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Last week’s Gem centered on how to stay motivated in the face of adversity, problems and failure. You are not alone when it comes to dealing with these situations.
The way to handle adversity and failure is to step back, change your frame of reference, and be realistic and optimistic. Stepping back means to pause and think before acting. At least for a moment, detach from your emotions and the situation. You need to open your mind to all possibilities.
If your beliefs are based on thinking like "if my work is a failure, then I am a failure and therefore worthless and incapable", then that sets you up for denial, depression and, consequently, inaction. Consequently, your frame of reference needs to change. It is much better to have the perspective along the lines of "failure is something that happens in the course of life and provides an incredible learning opportunity." With that mode of thinking, you are much more likely to realistically accept what is happening in the present and respond effectively.
Being realistic means to see things as they are without filtering them or trying to make believe that everything is OK when in fact it is not. It also means to accept the fact that everything is subject to change and uncertainty, and that some things cannot be accomplished in the time available even though you really want them to be. If we consider this as a base, let's look at some options for managing in the face of adversity and failure.
We should avoid reactive behavior. Reactive behavior is founded on emotion and conditioned habits and beliefs rather than the needs of the current situation. Reactive behavior can take any form, from just giving up to holding on too long and with more or less overt emotionality.
Reactivity is an ineffective way to address problems. Yet, how often do we find ourselves reacting to a project that is behind schedule and over budget, or in an organization that is falling apart, or in a situation where our latest attempt at self improvement has ended in a behavior that falls back into old, dysfunctional ways?
To avoid reactive behavior and make a positive difference, take a step back to get a clear perspective. Disengage from the situation that is confronting you so that you can see it objectively. Take a breath, count to 10, and don’t worsen the situation by doing what seems to be natural but is often counterproductive. Taking time to step back has a calming effect.
Your frame of reference is important in how you confront adversity. You are not the situation; you are not the cause (though your past actions may have been) of the problem. Disengage and stepping back lets you see the big picture in the most objective way possible.
Once you can begin to see the situation clearly, acknowledge and accept the situation as it is. Unless we honestly do this, there is not much that can be done. It is important to review the current state and how it came into being.
Remember that everything—including troubled projects, organizations and our own behaviors— have causes. Knowing these causes helps to eliminate their effects. If we are to turn things around, we need to do an honest assessment. Do it carefully to avoid blaming, but hone in on the real causes.
Expectations are among the most important elements of assessments. Are they realistic? Are the objectives achievable? Can you eliminate your negative habits and imperfections in a month or even a year or two? What actions need to happen to reverse the current direction?
Don’t overlook the power of planning. It defines realistic objectives and what we must do to accomplish them.
Plan so you can get a realistic sense of what the possibilities are. Can you meet the original expectations? Is it time to pull the plug on the project or the relationship (personal or professional) and cut your losses? What is the path forward, the risks and the requirements for success?
Planning enables you to determine the right next steps. You get the sense that positive change is beginning. You know that continuing in the same way you have been working, only doing it faster or more intensively is likely to lead to a horrible ending with more suffering on the way. Planning helps change direction and allows movement forward.
Change the challenge. Instead of getting the project done within the original time and budget, turn the project into a success and learning experience. Change the expectation of quick enlightenment to a commitment to clearing away the mental models, habits and other hindrances that obscure your clarity.
Be realistic. Sometimes a canceled project or an ended relationship is better than one that continues on with no hope of success. Remember that when you commit to a process of letting go of attachments to unrealistic expectations, you can accomplish the most important goals: self-discovery, confidence and self-perfection.
In the final analysis, rather than running away from or ignoring adversity and failure, embrace them as challenges. Transform the energy they bring up in the form of fear or anger into clarity and the determination to move forward in the most effective way.