Embracing adversity … the good side to when things go wrong!

Ancient Greek, Epictetus wisely said:

It’s not what happens to you, but how you react that matters

The flip side of the joy of life is that we at times face challenges and hardship.  Whilst we look for the silver linings, we unfortunately also need some days to look into the clouds.  Much of this is unfortunately beyond our control – a factor that for many of us becomes very disconcerting.  However there is an upside to adversity and knowing how to grow and develop beyond these challenges is where we can find the silver lining.

A few things to think about next time you face adversity.

Adversity is a reminder

I don’t meet too many people who tell me that they struggle from not being busy enough!  So when adversity comes along (illness, loss, disappointment) we can be forced to take stock of the things that are important to us: our friends, our family and our health.  Consistently the research tells us that ‘stuff’ (possessions, fame, and money) are not the things that bring us happiness.  When adversity pulls us up we have a chance to stop and reflect on what is important and where our priorities best lie.

Adversity provides guidance

Maybe the time has come to change your path?  Perhaps the challenge that you face is life telling you that you now need to think about doing things differently.  Maybe there is something that you can change.  Change, when it is done well requires knowing what decision to make and careful planning.  Take care to listen to your instinct, it is often a wise place to start.

Adversity makes us stronger

Whilst it may not feel it at the time, the only time we learn anything is when we make mistakes and are open to learning.  Most would prefer to experience success, however it is from our disappointments that we can dust ourselves off, reassess what we were doing (that didn’t work) and adjust for the future.  I have recently had interesting discussions with parents of successful athletes who have hit stumbling blocks when their child has experienced their first ‘failure’ and really not had the strategies to cope with it.  The advantage to not coming first every time, or not getting selected in the team is that it forces you to reconsider and grow.  We learn a great deal from when it doesn’t go the way we plan.  The important questions to ask ourselves are:

  1. Why might this have happened?
  2. What was my contribution?
  3. What did others do?
  4. Was it in or out of my control?
  5. What could I do differently next time?
  6. How am I better for the experience?

In fairness, sometimes depending upon the adversity it may be some time before we are ready to face such questions, however given none of us own a time machine (although I do put it on my wishlist to Santa every year!) all we have to go with is what we can control and how we can move forward.

I’d prefer the good times too, however I know that when adversity strikes at the very least I can learn from the experience and that can only benefit in the future.

Mental strength and weight loss

This post was first written on Inshape News in June 2012.

Whilst losing and maintaining weight loss requires physical actions (what you choose to eat, whether or not you exercise), much of your success of comes down to overcoming the associated mental challenges (feeling tired, losing motivation or losing confidence).

There are five key areas you can focus on that will greatly enhance your chances of success in being the person you want to be and achieving your goals.

Set Goals – If you don’t know where you are going, how will you know when you get there?  Research consistently shows that goal setting is a key component of success.  Begin with the end in mind. Ask yourself, “What would you like to achieve in ‘x’ months time?”  Once you know this, then you can ask yourself, “What can you do TODAY to contribute towards the final goal?”  Remember that small and regular steps are the key to achieving your goals.

Be Positive – How you talk to yourself is ‘crucial’ in determining whether you make positive decisions.  Our brain is specifically designed to offer us a constant stream of thoughts.  Over time and through habit, we determine whether these thoughts are optimistic and helpful or pessimistic and unhelpful.  Optimism has been repeatedly shown to be a determining factor for success.  So you could ask yourself, “Would I ever speak to someone else, the way I speak to myself?”  If, like many people the answer for you is NO, then work towards changing your thinking.  If your thinking is negative, challenge yourself – is what you’re saying even true?  Are you catastrophising?  Will the thing that’s worrying you even be an issue next week?  Next month?  Next year?  Replace pessimistic unhelpful thoughts with those that will move you forward in your goals.

Take …… And replace it with ……
“I ate junk food for lunch. I’m never   going to get on top of this. I’m hopeless.” “I ate junk food for lunch. Oh well, it   was just today and tomorrow I will have a chance to have something healthier   that I’ll enjoy.”
“I’ve only lost 330g this week. This is   too slow. I’m never going to get there.” “I didn’t lose a lot of weight this week,   but I didn’t gain any either!  Slow and   steady wins the race. It will be worth it in the end.”

Be Resilient – Challenges will come along. You’ll miss an exercise session or you’ll eat something unplanned that you wish you hadn’t.  Remind yourself it’s okay.  It’s not the challenges in life that we experience, but rather, how we respond to these and deal with them.  Chin up and face the world – you will be okay and you can survive whatever you face.  The sooner you can bounce back, the sooner you can make more positive steps to enhance your well-being.

Be Creative – Novelty is a great way to spark our interest and keep us motivated.  Perhaps there is a new healthy dish you could try or you could change the location of your regular walk?  Routine is important, however sprinkling in some creativity every now and again stops us from becoming stagnant and gives us a reason to move forward.

Know Your Recipe – Not just for the foods you eat, but for the life you want to live!  We all have things that when we do them regularly greatly increases our chance of success.  The more mindful you are of what helps you to stay healthy and make great choices, the more likely you will continue to do them.  So, if you know that staying hydrated, going to be before 10pm, putting your exercise clothes out before you go to bed, taking a container of almonds to work to snack on are all things that help you to make positive choices, then include these in your recipe.  Your recipe for success that is.

Maintaining a healthy weight is a work in progress for many people, for all of their lives.  Approaching it optimistically, with a plan, being able to bounce back when something goes wrong, including novelty and knowing what you do that makes a difference are all key factors is maintaining your mental strength.

Hmmm, whether to turn left or right?

In 1998 I watched the movie ‘Sliding doors’ and it’s underlying question has remained with me: how different might your life be dependent upon even the small decisions you make?

The movie follows lead character Gwyneth Paltrow’s life according to whether she does or doesn’t catch the train home after being unfairly sacked from her job. The movie shows in parallel the very different lives that would follow based upon that one small event.

Every day we are faced with hundreds of decisions: from what to have for breakfast, which route to travel to work, and whether or not to ask for that promotion.  The thought that every fork in the road could lead to very different destinies could feel immobilising as we consider every possibility and outcome.

However there may also be times that by following our usual course of action our routines limit and preclude us from taking a risk with the opportunity in front of us.

The truth is that without a crystal ball we can never be 100% confident of the consequences of our decisions or how another decision may have turned out. So the lesson then is to move forward with confidence, knowing that at the time of our decision we did the best we could with the information and options we had in front of us.

When making a decision these general guidelines may be helpful:

1. List your options.  Very few situations have only one possibility – brainstorm all the possibilities, even the seemingly unrealistic or ‘silly’ ones.

2. Consider the advantages and disadvantages of the options – what will be the likely outcomes? what is the ‘cost’ to you and others of the action? which outcome is likely to receive the most resistance?  why? and how could you overcome it?

3. Visualise the outcome.  Take the options you have considered and see in your mind what that decision may look like.  Consider that decision in future terms – how may you feel down the track if that was the decision you made?

4. Listen to yourself.  So often people tell me of times when they didn’t listen to their ‘gut reaction’ and regret their decision.  Whilst intuition isn’t always right for us, it is certainly can be a good starting point.

5. Implement your decision.  Here’s your opportunity to take action.  With energy and enthusiasm, take action on your decision.  Be committed to the choice you have made.

6. Evaluate your decision. This is your opportunity for learning and growth.  Was the outcome what you expected?  Would you do anything differently next time?  What would you do next time?

Clinical experience tells me that time spent in the past, in the land of regret and ‘what if’ only facilitates guilt, disappointment and depression.  You made a decision and whether or not you achieved what you hoped for, the question is: what are you going to do now? All you control is in the present.  The past is for our memories and the future is for our aspirations.

The wonder of life is that it is filled with opportunities and decisions to be made.  The doors will continue to ‘slide’, the journey is deciding which ones you will step through.

 

Achieving those new year resolutions (in June)!

Around December 28 each year I receive phone calls from journalists seeking comments regarding New Years Eve.  In particular, New Years Resolutions and why we are not successful in keeping them!  Each year my answer is the same, most people don’t spend enough time planning for the changes they intend to make.

Behaviour change can be tricky – it isn’t just a case of deciding you’d like to start something new or tweak something you’ve been doing and then it just happening.  The reality is that for behaviour change to stick it requires thought and planning.

You want to start or change the way you currently do something, perhaps you want to start exercising or improve your food choices.  Your first consideration needs to be:  Why haven’t I been doing that behaviour prior to now?  The answers are crucial, because in part they will help you to understand your barriers to change.

When we know our barriers to change, we can plan ways in which we will overcome them.  Consider the barriers below and some possible solutions.

Barrier Solution
I don’t like exercising in the mornings Exercise in the afternoons or evening
The morning is the only time I have to exercise, and I don’t like exercising in the mornings – it’s hard to get up! Lay your clothes out the night before.  Set the alarm and remind yourself that once your feet touch the floor, the hardest part is done!
I don’t know what exercises I should do, I’m not even sure where to start See a qualified professional and have them design and teach you an exercise regime that will work for you
I’m not ready to start exercising, but I want to some day. Perhaps start by increasing your incidental exercise – park further away at the shopping centre, hop off the bus one stop earlier, take the stairs rather than the lift or escalator.
I feel tired and sluggish in the afternoons and a chocolate bar always makes me feel better. The sugar hit from the chocolate bar will be short lived – perhaps take some nuts or fruit or a yoghurt to work ready for your afternoon snack.
Once I start a packet of biscuits, I can’t stop If you’re going to have a biscuit, take what you want to have out of the packet and put the remainder away in a slightly inconvenient spot – the harder you have to work to get to it, the more time you have to think about it and may change your mind.

Do you make new year resolutions in 2011?  I wonder what you were determined to do 6 months ago?  Did you do it – for a while?  Are you still doing it?  The more time you can spend planning for how to make change work, the more likely you’ll achieve your goal.

And of course the good news is that change can start as soon as you’re ready … no need to wait until December 31 to start planning!

Next week we’ll discuss the language around change.  With a few simple phrases you can significantly increase the chances that you will make those changes.