A friend once told me: “Cancer diagnosis was the best thing that has ever happened to me”.
WHAT!? I was shocked. I was confused.
How can he say something like that?
But then I heard him out. I listened. And finally, I understood.
Bad things happen to us all the time. We get fired… We fail… Relationships end… Stocks crash… People get sick or injured… People die…
You’ve heard the saying: “Whatever doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger”. Sure…
But then why do we have so many traumatized people in the world? Many people go through injuries, accidents, divorces, bullying, violence, and come back as only a shadow of what they used to be. More fragile than ever, zombie-like, unable to enjoy life. They have lost their humor and playfulness. Their emotional lives are rigid, filled with anxiety. They have nightmares. We even have a name for this condition: post-traumatic stress reaction.
But then again, some people really DO get stronger after setbacks. They go through tough situations and come out even stronger than before. After the hardships, they seem to be more mature, more alive, more resilient, living more fully, enjoying life much more. Nowadays there’s a name also for this condition: post-traumatic growth.
So what is it that makes or breaks your growth when facing hardships? Why is it that sometimes we get traumatized and sometimes we get stronger from difficulties?
It seems one of the crucial factors is how you make sense of what has happened. How you think and feel about your hardships is the key. There are four important questions you should always ask when bad things happen.
The first two questions you can ask – immediately or very soon after the crisis has happened – lay the foundation to overcome the adversity. The other two questions are part of the longer recovery and growth. And are best asked over and over again during the healing process. They are tougher and not everybody can answer to them constructively. But in the end, they will determine whether you get stuck or grow. So work hard on them!
These are the four questions you should always ask when bad things happen to you:
1. What actually happened?
This is how you make a RATIONAL sense of the situation. Get the facts straight. You go over the events and create a rational understanding of the situation. This is important so that you can understand the actual events properly.
“Ok, this is what has happened. The doctor told me I have cancer. It is serious, but there are treatments and it is possible I recover completely. Treatments are hard, I must be prepared to go through them.”
2. How did it make you feel?
This is how you make EMOTIONAL sense of the situation. We forget this too often. We talk about the actual events (facts) over and over again, but we forget to talk about how it FELT. But recognizing and understanding the emotions in the situation is a crucial part of getting a picture of the whole situation.
“I couldn’t believe it at first. It felt unreal. Then I got very scared. What if I don’t make it? There are moments when I feel really angry, like life is not fair. Why me? I feel helpless and alone. But I also feel hopeful now. I feel determined to go through whatever I need to go through.”
3. How could it be worse?
Yes, you read it right. At least for me it seemed counterintuitive that people who are going through adversities should start thinking about even worst situations and outcomes. But it seems that this is actually a very good coping mechanism. Because actually, things could always be EVEN worse. If you realize this, it makes you appreciate and be grateful for everything that is good right now.
“Luckily it’s me, not my children that are sick. And there are much worse diseases and injuries. And I could have got this diagnosis much younger, also. In fact, there are millions of people who have gone through much worse situations than mine.”
4. How do I find meaning in all of this?
This is a crucial element in becoming stronger through adversities. It seems people who grow from their difficulties find meaning in them. It’s like this: if you want to be a hard-boiled professional, then you must boil hard. So when you’re boiling, look at it as a chance for growth!
If you can’t think of any other meaning in your hardships, then use my favorite question: “What am I learning from this experience?” Think about this really hard, until you discover the deepest learnings.
“Life feels much more precious to me now. I feel that I used to walk through my life only half awake. Now that I really understand the fragility of life, I feel fully alive. I find every moment is filled with meaning. I love the people around me. I love the people who treat me. I love life! This is why my diagnosis was the best thing that has ever happened to me!”
How to use these questions?
These four questions can help you and the people around you to grow. Ask these four questions in bigger and smaller tough situations in life. Use them with your children and boost their emotional growth. Use them with your friends and colleagues, when they are having a hard time. Use them with your team, when your team is facing adversities. And use them with yourself, when life is giving you a hard time.
I know that you might be having already a lot to deal with every day and might not remember these questions. So I made it easy for you. Just download this printable checklist with the four questions. You can print it and hang it on the wall or on the fridge or even have it as a desktop screen. Every time you feel you’re facing a tough situation, go through these questions.
P.S. If you like this post, do me a favor and share it with others!
Originally published at www.jarkkorantanen.com