“What does not kill me, makes me stronger” ~Friedrich Nietzsche
If you knew me, you’d think that I float through life without a care, that nothing fazes me, and that I don’t get stressed. For the most part this is true, but every now and then something happens that really gets to me.
We have been trying to sell our house so that we can emigrate to Australia. The house has been on the market for about two years, and we’ve had three sales fall through already. So a few weeks ago, when we had agreed on a sale price with a buyer, I felt mixed emotions.
I was excited and optimistic but I also felt stressed, hoping that this time the sale would go through but fearing that it wouldn’t.
I tried not to build my hopes up, but I also spent the week looking on the internet for jobs in Australia and checking out house rentals.
The buyers were so enthusiastic. They had worked out where their furniture would go and who would have which bedroom. The father had grown up in the village and wanted to move to be close to his mother. It was all looking good.
A week or so later, my wife texted me letting me know we received “bad news about the house.” Another sale had fallen through.
I felt low and fed up. I had absolutely no motivation. But after a few days, I decided to pull myself together and get over it.
Lately I’ve been learning to become aware of my emotions and how they can affect my actions. Knowing how I am feeling helps me to be measured in my decision making. I’ve been developing this self-awareness by reflecting on past experiences and examining my emotions and choices.
As I sit here now, looking at the “For sale” sign outside my house, I can honestly say that I am glad that another sale fell through.
It was unpleasant and it inspired all kinds of negative emotions. But it also enabled me to examine my own behavior, to become more aware of how I act when I’m stressed or feeling low, to practice being strong in tough situations, and to grow as a person.
Here are 5 tips to turn setbacks around by using bad experiences to help you grow as a person:
1. Recognize and accept negative feelings.
Sometimes it’s ok to feel a little negative. If you have had a bad experience, it’s natural. I worked out that I was stressed and then fed up about the house sale falling through, and I felt okay about feeling this way.
This is always easier if you know the source of your feelings. Some of the feelings you might have, like stress or anger, are inherent biological reactions to situations. Your body is preparing you for action. But no matter how able you are to rationalize your feelings, the bottom line is that you just have to let them happen.
2. Know how you behave when you’re feeling low or stressed.
I didn’t want to tell people at work about the sale falling through, but I was aware that I would probably behave a little oddly. When I am feeling stressed, I behave as though I’m depressed.
I used to mope around complaining about how down I felt with knowing why, but now, when I feel like this, I recognize that I’m stressed and there is a specific cause. When I am able to attribute these feelings to something that has happened it’s easier to move on.
3. Don’t make major decisions.
If there was ever a time to cruise, it’s now. I am a keen runner, currently training for my second marathon and following an intense running plan. I really didn’t feel like running on Sunday, so I didn’t, and I ran half-heartedly on Monday.
Ordinarily this would be a cause for concern and it might have prompted me to look at my plan, or worse, to pull out of the marathon. Because I was aware of my negative feelings I was able to attribute my poor running performance to my state of mind. After that, the thought of changing my running plan or pulling out of the marathon didn’t enter my head.
4. Take strength from avoiding comfort behavior.
The things that you typically do to make yourself feel better usually end up making you feel worse. Ever stuffed your face and then felt bloated and regretful? It’s important to identify the things you do in these situations and do your best to avoid them.
My personal comfort behavior is eating junk food and shopping. When I consider the regret I’ll feel later, it motivates me to avoid these things. Ultimately, I get more pleasure from avoiding these behaviors than indulging in them because it reminds me that I am strong.
My simple mantra is, “Don’t do bad things. Keep doing good things.” Eventually, these good things turn into good days and having good days is instrumental in releasing negative thoughts and creating positive situations.
5. Get over it.
Although negative feelings are natural, dwelling on negativity can create a cycle of negativity. Choose an action or event that will signify that you are over the setback.
I decided to give myself two days and then, if I could do my planned run, I was back. On the third day I had a beautiful early morning run. I accepted that there was nothing I could do about the situation and started to appreciate how the experience had helped me grow.
The next time something bad happens to me, and there will be a next time, I’ll be ready to feel, find strength, and move on. Will you?
Photo by vapour trail
About Paul Arts
Paul Arts is a dad, husband, vegan, runner, and social worker who is extremely calm most of the time.