Dear brothers and sisters, when troubles of any kind come your way, consider it an opportunity for great joy. For you know that when your faith is tested, your endurance has a chance to grow. So let it grow, for when your endurance is fully developed, you will be perfect and complete, needing nothing. James 1:2-4, NLT
Rubin “Hurricane” Carter, a top black boxer at the height of his career, was wrongfully convicted of homicide in 1966. He was sentenced to three consecutive life terms. Although he reported to prison, Hurricane refused to surrender the freedoms that were innately his: his choices, beliefs, and attitude. He knew he would be freed at some point.
Instead of breaking down behind bars, he reaffirmed that he had choices. He would not let his anger rob him of perspective. He spent every available moment reading law and philosophy books, toughening his mind, and working on his case.
After 19 years and two trials, he overcame the verdict and was freed from prison in 1985. He took no action against the state, refusing to acknowledge that he’d been in prison and needed help. He had never let adversity control his thoughts or beliefs. His lack of power didn’t make him powerless. In fact, the adversity made him tougher.
This story, though uncommon, offers many lessons that we can apply to the obstacles and difficulties that we will inevitably encounter in life as we pursue our goals and dreams. Each of us is bound to face money problems, relationship misunderstandings, issues at work, personal failures, etc. It’s not wrong to wish that difficult and painful situations would end. It’s wrong to avoid, deny, or blame your way out of dealing with those situations.
How you deal with and confront your obstacles will have a lot to do with how your future turns out. Your greatness will be measured to the degree that you can handle adversity without becoming discouraged to the point of ineffectiveness. You can’t control the circumstances in the world, but you can control how you respond.
To be someone who accomplishes his or her goals, you need to decide in advance that you will not only fight through the pain and adversity that you experience on your journey in life, but you’ll also use those obstacles to increase your resolve and wisdom. Remember that everything you go through in life is a chance to improve your character and practice a virtue or skill like resilience, forgiveness, flexibility, optimism, reality testing, assertiveness, independence, or teamwork. Far too many people go through painful situations and experiences mining them for the wealth of the lessons.
External factors might influence your path, but never let it influence your direction. Here are a couple of things to consider.
Ways to Cope with Obstacles and Adversity
Avoid negative self-talk. What you say to and about yourself during and after a tough moment determines how you get through it and what you get from it. Do yourself a favor by overriding negative self-talk with reframing talk. Here’s a piece of advice from the good book:
Summing it all up, friends, I’d say you’ll do best by filling your minds and meditating on things true, noble, reputable, authentic, compelling, gracious—the best, not the worst; the beautiful, not the ugly; things to praise, not things to curse. Philippians 4:8, MSG
I incorporate this passage in my life through listening to powerful inspirational clips from sermons or motivational talks, watching uplifting movies, or keeping a set of quotes nearby that help give me perspective and provide me with wisdom to navigate through tough situations. Words pick me up when I’m down.
One of the ways of dealing with negative self-talk, especially when you begin believing things you have no evidence for, is the STOP technique. STOP is a tool that can be used to change how you look at any situation you’re dealing with or gain perspective on a matter, instead of allowing your feelings to get the best of you.
Here’s a simple example:
S – Situation
You are laid off from your job.
T – Thoughts and feelings
You believe that your future is ruined. You will never be of any use to anyone and can never go back to the market to bring value. People are probably laughing at you.
O – Outcome
You feel embarrassed, full of shame, and fearful about the future.
P – Personal Debate
You knew the company was having a hard time financially. You were aware that layoffs were possible. This might actually prove to be a blessing in disguise, because you did want a change in career. Now, the opportunity is here. Sure, it’s hard emotionally, but change is always uncomfortable. If you stop and learn the lessons, you can turn this situation around.
Exercise: Use this tool to evaluate any situation that you are facing, to ensure that your thinking is healthy.
S – Situation
T - Thoughts and feelings
O – Outcome
P – Personal debate
Cultivate optimism. Don’t be pessimistic about the future. Greatness is not just about overcoming obstacles; it’s also about not “crying over spilled milk” and sinking into a state of pessimistic thinking. Here are the three voices of pessimism:
· “Things will never change.”
· “Everything in my life will go wrong now.”
· “It’s all my fault.”
If you find yourself thinking like this, make a conscious decision to start thinking new thoughts.
· “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.”
· “How you see the problem is the problem.”
· “The winds of adversity fill the sails of success.”
· “Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”
Don’t blame others. Taking responsibility for what you can control gives you back your power. Are you using blame to avoid taking responsibility? Here are six signs that you might be:
1. “I’m unlucky.” You feel you have been dealt a "bad hand" in life.
2. “I’m powerless.” You don't think you can change anything in your life for the better.
3. “I can’t fix this.” You view negative occurrences and relationships in your life as being out of your control.
4. “I’m right about this!” You rarely think you are wrong.
5. “I’m not sorry.” You believe apologizing is a sign of weakness.
6. “I remember …” You dwell on the past instead of looking to the future.
Embrace discomfort. On the road to pursuing your calling, you’re likely to encounter seasons of discomfort. Clear the fog by clarifying your values, setting goals, and calculating how much longer you’ll have to endure pain and difficulty before you reach your goal. Knowing the purpose of your pain and how much farther you have to go allows you to tolerate the discomfort. Go back to Chapters 3,12,15,16, and 17 and review the exercises.
Look to your heroes. Study the examples of people who overcame adversity. So many names come to mind, but some of my personal favorites are Nelson Mandela, Malcolm X, and Martin Luther King, Jr. Read biographies of these individuals. These books are available at www.amazon.com:
· The Autobiography of Malcolm X: As Told to Alex Haley by Malcolm X and Alex Haley
· Long Walk to Freedom: The Autobiography of Nelson Mandela by Nelson Mandela
· The Autobiography of Martin Luther King, Jr. by Claiborne Carson
Consider your history. Reflect on a time when you had a personal challenge or obstacle (financial, relationship, career, academic, etc.) in your life. On a scale of one to ten, how would you rate the way you handled the obstacle? What could you have done better? How could you prepare to make it easier to deal with the next challenge or obstacle?