The Four Obstacles and How to Beat Them
By Randall Bell, Ph.D.
There are two great lies. The first is that it can’t happen to us. The second is that there is no hope. The truth is that it can happen to us. And the truth is that there is hope. We can change and transform ourselves through our choices. We choose not only what we do and say, but how we perceive the world and ourselves.
Disappointments are inevitable. As much as we may try to make life perfect, disappointments affect all people. It could be any one of the difficult Ds, such as disease, death, divorce, disability, drugs, defeat, or being dumped. Sometimes people directly cause these disappointments. Other times they come unexpectedly, apparently without any reason.
But in almost every case the solution is the same. Post-traumatic thrivers fail forward. They are resilient and come out stronger than before. What makes a person a post-traumatic thriver? There are four basic transformations that define post-traumatic thrivers.
So what are the four obstacles and how do we use them to transform?
From Complexity to Simplicity. Some problems are mind-bogglingly complex. We may find ourselves in a hopeless tangle, whether in business or family life. We may look at this mess and think that the solution will be just as messy. The opposite is true. Complex problems require simple solutions. Most of the time, our troubles are foundational. For example, many relationships or jobs fall apart because of an initial, foundational dishonesty or miscommunication.
The solution is to set aside time each day, preferably in the morning, for solitude and clear thinking. Put aside the smartphone, turn off the television and the computer, and connect with your gut and your conscience. All strong buildings sit on a solid foundation. Where is your foundation? Where does your mind go? Simplify things to their essential elements and let the dust settle. There is great wisdom inside all of us, if only we are willing to listen.
From Isolation to Connection. Any one of the difficult Ds can lead to isolation. Whether in business or our personal lives, we turn inwards, thinking that if we got ourselves into the mess in the first place, then we are the only ones who can solve it. However, we are social animals. Many of those situations that drive us to isolation and seem to require only our own thinking are solved by reconnecting with those around us. It is difficult to see ourselves and our circumstances truthfully if we shut ourselves off from others.
The solution is to connect. Even when things are going great, we call a friend or family member every day and exchange a few kind words. That way, when things get tough, we will have somebody to talk to. How are our relationships? Who can we rely on? Who can rely on us? Here we reach out to people in an authentic way and open ourselves to the wisdom of those people around us.
From Inertia to Action. When disappointments hit, we may feel useless and ineffective. Our confidence drops. We start hesitating. The longer this goes on, the more inertia we build up, until taking any action seems impossible. When we want to get in shape, we go to the gym on a schedule, not just when we want to be fit. We don’t just shower once in January and expect to stay clean for the remainder of the year. Likewise, when struggling, we need to stay in action.
The simple solution to this is to make your bed every morning. The point, of course, is not to have the bed made (though you will be thankful at night!). The point is to start the day in action. You will start the day having accomplished something, however small. If you managed to make your bed this morning, then what can’t you do? Here we tap into the wisdom of small but significant actions.
From Myopia to Imagination. Disappointments can often lead to regret, but they don’t have to. Much regret stems not from something that happened to us, but from how we responded. We rarely regret a natural disaster or a disease, but we may regret how to acted in those situations. Repeated disappointment from one of the difficult Ds can lead either to increasing narrow-mindedness (myopia) or greater awareness. Post-traumatic thrivers cultivate an active imagination. They have a broad sense of what is possible. They may even seem crazy at times.
The easiest habit to counter myopia and to cultivate a sense of timelessness and imagination is to keep a journal or a diary. We think of the big picture. We connect with that part that is, not the part that does. We think of the to be list, not the to do list. By keeping a record, we use time to create the timeless. We give ourselves permission to think big and set goals.
To make things happen, we need to know who and what we are dealing with. We replace each conflict with a new, effective habit. As Thoreau once wrote, “Simplify, simplify.”