Hard Times: Overcoming Adversity

Written By | General | September 2nd, 2010 | 30 Comments »

overcoming adversityIf you haven’t already heard, actor Michael Douglas announced his current battle with throat cancer during his appearance on The David Letterman Show this past Tuesday.

Douglas is battling the same type of cancer that I’ve been battling for the past few months. His optimistic outlook during this difficult challenge has inspired me to post the article below.

I know that your kind words and support, combined with my positivity is a significant reason why, today, I’m cancer free. I hope you enjoy the article.

Overcoming Adversity

Here’s a question for you: What are you made of? What are you really made of? When push comes to shove, when the rubber meets the road, when the chips are down, what lies at the very core of your character?

You learn what you’re really made of only when things go wrong and you are tumbled, end over end, by some adversity or setback that hits you like a Mack truck coming out of an alley. Since your behaviors on the outside are the real indicators of who you are on the inside, only by observing how you behave when things go wrong can you tell what you really have inside you.

Let’s make one thing clear at the beginning. Life is a continuous succession of both small and large problems. They never end. No sooner do you get control of one situation when you are hit by another. Life is a process of “two steps forward and one step back.” When you become a great success, you simply exchange one type of problem for another. Before, you had small problems with limited consequences; now you have large problems with enormous consequences. No matter how smart and clever and careful you are, you’ll face life struggles, challenges, difficulties, and sometimes heartbreaking adversities every day, week and month of your life.

And thank heaven for that! You couldn’t possibly have become the person you are today if you had not had to contend with adversity on your way up. Perhaps your chief aim in life is to develop a noble character, to become an excellent human being, to become everything you are capable of becoming. Only by contending with hard times that seem to be beyond your strength to handle at the moment can you grow more surely toward the stars.

The starting point in dealing with any difficulty is simply to relax. Clear your mind. Get yourself into a state where you’re calm and cool and in full control of your emotions and senses. Back off mentally, and become as objective as possible. Step back and look at the problem with a certain amount of detachment, as if it were happening to someone else. When you can analyze your adversities clearly, you sometimes see opportunities to turn them to your best advantage.

One of the rules in dealing with adversity in life is that you are only as free as your well-developed alternatives. You are only as free as the options you have. Only when you can switch and do something else can you be flexible in dealing with your current situation. If you have not developed an option or an alternative, you will become anxious and even panicky when you are threatened with a sudden loss or reversal in a particular area of your life.

We can avoid tragedy on that scale by following a four-step method for dealing with any adversity. Dale Carnegie wrote about it more than 50 years ago, and it’s still one of the most powerful mental tools that anyone can use when confronted with problems or worries of any kind.

Step One

Define the problem clearly. What exactly is the problem? What exactly are you worrying about? Write out the definition of your problem. Make sure that it’s a single problem. If it’s more than one problem, write out clear definitions of all the problems that together constitute what you are worrying about right now.

Step Two

Determine the worst possible outcome. Ask, “What’s the worst possible thing that can happen in this situation?” Be frank and honest with yourself. You might lose your money, or your relationship, or your customer, or someone or something else that is really important to you. If everything fell apart, what is the worst thing that could occur?

Step Three

Resolve to accept the worst, should it occur. Having identified the worst possible outcome, you now can go through the mental exercise of accepting that it is going to happen, no matter what you do. The remarkable thing is that as soon as you stop resisting the worst possible outcome, you’ll relax, your mind will clear, and your ability to deal with the situation will improve dramatically.

Step Four

Begin immediately to improve upon the worst, which you have already accepted is going to happen. Throw all of your mental resources into the battle to minimize the problem or resolve the difficulty. Concentrate on the future. Don’t worry about what happened, why it happened and who was responsible. Think only about the question, “What do I do now?” How can you minimize the consequences? What’s the first step you can take? And the second step? And the third step? And so on.

Successful people are not people without life problems. They are people who respond quickly and positively to their problems. They think them through in advance; they anticipate them. And when they can’t, they use the four-step method to resolve whatever difficulty they face. They define the problem clearly. They define the worst possible thing that could happen as a result of the problem. They resolve to accept the worst, should it occur. And then they concentrate all of their energies on making sure that the very worst doesn’t happen.

In dealing with adversity effectively, your ability to ask questions is essential. As long as you are asking questions, you are expanding the range of options and possibilities that are open to you. As long as you are asking questions, you are keeping your mind calm and cool and objective. You are not allowing yourself to get caught up emotionally, thereby shutting down large parts of your brain and your creative powers.

Many problems and adversities arise because of misunderstandings and incorrect information. One of the smartest things you’ll ever do in facing any adversity is to ask yourself, “Who else may have had this problem, and what did he do?” Ask around. Don’t be afraid to admit that you’re in a bind. If you made a mistake, or dropped the ball and found yourself in a difficult situation, don’t be afraid to go to someone and admit that you need help. You’ll be amazed at the valuable advice that you can get from someone who has already experienced the difficulty that you’re going through.

In dealing with adversity, perhaps one of the most important positive affirmations you can remember is this: “This, too, shall pass.” Whatever it is, however difficult it may appear, say to yourself, “This, too, shall pass.”

One of your main jobs in life is to become an expert in dealing with adversity, to triumph over difficulty, to rise above the challenges of day-to-day life. Keep your thoughts on where you’re going, not on where you’ve been. Keep your eyes on your goals, and keep your chin tilted upward toward the sunshine. Resolve in advance that you will meet and overcome every difficulty, and then, no matter what happens, don’t give up until you do.

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About Brian Tracy – Brian Tracy is recognized as the top sales training and personal success authority in the world today. He has authored more than 60 books and has produced more than 500 audio and video learning programs on sales, management, business success and personal development, including worldwide bestseller The Psychology of Achievement. Brian’s goal is to help you achieve your personal and business goals faster and easier than you ever imagined. You can follow him on google+, facebook, and twitter.


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  1. Piadas says on August 7, 2013 at 5:38 am:

    Adversities are a constant in our lives. The most important thing to do is to stay strong and never fear them.

  2. Best Diet says on August 6, 2013 at 9:24 am:

    Hi, I do think your blog could be having internet browser compatibility issues. Whenever I look at your web site in Safari, it looks fine however when opening in IE, it’s got some overlapping issues. I merely wanted to give you a quick heads up! Apart from that, fantastic blog!

  3. LTE ready phones says on June 28, 2013 at 4:34 pm:

    I would like to show my affection for your kind-heartedness in support of those who actually need help on this one question. Your personal commitment to getting the message all-around became remarkably useful and has really enabled guys and women much like me to reach their desired goals. Your own warm and helpful tips and hints can mean a lot to me and much more to my mates. Warm regards; from each one of us.

  4. Majorshadow says on December 23, 2010 at 1:43 pm:

    Song “Stand” a song about facing adversity.

  5. Neeraj Bali says on December 18, 2010 at 6:40 am:

    Hi Brian,
    GOD gives tough times to make good People better & to make better people best. I think same has happened with you. You have passed the acid test. we are proud of you. GOD BLESS YOU.

  6. Jim says on October 27, 2010 at 5:35 pm:

    Dear Brian:

    I picked up a copy of your “Eat That Frog!” at a local library book sale. I paged through the book and found it timley advise for me and my two daughters (17 and 14). I decided to share this with my co-workers, to do a quick brief of the book. I started researching more about you and your work and have become fasinated. I’m looking forward to reading your other books.

    Wishing you all the best in your health journey.

  7. Rodney Volk says on October 27, 2010 at 4:32 am:

    Hi Brian,
    I’m so happy to hear you’re cancer free. (That’s the best news ever!)
    This is such an excellent article. I was searching for these words of wisdom – w/o much luck, till I read your article, and shared it with someone special…

  8. Abdul Naser says on October 12, 2010 at 11:12 am:

    Hi, Brian Your advices had changed my life. I always love to read your articles and I am so happy to hear you are cancer free. God bless you.

  9. kay o says on September 11, 2010 at 6:52 pm:

    Thank you for your work and God bless you. Hope to meet you someday.
    kay o

  10. jacqueline Day says on September 8, 2010 at 6:38 am:

    Hi Brian

    About 15 years ago I attended a workshop of yours. Your work and inspiration led me on to the path of personal development. I remember quite clearly from the workshop – the worst possible outcome scenario. This I have applied several times in my life when faced with adversity. It really does
    work; stop resisting, relax, improve upon it and so it shall pass.
    I also had the opportunity to meet you during the evening dinner in 2006 when you gave a talk at the Coaching Academy in the UK – thank you for your inspiration.

    When I heard about your cancer, I was one of the many who prayed for your full recovery and I held on to a strong belief that you would recover.
    And so you continue to shine your light.
    Love, light and gratitude
    Jacqueline Day

  11. Mike Tornabane says on September 7, 2010 at 1:59 pm:

    Wow Brian,

    I am really taken back at this moment. Knowing I am going to see Michael Douglas go thru what I had and hearing you just went thru it too. Your wisdom has been a tremendous force in my recovery of throat cancer. I was diagnosed at 29. I am 4 years out. Determined to make something of my life after my recovery I’ve listened to a few of your audiobooks on a consistent basis and have started to see the changes in my life. Your words and teachings have been like a father to me.

    Medically speaking. Your thyroid levels might start to drop from the radiation effects. The medication is incremental until it balances out. Vitamin D is very important for metabolism if your kidneys were affected by the chemo. Those two things were my biggest struggle to find my energy levels. You will have to keep an eye on these when you have your blood tests. Rest is very important also.

    Let me know if you ever need to check notes on recovery.


  12. Bettymongolia says on September 5, 2010 at 9:30 pm:

    Dear Teacher
    Thanks to your positive supporting attitude to humans, more and more people are encouraged with your great heart touching words of wisdom. You really motivated my Amega Leaders of Mongolia. Thanks for your contribution and long life.

  13. Ken Calhoun says on September 5, 2010 at 6:48 am:

    Hi Brian, great points on the process you’ve outlined, eg working backwards from worst-case, to identify areas to focus on improving and taking action on.

    Over the years, your training has helped me significantly with peace-of-mind issues and stress management (always constant companions for us info entrepreneurs), in addition to setting the bar for how to be prolific and have impact, to make a contribution.

    Dealing with adversity, you’d said in a video that life is a series of small problems, punctuated by occasional crises; it’s how one manages it that counts, such as benchmarking, seeing what others have done to overcome hurdles and move forwards.

    Thanks as always for what you do, I re-read your books weekly and re-watch your videos, your training is a constant companion for success, which I recommend to all my customers to learn from as well. Best wishes for continued recovery and success.


    - Ken

  14. Ann Kensek says on September 4, 2010 at 11:42 am:

    Brian, I’m so sorry to hear of your illness, and so glad to hear you are cancer free. You’re book “Maximum Achievement” was one of the very first I read that set my feet on the path I’m on. It changed my life- one of two or three books that I can say that about…You’ve been an inspiration to me and so many! May God Bless you and hold you in the palm of his hand, and may your recovery be thorough and long lasting-

    Be well,

  15. Joo Kwang says on September 3, 2010 at 11:33 pm:

    Indeed, it is adversity that brings out the stuff from within. Dear Brian, I wish you a speedy recovery. You have inspired people from all over the world. I pray God will continue to do so in you to spread the messages of inspiration and hope.

    Joo Kwang

  16. Heba Hussein says on September 3, 2010 at 12:55 pm:

    Hi Brian,
    Thank so you much for your valuable words

  17. Chantal Beaupre says on September 3, 2010 at 5:17 am:

    Hello Brian,

    Thank you so much for such a great piece of acvice! I perfectly agree with you: Accepting “what is” or “the worst possible outcome” is definitely the key to happiness and emotional wellness.

    In my opinion, not only is it the key factor for us to make the most out of the joys of life even in the face of adversities and losses, but to simply be happy from the inside out — no matter what’s going on in our lives.

    May all be well in your world!

  18. Jaishankar Balasubramaniam says on September 3, 2010 at 1:35 am:

    Dear Brian,

    Am deeply touched by your post of this morning. You are walking your talk.

    I believe God only troubles those to whom HE has already given the strength to recover. They say “God gives every bird his worm. He doesnot put it in his nest”. Having heard you in Mumbai India, I know you have been blessed with tonnes of inner strength.. much more than the current health situation could call for.

    Yes, even this shall pass. In its passing will stand testimony that whatever HE the Almighty made you preach all these years is doable, not just plain rhetoric.

    I have my sincere prayers for your speedy recovery, Brian.. and look forward to seeing you in action in India in the near future..

    With lote of love and prayers,

  19. Daniel M. Wood says on September 3, 2010 at 12:27 am:

    Hey Brian,

    I have just started following your blog so I do not know if you have told people before about that you have had cancer.

    I am very glad to hear that you have been able to overcome it.

    Most of it is likely to come from your strength as a person and that you always find the positive.
    These tips for handling adversity are all great advice.

    When I do this kind of exercise I always do it with a pen and paper to get a better grip of it.
    Thanks for the tips and keep up your strength :)

  20. Moses says on September 2, 2010 at 11:22 pm:

    Thanks Brian, you are a blessing.

  21. Balaji says on September 2, 2010 at 10:28 pm:

    Hi Brian,
    Recently I have been listening to your audio programs and I found it irreistable. My day never begins or ends without listening your voice. You are truly amazing. I am very glad to know that you are cancer free. Good luck Brian.

  22. Omid says on September 2, 2010 at 9:17 pm:

    Hi Brian
    you have always inspired me and you are one of the main elements of my success and happiness.

  23. Steve-Personal Success Factors says on September 2, 2010 at 7:11 pm:

    Accepting the worst, then going to work on what’s under our control: that’s a great piece of advice, Brian. Thanks for your writing, speaking, and inspiration!

  24. John Branham says on September 2, 2010 at 7:09 pm:

    Thanks Brian, I enjoyed reading your article and being reminded that “This too, shall pass.” Which I will always be mindful of from here forward. Many thanks for sharing. -John

  25. Uzi Grunvald says on September 2, 2010 at 5:12 pm:

    In January of 2009 I was diagnosed with Malignant Melanoma. I was given 6-9 months to live.
    That was 22 monhs ago!!
    In the interim the tumours that were first diagnosed in the abdomen and were eradicated had traveled to my bones and I had a brain tumor as recently as 3 months ago.
    To date I am still on chemotherapy and am ahead of the game as I am in a healing stage.
    Did I mention that I recently celebrated 9 years since my kidney transplant??!!
    Talk about adversity.
    The ordeal has been an excruciating one both physically and emotionally. My survival success to date is due to great medical care but equally as important a firm belief that
    coupled with a great support circle lead by my wife of 26 years and a hugely supportive cicle of family and friends.
    Belief that you can will get one through obstacles throughout life-no matter how small or large.
    Belief, vision, vision and action will always lead to success.
    Procrastination or the fear to progress are our biggest enemies.
    Brian throughout my professional you have been an inspoiration thriough your spoken words whether live in person or listening to you CDs on the car radio.

  26. Fredderic says on September 2, 2010 at 4:08 pm:

    Hello Brian,

    Thanks again for this message. I’m facing bad times now because of my studies, and I’ll do everything to solve this problem.

    Thanks for your advices and all the best for you.

    Greetings from Paris!

  27. sandy says on September 2, 2010 at 12:58 pm:

    Hi Brian,

    youre a gift to me.. im inspired reading your blogs,ill pray for me.. im on a tough times as well..
    Pls pray for me too//

  28. Myers Barnes says on September 2, 2010 at 12:34 pm:

    You are an inspiration Brian. I would not have a career without your information. Like yourself, I am now free from my cancer. In so many ways it was a gift. I’m delighted you are free….many blessings, Myers Barnes.

  29. Mike Loughton says on September 2, 2010 at 12:31 pm:

    I completely admire your courage.
    I attended your seminars in London this year. How you managed to deliver 3 days of great seminars while undergoing cancer treatment should be an inspiration to anyone facing adversity.
    Best wishes
    Mike Loughton

  30. Sidra Shaukat says on September 2, 2010 at 12:25 pm:

    I was in admiration for you at this year’s London ‘This Is It’ event. You were always punctual, polite and professional despite your illness. Here’s wishing you a speedy recovery.



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