Recently I had a major setback in my life. I had fully applied myself to an opportunity that I was very excited about as it seemed custom made for me, so I applied myself and put my best effort into this opportunity. I was excited about the potential this opportunity could mean for me and my family as were others in most areas of my life.
I did the visualization work, fully believing I had earned and worked towards this opportunity and that I would be stepping into it with an open heart and mind. I began to live my life like it was already a part of my daily reality planning for the future of what life would look like as I moved forward within this next great step.
Then I got the call that the opportunity wasn’t mine, but rather was for somebody else. While it was surprising when I found out, and I was disappointed, I was also able to maintain perspective and respond in a way that was in alignment with my values.
We all have many experiences in our lives when things don’t work out the way we want them to. From the time we’re kids when we don’t make the team; or the person we like isn’t interested in us; or we don’t get into the college we want; or we don’t get the job that seems like a perfect fit. These are everyday life experiences that we all have that shape us into who we are as adults.
And when all is said and done, we are usually grateful that things didn’t turn out the way we had hoped, because they end up turning out much much better than we could have anticipated down the line.
But in the moment, it still stings. What was once an opportunity now feels like a challenge. What do we do in the moment when we’re met with the reality of the opportunity fading away? When we are disappointed, hurt, angry, or feel rejected? How do we cope in those moments?
In the book Prosilience author Linda L. Hoopes describes how we can build resilience in our lives so that when major setbacks happen, we are ready for them. Resilience focuses on what we do after we encounter a challenge like the ones described above.
These three simple steps below if practiced regularly in our lives can help us create lives much more full of opportunity than we can even imagine.
Step 1: Calm Down
In the moment, when the opportunity is no longer the opportunity you thought it was, the first step is to calm yourself down. In the moment when we receive “bad” news our sympathetic nervous system prepares our bodies to go into fight, flight, or freeze as needed. When our body is in this space we aren’t thinking clearly and aren’t able to make the best decisions that will benefit us in the long term. We need to shift into a more relaxed state so that our brains are back online and thinking logically.
It usually takes our bodies 90 seconds to calm down out of this state.
Simply stopping before reacting is key here and the most useful thing we can do is simply to breathe. In through your nose which helps you get more oxygen and provides better protection from bacteria than breathing through your mouth. Below are the steps as described by Hoopes (2017, p. 52).
- Sit straight.
- Exhale completely through your mouth while making a whoosh
- Close your mouth and inhale quietly through your nose for a mental count of four.
- Hold your breath for a count of four.
- Exhale completely through your mouth, making a whoosh sound to a count of four.
- Pause for a count of four.
**Repeat 3-6 more times
You can quietly do this breathing exercise when around others to calm yourself before reacting as well. I have found it useful to do during meetings, in large or small groups, or even when having a difficult conversation one on one with another person.
Step 2: Reframe the Challenge
Once we’re calm and thinking clearer, we can reframe the challenge which is the most powerful way to deal with a challenge. Consider how can you think about the situation in a positive way that redefines or even resolves the challenge?
For example, the trip you planned got cancelled at the last minute. You’re disappointed, but how can you reframe the challenge to make it work for you? Perhaps now you can focus on saving the money and spending it on a bigger trip soon? Or perhaps you can take the money from the trip and invest most of it while enjoying a staycation with friends or family in town.
When we reframe a challenge, the problem in the situation may have shown us a hidden opportunity that we hadn’t seen before. For example, when my opportunity fell through, I realized that I learned so much about myself in the process of working towards that opportunity. The clarity and growth I have about my future direction is crystal clear as a result of the time and energy I put into that opportunity.
Rather than letting the challenge be the end point of your movement forward, you can look at it as simply the beginning of new steps you will take to achieve your goals. And it all stemmed from this one opportunity.
Sometimes when we reframe a challenge we see it is much is smaller than it seemed which requires less energy to deal with. For example, getting sick over a long three-day weekend is less stressful than getting sick when you have a big presentation to give at work the next day.
It’s all in how we look at the challenge and reframe it to put it into perspective in a more positive way. When you start doing this you will find that other options may present themselves to you that you hadn’t thought of before things didn’t go your way.
One challenge that many people have is being offended by how other people treat them. What if you could reframe the challenge-their behavior by thinking differently about it? One reframe that is useful and is usually true is that how a person treats you has very little to do with you and everything to do with how they feel about themselves.
So rather than worrying about why they’re treating you a certain way, reframe the situation and think, “Wow, what does their behavior tell me about how they feel about themselves?” This puts the issue back on them and their behavior where it belongs, and you still have energy to put towards situations that you have the power to change.
In thinking creatively about the challenge and reframing it, you have many opportunities to learn about yourself and continue to move forward. When we can re-evaluate what we see as important in a challenge, we can reduce the level of difficulty we experience which increases our resilience.
Step 3: Change the Situation
Sometimes reframing a situation doesn’t make a challenge disappear and even the most positive interpretation of a situation will still leave us with the need to address and change it. Some key ways to do this is first to identify the real problem which means that we have to look past the short term easy fixes and look at the underlying issues to truly resolve them.
This is at the heart of the work I do as a coach with clients. I work with clients to go deeper on identifying the problem and why it happened or why it keeps happening in their lives. I teach clients how to do this on their own and with some practice, you can do it too!
We all have situations in our lives that we want to fix and certain ways of approaching issues and tools we have used that at some times work for us and other times don’t work for us. A good example of this is a friend who uses retail therapy to get her through hard times. This may work for a while, but it doesn’t get at the heart of the true issue, and there may come a time where retail therapy isn’t available to her anymore. Then what does she do?
When we want to change a situation, we need to look at:
- The real underlying problem.
- Then consider do we have the right tools, skills, knowledge, or data to deal with the situation? If not, identify what they are and start working on them.
- Honestly assess if you have the autonomy to make the change in your life? If not presently, what do you need to do to get that autonomy?
- What resources do you need to use to make this change?
Once you’ve addressed these questions, then you are ready to change the situation. A great way to get started is to keep a journal of your answers to the above questions and to develop a plan for how you’re going to change the situation. Write everything down!
Your reflections on the above questions and then a long-range plan with short term goals that will help keep you accountable along with a good dose of humor and grace for times when you stray from your plan. The good humor and grace will get you back to your plan far quicker than shaming yourself will-I promise.
I have a wonderful planning system I’m happy to share with you, just email me at email@example.com and ask for the complimentary planning system to get you started.
In a couple of weeks, I will share a new planning system I have for some big audacious goals I have coming up, and you’ll definitely want to check out how I’m using this new system to stay aligned with my goals.
So much of life is outside of our control. All we can do is our best each and every day to get up and create a life that brings us joy and where we are connected with others. There will be things we really really want in life that simply don’t work out the way we want them to. As recently happened to me. Yet, looking at the challenge using the steps above will help you take on any challenge and keep you moving forward. After all every experience is an opportunity to learn a lesson which brings us closer to our true selves. And that’s where true happiness is.