It might seem as if nothing good can come out of adversity and uninvited changes, but challenges can also provide valuable learning experiences and act as a catalyst for discovering new directions, expanded perspectives, positive developments, a reset of priorities, and unexpected openings.
Use the toolkit below to recover, rebuild, and thrive after life’s hard knocks.
1. Take Stock of Your Current Situation
Your plans may have been upended, expectations disappointed, doors closed, and options reduced. How has your life been affected? What has changed? What is gone, what is left? What about your inner state? How have your self image and confidence been affected? What are your fears?
Once you face the facts of your situation with clarity and acceptance, you have a solid base from which to map your way forward.
2. Assume Self-Responsibility
It is natural to feel vulnerable and unsure about how to proceed when things are tough. Often this triggers anger or denial: It should not have happened. Why me? I did not deserve this. You might even get stuck in “analysis paralysis” looking for explanations of why you are so challenged.
There is a crucial choice you need to make that will determine your path forward: dwelling on regrets, blame and wondering, or taking the reins for creating a new future. You may have been the victim of external influences, but it does not have to become your whole identity. Remind yourself, if it is to be, it’s up to me. Take action, step out of your comfort zone, and trust in your ability to manage your new situation.
3. Focus on Solutions
Become quite clear about what you can influence, control or what is (currently) beyond your reach. Ask yourself: Given my current situation, what is possible right now? Even if the situation seems full of impossibilities, taking small steps forward will increase your options and invite new developments.
Make decisions, set goals and formulate a plan. Look at the resources you can draw on. Who might support you with advice, aid, frank appraisal, affirmation, or affection? What are your internal resources? Life may have knocked you, but surely many strengths, wisdom, and experience remain for you to activate. Also consider potential obstacles and make plans for dealing with them.
4. Be Flexible
Change always involves endings and new beginnings, often with a somewhat turbulent middle zone where the old is not quite finished and the new not yet fully established. These three phases overlap and initially there may be much going back and forth between them.
Progress requires discernment about when to go with the flow and when to take decisive action. Do not be deterred by setbacks, “failure” and roadblocks, but be patient when frustrated or things are slow moving. If one approach does not work, try another way. Remember: where there is a will, there (usually) is a way.
5. Tame the Gang Of 3
Thought, feeling, and action form an interlinked triad where each one has an effect on the others. For example, thoughts like, All is lost, I’ll never get over this, will increase feelings of distress and helplessness that lead to stagnation rather than action.
Each part of the triad can be harnessed for your benefit. Taking steps for self-calming will soothe your nerves and clear your head so you can take considered action. Emotions can be settled by challenging your negative automatic thoughts until you find more realistic and life-affirming ones. Taking the initiative will focus your thinking and improve your emotional state.
6. Practice Realistic Optimism
This kind of optimism contains the expectation of positive outcomes but without illusion or ignorance of their likelihood. It includes a realistic assessment of the situation, the expectation of as good an outcome as possible, and trust that you will find a way forward even though it may not be obvious at the moment.
Choose attitudes that support realistic optimism:
- Is the event a total catastrophe or a stumbling block that can be overcome?
- I am wounded but not completely broken
- I can heal and move on from this
- I can rebuild my life and redefine who I am
- Other people have experienced something similar and gone on to greater strength and a rewarding life
- I am worthy of love and good things to come
7. Be Kind to Yourself
Faced with unforeseen challenges, tuning into “Radio Triple F” is common. But dwelling on Fears, Flaws, and Failure will discourage you and undermine your efforts to cope. There will be times when you feel vulnerable. Not all things will proceed easily and smoothly, and not everything you try will succeed. When that happens remind yourself that you now know what does not work and make adjustments.
Athletes use the concept of PB — personal best — and this can apply to you as well. Reflect on your own personal best in the circumstances and replace self-criticism with self-acceptance and self-compassion. Treat yourself as you would a dear friend – with kindness, understanding, and acceptance. Manage your energies to keep up your strength, nurture your spirit with true self-love, choose perspectives that encourage positive action, and trust that your resilience will lead you to a rewarding new life.
Find out more in Christiana Star’s new book Recover, Rebuild, Thrive. A practical guide to moving on from difficult life-changes.