Sometimes we find ourselves in situations that are less than desirable – Hamlet called them the “slings and arrow of outrageous fortune”. Like Hamlet – sometimes these situations are of our own devising, and at other times the challenges that face us come from external sources and are outside of our control.
Equally as frustrating as the quandary or issue itself, can be how to handle it. In fact, if we handle our troubles badly, we are likely to exacerbate the situation. So how about a few rules of thumb that can be used to make the most of any difficulty?
Keep Your Cool
Getting angry – even when anger is deserved – rarely resolves a situation. Take a few deep breaths. What is the best outcome for you here? How can you get what you want, protect what you have or sail through this situation with class?
Keeping cool does not mean not addressing issues – failure to express your feelings is often incredibly unhelpful and makes it more likely that you will explode later. But consider HOW you express those feelings. Expressions of anger tend to focus the recipient on your behaviour rather than your message. If someone has genuinely insulted you, upset you, or inconvenienced you, find a way to explain your feelings that does not accuse. Simply express how you feel, or point out something they haven’t realized.
You will come off as cool, calm, professional (if appropriate) and full of character. This could be a situation that results in greater respect coming towards you if you can handle it well. Remember, author Charles Swindoll said that life is 10% what happens to you, and 90% what you do about it. This is a powerful statement, and one that can help to put you back in the driving seat of your life.
Use Some Positive Self Talk
When something seems challenging, often our immediate reaction is to doubt ourselves and sometimes even to catastrophise. But this is rarely helpful… often what we need at these times are a confidence boost that can make us feel like we can conquer the challenge.
Take the time to reassure yourself. Assess your strengths. Repeat your favourite motto or mantra. Remind yourself you can conquer anything… and then start determining a strategy.
This article by Reach Out has some great tips on helping you challenge negative self-talk, and reframing your internal dialogue more positively.
Keep Things in Perspective
Perspective is crucial in dealing with difficulty.
Often we go to the worst case scenario upon receiving bad news – and we do so because when we were cavemen, our survival depended upon us recognizing every possible threat. It’s ingrained in our nature in many ways… but we don’t need to keep this method of thinking in the modern world. We can use that self-talk to remind ourselves of the situation AS IT STANDS. Focus on what you know rather than what you don’t.
Perspective often helps with issues with others as well. Although we may perceive that a particular behaviour is occurring all the time – try to address the issue – if it is the first time you have addressed it, if it is, in fact, the first time you have addressed it. We may hate that our partner (or our teenager) leaves dirty clothes on the floor – but they are not necessarily to know the impact of this until we tell them. Live in the present and deal with the present issue. Don’t let issues of the past colour it.
When we consider the needs and the psychology of others, our view of a situation can radically shift. Although an issue impacts us – we may not be the cause. Many bad moods taken out on us are in fact, caused by the person before us. Or by other issues impacting on the person. Try to consider why their behaviour is occurring and see if this helps you understand where they are coming from. Sometimes this recognition is enough to help de-pressurise a situation. It can also make the other person involve feel heard and valued.
Asking questions is a great way to show compassion. Instead of reacting to a behaviour, check in with the person first. Are they travelling ok? This can be a great way to open a dialogue with someone who may badly need a friend right now. And also gently lets them know they are behaving out of character.
You may also be the one in need of compassion. Sometimes, self-compassion is the hardest kind to give.
Forgive yourself for making mistakes, especially if they are genuine ones. No-one is perfect – and particularly not in a pandemic. And if you did the wrong thing – seek to understand why and make it right. Be proud you took ownership and learnt from your mistake. That is character.
Find a Silver Lining
You have no doubt read a few mentions from me about the Stoic Philosophers and their motto, Amor Fati – love your fate. The Stoics believed that joys and challenges should be greeted with equanimity – both as a chance to learn. Is there something you can take that is positive from your challenge? Will you learn better for the future? Will you make changes that have the potential to be positive? Is this an opportunity to test yourself, or evaluate what is important in your life?
Maybe it will spur you on to try something new, to find a mentor or improve your skills in an area. Remember that growth rarely comes from staying in our comfort zone. Conflict and challenge can lead to positive outcomes – if you remain focused on finding them.
All of this is something we must consciously train to do – and sometimes against our natural reactions. But investing in good-problem solving is good for your mental health and outlook, and also builds positive relationships with those around you. If you are working with a young person, starting them on these habits and practices as early as possible will provide them with some powerful emotional resources and literacies that will stand them in good stead for the future.