by Jo Davidson
The thing is, you won’t always get what you want. It would be great if you did, but while it’s extremely beneficial to maintain a positive, optimistic outlook, it is also necessary to be realistic about life. Even the highly successful, who appear to, “have it all”, find themselves subject to disappointment in relationships, health, career and so on… in other words, exactly the same as the rest of us.
To combat this, some choose to take the pessimistic view that, rather than face disappointment when things don’t work out, they’d rather expect the worst in every situation, to protect themselves from the heartache. But what a way to live your life, facing each day with such distaste and trepidation, constantly waiting for the other shoe to drop. Does anyone truly want to waste their one shot at life, in such a way?
So, how can you live yourself happy, stay positive and optimistic, yet cope with the setbacks that we all face within our lives? Firstly, it’s important to note that, while it can seem that things are “always” going wrong for you, they very rarely are. As mentioned in earlier posts, developing a gratitude habit – focusing in on your personal sources of joy and allowing yourself to feel truly grateful for their presence and abundance – will help you to appreciate just how much you have to be happy about. Yet, beyond even that, there is the concept that volatility and trauma, in life, can actually be of benefit; to all of us.
In his 2012 book, Antifragile, Taleb reminds us of how organic life (amongst other things) has evolved and flourished in the face of disorder and adversity, and challenges that, by trying constantly to predict and eliminate risk from our lives, we are actually making ourselves incredibly fragile, and stifling our ability to grow. He argues that resilience is a “sissy” concept, that it’s simply insufficient, and that, in fact, we need to allow ourselves exposure to risk, to step out of our comfort zone, in order to truly become “antifragile”, and thrive in the face of disorder, throughout our lifetimes. The point being that life is not stable and predictable, the very nature of our world and society means that we cannot eliminate change, and the more time we live, the more likely we are to encounter volatility; so, we need to use that as a springboard for growth rather than try to hide from it, and find ourselves crumbling each time things don’t go our way. Indeed we all know of people who have faced tremendous adversity, yet have come back stronger than ever, fought on in spite of their past, and found incredible happiness and strength; Oprah Winfrey, Patrick Stewart, Christina Applegate and Davina McCall to name but a few. Positive psychology calls this phenomenon, “post-traumatic growth”; the lesser known antithesis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
So what makes one person flourish following mayhem and trauma, while another simply falls to pieces? Motivational coach Anthony Robbins, argues that it’s the meanings we choose to apply to such situations that are responsible. If we choose to believe challenging situations happen because we are magnets for bad luck, or that we are being punished, even to ask “why me?”, then we are never likely to grow. In fact, motivational speaker Les Brown asks “why not me?” The question being is there someone more deserving of the troubles you are experiencing? Probably not. Tony Robbins also reminds us that “the only people without problems, are those in cemeteries!” The good news being that you are doing better than all of them…
So, since we know fine well that challenges will occur, sometimes as a consequence of your actions, sometimes as a consequence of other people’s actions, sometimes completely out of the blue and outside of your control, then if you can’t control the situations, you must not fear and avoid them, but simply be sure to attach a useful meaning to them. Experience them fully, acknowledge your feelings, but seek out the opportunities within the problem. Consider how you can learn and grow from the experience and perhaps how you may approach a similar situation differently in future. By constantly seeking growth through such challenges, you can extend your comfort zone, reduce your panic zone, and exist in a state of stretch, which is not a place of fear, but a place of progress. You can become challenge-oriented and move towards antifragility…
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