We all face obstacles and setbacks in life.
Whether it’s 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 when tough situations come your 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.
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 progress?
When you’re facing a major setback, it’s not easy to look on the bright side. In fact, it’s totally normal to experience a wide range of emotions when you go through a tough time.
But there’s always a way to learn and grow from the situations life hands you. It doesn’t mean the situation isn’t painful, or we won’t experience loss, hurt, and sorrow. In fact, it’s important to let yourself really feel your emotions.
We often tend to avoid uncomfortable emotions like sadness, fear, and even anger, but there are no bad emotions. In fact, 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 important to listen to your emotions.
At the same time, while you should let yourself feel the full spectrum of emotions during a tough time, don’t get stuck in them or become the victim. Allow yourself a complete emotional reaction, but ride through it. We learn a powerful lesson if we look at the way children cope with emotions. When a child faces a setback, they often feel a full range of feelings—sadness, hurt, anger. They might cry or scream. Sometimes they might throw a tantrum.
But after their emotional outburst, they’re often ready to dust themselves off and get back up.
So, when something goes terribly, go ahead and experience your feelings. Feel them, identify them, and then examine them for the hidden lessons. What are your emotions telling you? Are you afraid of what might come next? Are you angry at the way you were treated? Are you sad because you don’t feel control over your health or an unexpected circumstance? Look to your emotions and learn.
Don’t ascribe an emotion to your 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. Don’t avoid it because you feel like it’s not the emotion you’re supposed to experience. Take it in, sit with it, and learn from it.
At the same time, it’s important you practice self-compassion when you’re going through a struggle. Be kind to yourself. Recognize that the situation is upsetting and tough right now. You may want to say to yourself, “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. Remind yourself it might feel tough now, but you’ve handled tough things before. You’ve heard the saying, “When you’re going through hell, keep going.” Remind yourself you will make it through this chapter in your life, even if it’s difficult.
If you’re going through a tough time, here are five ways to stay afloat.
Remind yourself of your 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.
Even if the situation becomes overwhelming, trust in yourself that you will handle it. Even when life feels really hard, you will still keep moving forward.
One exercise I’ve found helpful is listing off other difficult or challenging moments where you rose to the occasion. Don’t focus on only negative situations either—what about the time you ran a half-marathon, paid off your credit card debt, or learned how to speak conversational Spanish? When you reflect on those triumphs, you will start to reinforce your self-efficacy. You’ve overcome challenges and you will do it again.
When we experience fear, our 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! Explore your feelings and find out what you’re really afraid of.
You may want to talk yourself 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.” Ask a friend or partner to reflect your strength back to you. They will remind you that you’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. Read stories of people who rose above their circumstances, if you’re looking for inspiration.
We’ve all been through a lot in our lives. Even if we’ve had a great life, there are situations that probably didn’t work out quite the way we wanted. We’ve all overcome something. Many of us overcome lots of different challenges.
So, you got fired. You’re getting divorced. You didn’t land the big deal. Whatever you’re facing feels like an insurmountable defeat right now. Remember a time when you faced another crushing blow. What did you do and how did you overcome it? You’re here today. You’re still breathing. It is within you 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 personalized 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.
How we explain setbacks to ourselves really matters. We can’t let it color who we think we are. A setback isn’t permanent. Be sure you’re explaining it to yourself in a way that doesn’t make you feel worse about yourself or disempowered. Don’t let the situation pervade the aspects of who you are at your core.
They say it’s hard to see the forest for the trees. Sometimes when you’re mired down in the situation, it’s difficult to get perspective. Flash forward to a year from now, and your life is going to look so different.
If you use this situation as an opportunity to learn and grow, you’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 yourself how you feel in this moment isn’t how you’ll feel for the rest of your life.
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 negative and cranky, they returned to their crabby ways even after winning the lottery.
Now, that said, you adjust your happiness setpoint by bringing greater purpose and meaning to your life. 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 adjust our perspective and extract the purpose from every situation (even the tough ones).
This perspective is gained by learning from our 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, please visit the Wright Foundation. Join us for an upcoming More Life Training, where you’ll get the chance to connect with others on their transformational journey. We’re also happy to announce our classes are available for download at a special introductory price. Don’t miss this opportunity to explore a life of MORE!
Dr. Judith Wright is a media favorite, sought-after inspirational speaker, respected leader, peerless educator, bestselling author, & world-class coach.
She is a co-founder of The Wright Foundation and the Wright Graduate University.
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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.