Have you ever experienced a setback that seemed to suck the life out of you? Bad things happen to us.
And it’s not a question of if something bad will happen, but when. So you better have a strategy to deal with setbacks.
We all have to deal with hurt, sadness, and loss in our lives. That’s a given. So it is not important to ask yourself why bad things happen.
As Epictetus said about 2000 years ago:
“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters.”
We get fired. We lose loved ones. We have to deal with physical impairment. Friends turn into enemies. Colleagues turn into archrivals.
So how do you deal with the negative things in life? Without a strategy you risk falling into a victim mindset: You might get bitter about life when things don’t go your way.
During the first three months of January 2015, I lost two family members who were close to me, quit my job, my relationship ended. And on top of that, I moved from London back to The Netherlands.
Even though it can always be worse—it still felt like life was kicking my ass. Here are 5 lessons I’ve learned that helped me to bounce back from difficulties.
1. Prepare for the worst
You can never prevent bad things from happening, but you can prevent getting knocked down by them. When you always expect that everything will work out fine — an unexpected setback will hit you extra hard. There’s no need to do that to yourself.
The solution is simple: Don’t just prepare for the worst possible outcome, but EXPECT it. You don’t have to become a cynic. Just realize that not everything will turn out the way you desire.
“Hoping for the best, prepared for the worst, and unsurprised by anything in between.”
― Maya Angelou,
2. Everything Is Temporary
Life is like seasons — there are good, great, not so great, and awful times. Your life is not always like summer when the weather’s nice, the birds sing and you have beautiful sunsets.
No, sometimes it’s winter. And life is fucked up. What gives you a positive outlook? Bad times are temporary — everybody knows it, and yet they freak out when life is bad. Life moves on, just make sure you don’t get stuck in the winter.
“In three words I can sum up everything I’ve learned about life: it goes on.”
― Robert Frost
3. See Things For What They Are
Don’t wish things were better. Don’t hope things will turn out fine. Wishing and hoping is not a strategy. Things will never improve without the realization that we have to work with the things we have.
We spend too much time complaining about our situation that we don’t have the energy to take action. Be a realist instead, see life for what it is, not what it should be. This strategy will take away complaining because you will be focused on making the best out of your situation.
4. Have Faith
Hope in itself is a bad strategy. But at the same time, we need to be excited about tomorrow.
I don’t care what you believe in as long as you have faith in something. You have to be stubborn when it comes to your future and expect that it will be good.
As Steve Jobs famously said:
“You can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backwards. So you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”
Some people mistake this with wishful thinking or the Pollyanna principle. I’m not a fan of the positive thinking movement. Positivity is great, but if you want to get yourself out of a rut, you need to put up your sleeves and dig yourself out of it.
We have to stay in touch with the reality of our life: Bills have to be paid, people to be looked after, etc.
But at the same time, you have to trust that things will fall into place in your future. That the dots will connect, just like Steve Jobs said. That’s why you have to have faith that your work will pay off eventually.
5. View Everything As Training
It’s cliché, but the things you experience will make you stronger, better, wiser, etc. The thing is: We only say those things in hindsight. Wouldn’t it be better to realize that you’re getting stronger when you’re IN the moment?
I don’t view obstacles as some terrible things that destroy your life. Everything that happens to you is just training. And training is always good, no matter how harsh it is.
Next time your life is shitty, take a step back, understand that it’s training, and say: Give me more!