Hard Times: Overcoming Adversity

If 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 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+, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Linkedin and Youtube.

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

  • 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!

  • 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.

  • Song “Stand” a song about facing adversity.

  • 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.

  • Jim

    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.

  • 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…

  • Abdul Naser

    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.

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

  • 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

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