Well-Being//

When You Hit a Big Bump, Here’s How to Deal

We can't change the fact that stuff happens, but we can change how we respond.

Courtesy of  ImageGap / Getty Images 

Life is full of challenge. We can’t avoid that. No matter how hard we try, how earnestly we seek, or how good we become, life throws us curveballs and pulls the rug out from under each and every one of us from time to time. No one is immune from that reality of the human condition. Bumps and bruises, even occasional catastrophes and crises, are so inevitable in human experience that we don’t have to take bad things happening to good people so personally.

We can’t change the fact that stuff happens. What we can change is how we respond.

When something challenging or even devastating happens, we have the power — the flexibility — to choose how we respond. It takes practice, and it takes awareness, but that power always lies within us.

Researchers in the emerging field of post-traumatic growth suggest the following five practices that predict a person’s success at bouncing forward: dealing with, healing from, and moving beyond any potentially traumatizing event into new strengths for coping, new learning, new possibilities for discovery and growth, deeper connections with people and community, and a deeper sense of meaning and purpose for living.

1. Accepting Reality

Whatever has happened, it’s not fair. It never should have happened, but it did. The first step, of accepting what happened, draws on all the practices of mindful awareness and compassionate self-acceptance, both of the event and of our perceptions and reactions to the event. “I’m alive! I get to deal with this.”

2. Turning to Other People

When you feel vulnerable, other people — in person, in memory, in imagination — can provide safe havens where you don’t have to keep it together or take care of anyone else. This gives you a respite until you can deploy the tools you have practiced using to return to your inner equilibrium and begin healing and dealing.

People can also be resources, providing support in the form of encouragement, practical help, and safety nets. People can help you work around and work through whatever difficulty you’re facing for however long it takes.

3. Drawing On the Positive and Seeing Possibilities

The direct, measurable outcome of practicing gratitude, kindness, compassion, love, joy, tranquility, and contentment is resilience: openness to the big picture and optimism about the future. The direct, measurable outcome of choosing to approach life’s challenges from a growth mindset — seeking to learn and trusting that you can learn — is resilience. “Maintain a positive outlook” and “See the glass half full rather than half empty” are not clichés. They are commonsense wisdom backed by science.

4. Learning the Lessons

As soon as you begin to “turn a regrettable moment into a teachable moment,” as Jonah Lehrer says, the brain begins to shift how it is perceiving and responding to the event. Finding the silver lining, finding the gift in the mistake, is considered to be the turning point in the process of post-traumatic growth. Learning the lessons in the event is fundamentally useful, not just for coping better in the future but for coping better right now.

5. Creating a Coherent Narrative of the Event

You practiced using this tool in exercise 6-15. By placing a previously or potentially traumatizing event in the larger context of your life, you create a more vivid sense of past, present, and future. (The sense of continuity of self over time is one of the integrative functions of the prefrontal cortex.) You can begin to find a deeper sense of meaning and purpose for your life, not just in spite of the event but often because of the event. Your resilience begins to generate a genuine sense of thriving and flourishing.

When you pull resilience practices together — mindfully practicing gratitude while walking in nature with a friend, calling on your compassionate friend to soothe the distress of any inner part — your resilience becomes almost unshakeable. You will be equipped to cope with anything and everything, and to trust that you
can cope.

Excerpted from the book Resilience: Powerful Practices for Bouncing Back from Disappointment, Difficulty, and Even Disaster. Copyright ©2018 by Linda Graham. Printed with permission from New World Library — www.newworldlibrary.com.

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