Friday, 3 September 2010

The rational response to adversity

No matter how hard you work or how motivated you are, sooner or later, bad luck is going to hit you. Otherwise, someone acting negligently or mistakenly might cause your misfortune. Some people are victims of a general shift in the economy, others of a car accident. Adversity just happens.

Recovering your peace of mind when life turns for the worse is a major achievement. Difficult periods test the validity of your personal philosophy and rightly so. Can your convictions help you regain serenity? Are you able to face a painful loss without giving up hope for the future?

Many books recommend naive optimism and groundless enthusiasm as psychological defences, but none of them works for long. The human mind cannot sustain effectively beliefs that are not anchored in reality. Self-manipulation, instead of creating joy, leads to bitterness and confusion.

What is the first step to improve your mood when your world seems to be falling apart? My recommendation is to focus on reality. Forget about empty positivity and gratuitous cheers. What you need to do is to look hard at your problems and measure them. Assess the damage and count what is left.

An analysis of the situation should allow you to identify the real trouble. It might be sickness or the loss of a job. It could be an exploitative relationship or a wrong career. Whatever the affliction, it is essential to separate the actual problem from the emotional reaction. Worrying about bankruptcy is not bankruptcy itself.

Make an effort to distinguish the facts from the folklore around the facts. Unless you are in jail or suffering from terminal illness, most situations can be turned around. We all possess an innate inclination to exaggerate our misfortunes to a ridiculous extent. Emotions magnify problems.

The rational response to adversity begins with reducing difficulties to their proper size. Do not let yourself be overwhelmed by seemingly endless negative consequences that might occur in the future. Force yourself to drop irrational concerns and concentrate exclusively on the problem at hand.

Sickness is destructive and unpleasant, but you might still have many years left to enjoy life. A loss of employment or reputation can reduce your current income, but nothing prevents you from changing direction. To rebuild your finances, there are countless options that you can explore.

To recover your peace of mind, you don't need to become optimistic. What you want to gain is perspective, the path to serenity. Can you appraise your concerns and muster enough strength to shrug your shoulders? Try to say "so what?" and mean it. Once you get past that point, you are on your way.


[Image by Rach ScottHalls under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under]