How to Thrive in the Face of Turmoil and Adversity


“How you handle adversity in the workplace tends to have much more impact on your career than how you handle the good stuff.”

— Dr Martin Seligman

1. Optimism

 Rather than trying to minimize what’s worst in life, we should maximize what’s best.
— Dr Martin Seligman

Martin Seligman, noted for pioneering the fields of positive psychology and authentic happiness, developed the concept of “learned optimism.” He says, “When pessimistic people run into obstacles in the workplace, in relationships, or in sports, they give up. When optimistic people encounter obstacles, they try harder. They go the extra mile.”

Seligman invites pessimists to learn to be optimists by thinking about their reactions to adversity in a new way. The resulting optimism—one that grew from pessimism—is a learned optimism. The optimist’s outlook on failure can thus be summarized as “What happened was an unlucky situation (not personal), and really just a setback (not permanent) for this one, of many, goals (not pervasive)” Optimism is both a natural trait and a learned skill.

2. Mindfulness

To think in terms of either pessimism or optimism oversimplifies the truth. The problem is to see reality as it is.
– Thich Nhat Hanh

By training your mind to focus only on the present, you can learn to let go of regrets from the past or worries about the future, and accept things as they are. Mindfulness teaches you to be in control of your mind so that your mind doesn’t control you. Those who learn to be mindful experience less stress and clearer thinking. A pioneer of scientific research on meditation, Herbert Benson, extolls its benefits on the human body — reduced blood pressure, heart rate, and brain activity.

Mindfulness is not about “zoning out;”  but a time to purposefully pay attention to your emotions, thoughts, and how your body feels, without judging your experience of the present moment. “The present moment is the only time over which we have dominion,” says Thích Nh?t H?nh, “Live the actual moment. Only this actual moment is life.”

Mindfulness and meditation will help calm down the fight/flight/freeze mechanism of your brain, and create a space for higher order thinking and generating creative solutions.

Try these mindfulness techniques:

  • Sit in a comfortable position with a straight spine. Focus on your breath as you inhale slowly the exhale slowly. If you get lost in thought, simply bring your awareness back to your breath. If you are in turmoil put your hands on your heart as you breath slowly and deeply. Pay attention to your heart as you breath, and to the coolness of your breath as it passes through your nostrils.
  • Try breathing in to the count of four, hold your breath for a moment, then exhale to the count of four. Continue for three minutes and when you feel comfortable
  • Eat a meal in silence. Don’t do anything but focus on your food. Smell your food before eating it. Notice what your food looks like. Eat slowly, and savour each bite.

3. Imagination

Daydreams are fertile ground for the imagination to soar. Your unconscious is a rich source of images, ideas and experiences that lead to new connections, and fresh thinking.
—Linda Naiman

The best way to access your imagination, is to pause, let your mind quiet down, and allow your intuition to present insights and possibilities for creating a positive future. Running, biking, painting, cooking, yoga, and meditation all involve rhythmic movements that put your active thinking mind at rest, and allow daydreaming to occur. Ask yourself, what makes your heart sing? What makes you come alive?  When you have a spark of insight, test it out, take action and be creative.

Use your imagination to reframe your negative situation into one of positivity. Imagine the good that can come of this. Explore a range of possibilities. It helps to have a trusted thinking partner to look at your beliefs and your blind spot about the situation. What is the lesson to be learned?

4. Creativity



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