We all face setbacks and obstacles in life. Whether it’s an illness, divorce, financial issues, or a job loss, bumps in the road are a normal part of human existence.
Knowing how to overcome obstacles makes the difference between throwing in the towel and thriving.
So, how do we get there? It certainly doesn’t feel easy to move forward sometimes, especially when challenging situations come our way. Sometimes the circumstances are out of our control, like illness, accidents, or disasters. Other times, we might have played a role in creating the situation, but we can’t undo the past. Knowing how to move forward might feel daunting and even impossible.
What do you do when you hit those big roadblocks? How do you keep them from throwing a wrench in your plans and derailing your path forward?
When we’re facing a major setback, it’s not easy to look on the bright side. It’s totally normal to experience a wide range of emotions when we go through a tough time. We may want to cry, scream, or throw a fit. Some of us may want to shut down and ignore the issue.
But there’s always a way to learn and grow from the situations that life hands us. It doesn’t mean the situation isn’t painful, or we won’t experience loss, hurt, and sorrow. It’s important to let ourselves really feel our emotions—these emotions are part of the path forward.
We often tend to avoid uncomfortable emotions like sadness, fear, and even anger, because they don’t always feel great. But it helps to recognize that there are no bad emotions. All our emotions are part of our humanity. Our emotions tell us powerful truths about ourselves. They guide us toward what we really want and help steer us away from what we don’t. It’s essential to listen to our feelings, especially as we navigate ahead.
At the same time, while we should let ourselves feel the full spectrum of emotions during a tough time, it’s also crucial that we don’t get stuck in them or become the victim. We can and should allow ourselves a complete emotional reaction but ride through it.
But after their emotional outburst, they’re often ready to dust themselves off and get back up.
As adults, we instead may attempt to ignore our feelings, drink them away, or mask them with soft addictions like shopping, overeating, or TV. While this feels like a “healthy” way of coping initially, we’re just putting off our emotional experience in the long run.
So, when something goes terribly, we should go ahead and experience our feelings. Feel them, identify them, and then examine them for the hidden lessons. What are our emotions telling us? Are we afraid of what might come next? Are we angry at the way we were treated? Are we sad because we don’t feel control over our health or an unexpected circumstance? We can look to our emotions and learn powerful lessons about what we’re really feeling.
Don’t ascribe emotion to given circumstances, either. When we experience a loss, we may feel guilty laughing at a joke, smiling at a memory, or enjoying ourselves during a workout. It’s okay to feel joy and happiness, even if things are difficult. As humans, we often experience a great range of emotions. When we find a pocket of contentment or a moment of peace, soak it up. We shouldn’t avoid it because we feel like it’s not the emotion we’re supposed to experience. Take it in, sit with it, and learn from it.
At the same time, it’s important to practice self-compassion when we’re going through a struggle. We can be a little kinder to ourselves. Recognize that the situation is upsetting and harrowing right now. We may want to say to ourselves, “I’m in pain, but it doesn’t mean I’m bad. I’m human.”
Human beings experience losses and setbacks. We all go through tough times. It helps to remind ourselves that it might feel tough now, but we’ve handled tough things before. We’ve all heard the saying, “When you’re going through hell, keep going.” It’s a good reminder that we will make it through this chapter in life, even if it’s difficult.
When we’re going through a tough time, here are five ways we can stay afloat.
It can help us to remind ourselves of our strengths and ability to cope. There’s something psychologists call self-efficacy. It’s our belief in ourselves and in our ability to handle situations. During difficult times self-efficacy becomes a life raft. It tells us that we’re okay. We’ve got this.
One exercise I’ve found helpful is taking time to list off other difficult or challenging moments where we rose to the occasion. Don’t focus on only negative situations either—what about when we ran a half-marathon, paid off a credit card debt, or learned how to speak conversational Spanish? When we reflect on those triumphs, we start to reinforce our self-efficacy. We’ve overcome challenges, and we will do it again.
When we experience fear, our natural human instinct is to move away and resolve it. Think of cavemen back in the days of our early ancestors. Fear kept them alive. When they heard a growl in the jungle, fear indicated they should move away from the source. Fear was survival.
Today we still feel fear, but sometimes our reactions are more intense than we need to keep us safe. In most cases, we can actually move toward our fear and examine it. Hug the monster! We can explore our feelings and find out what we’re really afraid of.
We may need to talk ourselves through the emotions. Say, “I’m scared, but I don’t need to stay frozen by this fear. I can work through it. Fear doesn’t always predict or indicate danger.” We can ask a friend or partner to reflect our strength back to us. They will remind us that we’ll make it through this time and come out even stronger.
Human beings possess a tremendous amount of flexibility. When we look at stories of people who overcome obstacles, we’re often reminded of how strong and resilient human beings are. For inspiration, read stories of people who rose above their circumstances.
So, we got fired. We’re getting divorced. We didn’t land the big deal. Whatever we’re facing feels like an insurmountable defeat right now. We can gain strength when we remember a time when we encountered another crushing blow. What did we do and how did we overcome it? Look at others who have faced similar obstacles. How did they get through and how can we draw inspiration? If we’re here today, we’re still breathing. It is within each of us to rebuild from the ashes and to keep going.
Let’s say I lost my job. Does it mean I’m a loser? No, it simply means the circumstances weren’t aligned. I’m free now to find something more aligned with my personality, abilities, and situation.
When we look at personalizing setbacks, we misread the message. We may think a breakup means we’re not loveable, or criticism at work means we’re incompetent. But personalizing the message makes it permanent when it’s not us, but rather a situation that didn’t fit.
How we explain setbacks to ourselves really matters. We can’t let it color who we think we are. A setback isn’t permanent. We can start making sure that we’re explaining it to ourselves in a way that doesn’t make us feel worse about ourselves or disempowered. We can refuse to let the situation pervade the aspects of who we are at our core.
They say it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. Sometimes when we’re mired down in a challenging situation, it isn’t easy to get perspective. Flash forward to a year from now, and our lives are all going to look so different.
If we use a challenging situation as an opportunity to learn and grow, we’ll look back in a year and see how even this frustrating, hurtful situation contributed to a greater future. It may be painful and downright awful right now but remind ourselves that how we may feel in this moment isn’t how we will feel for the rest of our lives.
Psychologists discovered each person has a happiness set point. When comparing people who won the lottery and people who experienced a tragic accident, they found in many cases, after about a year, happiness levels were restored to the same point pre-event. If people were generally happy, adaptable people, they still were that way after an accident. If people were pessimistic and cranky, they returned to their crabby ways even after winning the lottery.
Now, that said, we CAN adjust our happiness setpoint by bringing greater purpose and meaning to our lives. By discovering our purpose and aligning our life to it, we adjust the scales and find greater satisfaction. That doesn’t mean our life will be easy or we won’t face difficult times. It means we change our perspective and extract the purpose from every situation (even the tough ones).
This perspective is gained by learning from your experiences. If you’re going through a challenge, consider the lessons you extract. What does the situation tell you about yourself? How does it reinforce the truth: you are a capable, strong, empowered person who will get through this situation and come out stronger?
For more ways to live a purposeful life, don’t miss our courses on Wright Now. We offer an array of courses specially designed to help you reach your fullest potential in your career, relationships, and life. Don’t miss this opportunity to explore a life of MORE!
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The Wright Foundation for the Realization of Human Potential is a leadership institute located in Chicago, Illinois. Wright Foundation performative learning programs are integrated into the curriculum at Wright Graduate University.