Until the worst happens, we tend to consider ourselves immune to catastrophes. However, sooner or later, you may have to face a critical situation in your life. Sickness, loss of a job, a flood, a car accident, or poverty can happen to anyone.
Misfortune may knock on your door without warning. If it catches you unprepared, it will inflict you more damage than the absolutely necessary. When adversity takes the upper hand, you won't be able to prevent all negative consequences, but you should at least strive to minimize them.
How can you remain alert and detect danger before it grows to threatening proportions? What measures can you take to cut your losses and stabilize the situation? Which qualities should you cultivate to strengthen your forces and resources?
In difficult times, there are three assets that prove particularly valuable: psychological resilience, the ability to view problems in perspective, and the willingness to take continual action. If you fall off a ship into the water, those are precisely the sort of skills that will allow you to stay afloat, orient yourself towards the coast, and swim vigorously to attain safety.
None of those three assets can be acquired overnight. Those abilities can be neither borrowed nor purchased, only cultivated. Patience and persistence play a key role in developing self-reliance, thoughtfulness, and decisiveness. Strangely enough, the three qualities that enable you to react to threats quickly can only be acquired through sustained effort.
 Psychological resilience: Only a small percentage of individuals are highly resistant to irritation, discouragement, and anxiety. Self-reliance provides you with serenity, avoids foolish reactions, and multiplies your effectiveness. Fear and despair seldom affect self-confident people. What steps should you take to reinforce this quality?
 The ability to view problems in perspective: Sound philosophical convictions do not develop by chance. Those who possess a logical mind enjoy overwhelming advantages when they face trouble. Individuals who make rational decisions don't worry about short-term inconveniences. How can you increase your ability to view problems in perspective?
 The willingness to take continuous action: When a natural disaster occurs, injury and material losses paralyse large numbers of people. In contrast, other victims gather their remaining possessions and begin to fix the roof of their home immediately after the catastrophe. Individuals who have developed the habit of continuous action tend to overcome adversity faster. What can you do to strengthen this aspect of your character?
After suffering damage, your most urgent goal should be to stabilize your situation. If you lose your job, you don't want to lose your house too. If you catch the flu, you don't want it to turn into pneumonia. If you get a flat tyre while driving, you don't want to lose control of your car and crash against a wall.
Should you fall into a well, your immediate objective is not to drown. You know that you must attain this goal at all costs; other concerns become secondary or irrelevant. Your energies and senses align to ensure your survival. Your physical and mental resources concentrate on a single task to guarantee its accomplishment.
This must-do attitude that makes you unstoppable is precisely what you need to cultivate your critical assets. Self-reliance, thoughtfulness, and decisiveness are the cardinal skills that will help you in times of adversity. None of them can be artificially implanted into your personality.
These skills can only be developed in progressive steps. You cannot improvise psychological resilience more than you can cook perfect crème glacee if you have never set foot in the kitchen.
You cannot magically learn to view problems in perspective more than you can drive a car if you've never sat before behind the wheel. When you are facing a major threat, you will only be able to react quickly if you are already used to taking initiative.
Enhancing your self-reliance, thoughtfulness, and decisiveness is a long-term process. Those immaterial assets are worth more than physical wealth. If you possess them, prosperity will be within reach; if you don't, chances are that you will waste whatever wealth you may already have.
Do not be satisfied with trying just one method to attain your aim. Reading good material may increase your self-confidence, but so will taking risks, travelling overseas, public speaking, team work, sports, joining a social club, dancing, taking cooking classes, and many other activities.
What about acquiring thoughtfulness? Meditation and self-knowledge may be of help in this respect, but so will be lectures, work experience, learning how to write effectively, staying abreast of the latest news, and discussing with intelligent people.
The same principle applies to decisiveness. Your willingness to take continuous action can be cultivated not just by making to-do lists, but also by identifying your priorities, cutting losses, spreading your risks, having a back-up plan, and developing a support network before you need it.
When disaster hits, those three assets may prove invaluable to you. They will help you identify which actions are critical, stabilize a bad situation, and build a sound basis for improvement. Commit yourself to developing those qualities until they become second nature to you.
[Image by CharlesSF under Creative Commons Attribution License. See the license terms under http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0/us]