In each of our lives, some obstacles, annoyances, and general misfortune will unfold. Maybe you don’t love your job. Or, you hate where you live. Or, you might be dealing with life struggles like job loss, illness, or sudden caregiving responsibilities that are impeding you from living the life you want or from doing what you want to do.
And maybe if you listen to your favorite self-help guru s/he will tell you to simply stop doing what’s making you unhappy or holding you back. But, as we know, often it’s not so simple.
“Everybody has those constraints and situations that we don’t want to be in,” says resilience expert and licensed clinical social worker Linda Hoopes, PhD, author of Prosilience: Building Your Resilience for a Turbulent World. The trick is to not get stuck there.
Thankfully, there are things that we can do to improve our situation and build greater resilience. Here are 6 ‘hacks’ to help you better endure adversity in your life.
RESPECT YOUR OPPONENT
It’s easy to dwell on “why am I stuck in this bad situation?”, but challenges are where we learn some of our greatest lessons, says performance coach Bob Litwin, author of Live the Best Story of Your Life: A World Champion’s Guide to Lasting Change. Litwin specializes in working with professionals in high-pressure jobs, such as hedge fund managers and talent agents. And sometimes, having a difficult boss or set of circumstances can be beneficial.
“Adversity is the ultimate great teacher,” he says. Litwin, formerly an elite tennis player, says his most challenging opponents were the ones who forced him to be better. While the difficult circumstances may seem “just awful,” often they “bounce you in a better direction and teach you how you’re going to be in that situation,” he says. Simply understanding that you have an opportunity to learn from your challenges can give them some value that was previously unseen, he says.
BREAK THINGS DOWN
Often, many of our biggest challenges are actually a series of small challenges that can seem overly daunting. But, if you break down the independent components of a situation, they’re much easier to address, says Hoopes. For example, for someone who says “I hate my job”, it may break down to several different areas such as long hours that affect family time, an extended commute to and from work, or dreading unpleasant interactions with colleagues. Taking the time to break down and dive into the individual components of what’s making you unhappy makes them easier to address. The priority should be those that are expending your energy most, Hoopes adds.
CONTROL WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL
Sometimes in the worst of situations, you can make small improvements and turn it into motivation to make even bigger changes, Hoopes says. Even in a job you can’t stand, you can seek opportunities to learn new skills or grow from challenging experiences. Get creative in your situation. As the saying goes, when life gives you lemons…
While getting creative is one thing, it’s equally important to stop beating your head against the wall trying to change things that you can’t, says Paul G. Schempp, PhD, a research professor at the department of kinesiology at the University of Georgia. “We see this with highly successful athletes. Often, people who are less successful focus on things like injuries or ‘The crowd doesn’t like me,’ or ‘I’m not getting enough playing time,’ so they start on this downward spiral, because all they see is the negative things,” he says.
When you start focusing on the micro, small changes you can influence, and let go things which you have little or no control, it’s easier to get out of that trap, he says.
CHANGE THE NARRATIVE
The way you think about or frame your story tends to have some flexibility to it. This, says Litwin, is why when you’re dealing with obstacles or adversity, change the story you’re telling yourself.
“Even if somebody is saying, ‘My situation is much tougher than what you’re saying to me,’ I would say, ‘Okay, well, that’s good, because that story can be flipped too, which is, the tougher I am, the more focused I am at making changes of who I am in order to accomplish what I want.’ We know that plants, when they’re not given that much water, often become stronger because their roots have to work harder to find the water that’s there. That’s a better story about literally plants in dry soil, that they do amazing with very little,” Litwin says. This analogy highlights how reframing the issue can make a world of difference in your outlook and how you respond to adverse circumstances.
FIND YOUR CALM
Being able to calm yourself down when you’re feeling the stress of your challenges is critical, Hoopes says. Whether it’s going for a run, taking time in the morning to practice mindfulness, or finding a couple of hours to catch up on a favorite television show, it’s critical to take time and push your personal “reset” button.
YOUR OBSTACLES DON’T DEFINE YOU
When you’re stuck in a rough go, your self-talk tends to be dominated by the situation. It’s important in these times to remind yourself that your situation doesn’t define you, says counselor and coach Anahid Lisa Derbabian. “Begin to notice critical or discouraging thoughts or words, which can in subtle ways sabotage yourself and keep you stuck. In the moments when you realize that you are doing this, do not blame or shame yourself. Just allow yourself to shift into messaging, which is compassionate and helpful to you,” she says. It can be beneficial during these times where you’re your own worst critic to lean on friends and family to help recognize the patterns. Friends and family have a much more holistic view of you than your success or failures, and can be the best aid in making changes or finding resources you need to do so.
Most of all, use your challenging situation as a catalyst to make long-term changes that will help you find lasting solutions, Hoopes says. “[There is] a Buddhist saying,
‘Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.’
Life just has this stuff in it, and it’s just, ‘Okay, here I am in one of those zones. Now what am I going to do?’” she says.