Breakups. Job losses. Friendship breakdowns…you name it. Unfortunately, life throwing a spanner in the works is inevitable. But when things don’t go to plan and tricky situations arise, they can often present opportunities for growth – if you know how to look for them.
“I think we sometimes forget that we have a choice as to how we see things,” says performance and lifestyle coach Blake Worrall-Thompson. “We need to process whatever is happening, learn from it and grow from it – otherwise it becomes heavy baggage that you’re just dragging around.”
Feel it out
While there’s a lot to be said for making lemonade out of (sometimes unbelievably sour) lemons, honouring your feelings – including the ugly ones – is a must. “Never discount how you feel. Yes, science shows that positivity is really important, but don’t discount the raw emotion,” says Blake.
Allow yourself to feel sad or angry or frustrated – those emotions are valid and they’re real. But (and it’s a big but!) do avoid diving headfirst into a pity party. Constantly asking “why me?” isn’t going to help you level up and while it might feel kind of good in a weird, self-indulgent way, it’s only dragging out your pain. It’s crucial to honour your emotions, but taking a step back and looking at what’s within your control – and what isn’t – can help give you a sense of taking charge in circumstances that are otherwise out of your hands. “You control the length of the suffering,” Blake adds.
Ready your resilience
Most of us won’t encounter serious hardship too often – let’s be real, we lead pretty lucky lives. But the semi-downside is that if something terrible happens, we’re likely to struggle with it more than someone who has faced those difficult experiences. “Your resilience muscle won’t be that strong unless you proactively challenge it,” says Blake.
But how? “Find the thing that makes you most uncomfortable. What is the area that challenges you the most? Move towards it. If you’re scared of heights, go and skydive. Asking someone on a date is really uncomfortable for most people, so go and ask 10 people on a date! Most people won’t actively seek out a challenging position for themselves, but doing so helps build courage and resilience.”
The ultimate goal, reveals Blake, is maintaining an open heart while building this inner strength, rather than putting up a wall and letting failure or setbacks shut you down emotionally.
“Resilience in our parents’ generation was how shut off can you be, how stoic can you be? For me, what resilience looks like these days is how vulnerable, courageous, expansive can you be while challenging yourself beyond your current realm?” he says.
“It sounds hippie, especially to anyone who’s currently going through a struggle, but at the end of the day, all of these things will be a blessing. It’s definitely hard to imagine while you’re going through it, but through losing your job, breakups, whatever it may be, there will be blessings, there will be lessons. It’s just: can you see them? Can you fully embody them?”
Manage your mindset
Sadly, defaulting to a negative internal monologue is pretty standard for many of us, but it’s doing nothing to help us grow and move forward.
“Language is the filter that influences how we feel about a situation,” says Sahra O’Doherty, principal psychologist and co-director at Mindscape Psychology in Sydney. “Using really big, negative, absolute words like ‘failure’ can have a huge emotional impact on us. It doesn’t feel like there’s anything beyond that, but that doesn’t have to be the case.
“People go through breakups every day, they lose jobs or are made redundant, but that doesn’t equal failure. They haven’t lost the ability to have a successful relationship or to continue their career. It just means that they’ve attempted to go down a particular path and there’s been a roadblock. They can still pick up and try in a different way.”
Central to this is having a growth mindset – that is, the belief that you can learn, improve and develop your skills and abilities. We often get stuck in a fixed way of thinking, telling ourselves nothing can change, things are our fault or that “bad things always happen to me”, says Sahra. “But we can change those mindsets if we work at it; and recognising whether or not we have those limiting mindsets is the starting point.”
However, seeing opportunities for change and growth in any given situation isn’t simply a case of “just be more positive”, explains Sahra.
“It doesn’t work to go from extreme negative to extreme positive. Nothing is 100% negative or 100% positive, but if we can start to look closer at what’s actually going on and pay attention to some smaller, potentially positive aspects of the situation – find that mid-ground – that can be a really good starter for change.”
Blake agrees: “See the facts of the situation for what they are. Say, OK, that turned out like A, B and C; the lessons I’ve learnt and what I’ve taken from it and how I can grow from it are D, E and F. I’m going to take the light with the dark.”
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