Those Major Setbacks in Life
There are times when life can seem incredibly difficult, such as during the times of a pandemic. When the worst happens, it’s natural to feel that life will no longer be the same.
This post explores:
Ways of living and thinking that enable us to not only survive but to grow through the worst situations
Extreme crises from war times with inspiring messages on how to weather the storm
Being negative in head, positive in heart
Let’s learn and grow through crises and trauma from a number of book references and a personal experience which I would like to share with you all.
Major Anomalies Require Revolutionary Adaptation
First, let’s define major setbacks or crises. From psychologist Dr. Jordan Peterson’s book, Map of Meaning, anomalies that are too big to fit into our current worldview can cause a downright crisis. He states that anomalies easily force us to be adaptive, and sometimes even automatically. Where normal adaptation is required for minor anomalies, such as skipping the broken elevator and instead taking the stairs, revolutionary adaptation, however, is required for major anomalies, such as getting laid off after a successful business meeting due to a total misunderstanding of the job role.
These desperate encounters with the unknown leave us no choice but to change how we think about the world and ourselves. It might even require a complete overhaul of our behaviors, values, and goals to adapt to the realization, resulting in a social crisis on the cultural level, and an extreme psychological crisis on the individual level.
The First Step — Let Go of Guilt
So, how to deal with major setbacks in life? If you believe you are responsible for the crisis you are in, the first step is not letting your guilt take over you.
From the book Didn’t See That Coming: Putting Life Back Together When Your World Falls Apart, one must stay away from guilt, no matter how hard it seems — clinging to guilt or beating yourself up only makes problems worse as that keeps you in crisis mode longer. To improve the situation, one must let go — relieve the self-loathing with self-love.
The amount of love needed to relieve oneself from guilt can be enormous, and people around you might not be supportive either. However, to overcome crises, one must be brave and constantly stay mindful of self-loathing emotions like guilt.
Survive Darkest Times with Your Meaning of Life
Let’s take a look at one of the worst crisis examples during the World War II.
From Man’s Search for Meaning, which is a book that offers insights into how Nazi concentration camp survivors survived such unsurvivable situations.
The cure was to find the meaning of life.
Despite the miserable conditions in the prison, those prisoners still tried, to the best of their ability, to live according to their values.
For instance, their spirituality was one of the things which couldn’t be deprived from them. While those prisoners might have to give up performing their rituals, they could still choose to live up to their high moral standards, like giving food to those in greater need when they were hungry also.
Those who were able to find at least a little bit of meaning and happiness from life were often better able to survive than others.
Be Mindful of Depression
Besides, as we deal with the worst, we need to be mindful of the harmfulness of something too, which is depression, as negative thoughts might attack us from nowhere when we are down.
From the book The Art of Happiness by Dalai Lama, depressed people often think in a distorted way — they may focus solely on things that are negative, like financial difficulty or work trouble, failing to notice they actually have a lot to be grateful about, like a pleasant family or healthy body. Studies have shown that people are happier if such distorted thinking is corrected.
Discipline and effort sustained over the long term are required to eliminate negative habits, feelings, and attitudes.
The Dalai Lama states it took him decades of practice to cultivate a profound appreciation for Buddhist principles. One should not seek an easy remedy — his consistent daily prayers work as reminders and wishes of how to live life well.
Treat Obstacles Not as Failure, but Stepping Stones to a Better You
On the other hand, people don’t react to a crisis the same way. Some people become shattered. Others overcome the pain, evolving a better version of themselves, one that is stronger and more resilient than before.
From the book Mindset by Dr. Carol Dweck, people with a fixed mindset hinder their self-development due to the fear of failure and a belief in innate talent. On the other hand, people with a growth mindset train hard and work hard to finally realize their full potential. We can develop a growth mindset by confronting our own beliefs and attitudes.
We need to foster a growth mindset to come through crises better and stronger.
So don’t lose heart when things don’t go your way. Surrendering is like succumbing to a fixed mindset. The path to cultivating a growth mindset always involves attempting different approaches even after failing, until one that works for you is found.
Confront the Brutal Facts while Retaining Faith
As an example, let us look at how a high-ranking US officer captured at the Vietnam war turned around his misfortune.
From the book, Good to Great by Jim Collins, Stockdale Paradox is named after the US admiral, James Stockdale, detained at the infamous “Hanoi Hilton” prison during the Vietnam War. Having been mercilessly tortured by the enemy, Stockdale never knew if he could ever get home. No matter how frightful his circumstances were, he never lost faith that somehow he would unite with his family.
“I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”
However, unlike optimists who mindlessly believed they would get home by Christmas and later died broken-hearted when that did not happen, Stockdale credited his survival to not only retaining faith but also confronting the facts of his dire situation.
“This is a very important lesson. You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end — which you can never afford to lose — with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality, whatever they might be.”
To turn adversity into success, one needs to embrace the principles from the Stockdale Paradox, in which one must have unfaltering faith in order to prevail in the end, no matter the challenges, while simultaneously having the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of the reality. Productive change starts when one confronts the brutal facts.
Be Negative in Head, Positive in Heart
Taking a step further, by coincidence, I recently attended an international speaking contest, in which a speaker introduced Head-Heart Thinking, which she explained is the synergistic state of a human being.
Head-Heart Thinking suggests an ideal state of living — instead of merely being positive or negative, we need to let our head and our heart work synergistically by having the right allocation of both, more specifically being positive in the heart because our heart is good at being uncritical and accepting all things as true, while negative in the head because our head is good at being critical and coming up with solutions to deal with negativity positively.
By letting our heads and heart do what they are good at doing, we can truly harness our potentials.
Thanks for reading. I hope this inspired you. What’s next? Check out the book references I have linked above on each of the specific areas that you want to learn more about.
And, if there had to be a one-line takeaway from my research, I would say:
Think for the worst; live the best we can positively.
One last bit of motivation — being at a disadvantage with few resources is in fact a proven recipe for success (according to the book The Power of Broke), so don’t lose faith. I hope you and I can see through that and pass our toughest tests of life. Take care! ❤️
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