, slow things down, think and proceed in a measured way. This is a skill that can be learned.
Think about your own responses to challenges and setbacks. Do you shoot from the hip? Do you overreact? Do you do drama? Is there any space between stimulus and response? If your habit is a knee-jerk response, then try this the next time you are faced with a challenge or setback:
- Pause – don’t say or do anything at all.
- Breathe – slow and deep to slow down your heart rate.
- Ask yourself – what does this situation require of me?
- Respond in measured tones.
If you recognise that you could use some support in navigating something that life has chucked at you, email me on firstname.lastname@example.org and let’s discuss your coaching programme.