“All the adversity I’ve had in my life, all my troubles and obstacles, have strengthened me… You may not realize it when it happens, but a kick in the teeth may be the best thing in the world for you.”
Walt Disney (Cartoonist)
“There is no better than adversity. Every defeat, every heartbreak, every loss, contains its own seed, its own lesson on how to improve your performance the next time.”
Malcolm X (American Activist)
Be grateful for what you have and stop complaining — it bores everybody else, does you no good, and doesn’t solve any problems.”
Zig Ziglar (American Author/Speaker)
Gratitude is easy.
Everyone says so.
Having a gratitude practice improves your sense of well-being.
It helps redirect your brain to more positive states.
It increases happiness.
All that’s true.
But, here’s the caveat.
Gratitude is an easy mind-shift when things are going your way.
Being thankful for getting what you wanted is a breeze.
But, how do you react when things don’t go your way?
How’s your gratitude practice then?
Usually, it’s dumped in favor of wallowing and ruminating.
About what you don’t have.
About who you don’t have.
Leaders see the bigger picture.
They see the whole picture.
The good and the bad.
And, when bad things happen, leaders have the ability to look beyond initial disappointment and trace out their own silver lining.
The greater challenge is to be thankful for what you don’t have… or what you have lost.
And, even harder than that, is to actively let go of what you already have for your long-term growth.
Very often, a happy and successful life comes down to what you can let go of.
What you can stop obsessing over, what you can stop worrying about, what you can stop feeling obligated to do, or maybe who you can stop feeling obligated to please.
The person that walked away or let you down.
The goal you didn’t reach, the thing you didn’t get, and the things you don’t have, often deserve gratitude.
This is something that has played out over and over again in my life.
When I was first trying to get my very first book published, I was working with somebody who promised to give me all kinds of help.
They promised to show up and help me at speaking events, they promised to help me find publishers, and that help never came.
It was just empty promise after empty promise, and when they didn’t show up for me, I had to go out on my own and do everything myself.
I had to start going to events where I would meet publishers.
I had to learn about the entire publication process, and the entire process of writing a book all on my own.
It made me better, and I realized that if that person had done everything for me, I wouldn’t have the skill set that I have today.
I probably wouldn’t have been published with a big publisher at all.
Being let down by failed promises ended up being a blessing that helped me reach a new level of success.
I have experienced this as well in friendships and relationships, that I invested much time and energy trying to make them happy, at the expense of my own time, energy, and happiness.
Once they left my life, I could see how much better it was for me to be without them.
Even though loss causes disappointment, or even pain, it’s temporary.
Because now, I can look back and say that I’m really grateful for what happened, because my life opened up in ways that it would have never opened up with those people still in my life.
How Negative Events Build Psychological Resilience
Resilient people don’t only focus on positive events.
They use negative events to their benefit.
Successful people don’t wait for everything to go their way — they use negative events as fuel for their fire.
The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology studied how resilient individuals use positive emotions to bounce back from negative events.
In the 3 studies cited, researchers found that “resilient people use positive emotions to rebound from, and find positive meaning in, stressful encounters”.
Research on positive emotions in the Review of General Psychology discusses the role of positive reframing in the “broaden and build” adaptive psychological process.
Negative emotions shrink possibility and restrict problem-solving, creativity, and future growth.
Whereas being able to maintain positive emotion, or finding the silver lining or proverbial blessings in disguise, “broadens” one’s thought-action repertoire by encouraging openness to new possibilities and future growth.
The ability to regulate emotion during stress in this way is a hallmark of resilience.
The Greater Good Berkeley suggests a research-tested technique called “self-distancing” to gain perspective on negative events.
The opposite of self-immersion, which is the typical ruminating and obsessing over negative events, self-distancing is self-induced space to gain perspective.
Self-distancing is taking time out of the trenches of the stress, or despair of loss, or challenging events, and being less reactive and choosing to find a positive spin.
This practice breeds resilience and allows you to refocus on re-aligning with future goals, sometimes with the forced motivation to move forward more aggressively.
It’s a practice that you’re incapable of if you’re stuck in feeling sorry for yourself and your losses.
How Gratitude For Negative Events Can Increase Success
Often, when people or opportunities exit your life, the possibilities, time, resources, and focus you use to recover are the very things you need to fire you up to take action.
Even the wrong people and things in your life can make you feel temporarily grateful, but too comfortable for real growth and success.
The gratitude practices around what you have, and keeping what you have, can make you lazy and passive.
The reality is that you grow under tension.
Because of it.
You can use the things you don’t have in your life — the things and people you lose — whether by circumstance or choice.
Here are 2 ways to lean into adversity and use it to reach your goals.
1. Choose silver-lining thinking.
You can set your goals.
Lay out your plan.
Be methodical, detailed, and totally focused.
And, still miss something.
You can’t control everything.
And, that’s a good thing.
Being reliant on everything going according to plan to reach your goals means you’re inflexible and your success is dependent and insecure.
Things are going to fall through… or fall apart.
And, many people fall apart with them.
You’re too close.
You’re too reactive.
You’ve lost perspective.
This is why obsessing over the things you don’t have keeps you stuck.
It’s a mindset that holds you back.
Ruminating is paralyzing.
It is passive… unresponsive.
And, it wastes your time, energy, and resources that you need to redirect into purpose-filled goals and actions.
Take a step back.
Instead of sticking your head in the sand, pull yourself out and get some distance.
Challenge yourself to predict a positive outcome from this experience.
What’s the best case scenario?
How is this causing you to be more self-reliant?
What can you learn from this, by not being dependent on other people and perfect circumstances?
Take stock of what you want that you’re not getting and be grateful for it.
Be grateful for the resilience that this experience is building.
Be grateful for the success you’ll earn, through laser-like focus and hard work, that you claim as your own.
Be grateful for the future wins you’re going to have by choosing to focus on your strengths, focusing on positive emotions, and solution-driven action.
2. Let go of what you already have.
People hate to let things go.
Accumulating is easier.
Being passive is easier.
Purging dead weight from your life is hard.
We get attached to people and things.
But the truth is, not everything you have in your life — even if you worked hard for it — needs to stay.
Sometimes the things and people you hold on to, you’d be better off without.
They’re holding you back and keeping you dependent.
They’re the things that you’re obsessing about because they cause drama.
They’re sucking your energy and your focus and keeping you from your goals.
Yet, you’re holding onto them — maybe even loosely — and hoping they’ll just disappear for you.
The key is that letting go is not a passive thing.
You have to make an active decision.
Just the phrase “let go” makes it sounds like you just need to passively say, “Okay, you’re gonna leave my life”.
But, things don’t just leave your life to make it easy on you.
Some people won’t leave your life unless you cut them out cold.
You have to actively decide that this is enough.
Take a hike.
You need to actively tell them to leave.
Then, when you do, notice what’s better in your life.
Notice the room you have for people who are there for you.
When you cut out things that are robbing you of your time, start working on your goals during that time instead.
Notice how removing tasks and people from your life can give you new energy and new focus.
Growth is impossible without challenge.
That kind of adversity can be your advisor.
Start being thankful for the things you don’t have to be obligated to, the people you don’t have to make happy anymore, the situations that were difficult to get through but made you a better person, helped you learn skills, and helped you grow.
When you become intentionally grateful for the things you don’t have in your life — the people you let go of, and the challenges that have derailed or disappointed you — you instantly change your perspective. You tap into a positive, motivated mindset that will drive you to creative solutions to move forward in your life. When you become grateful for growth opportunities, you will be able to increase your resilience and get stronger. Your ultimate success depends on you controlling not just your mindset, but actively participating in the pruning of your own life as you move towards your goals.
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