Illness. Divorce. Financial difficulties. Job loss. We face unexpected changes and challenges throughout our lives. How can you learn to keep up a positive attitude and stay strong through life’s unwanted changes and challenges? The first step in coping with a crisis or challenge in your personal or work life is to put on your “reality glasses.” Reality glasses, a concept developed by Stephen Williams, an organizational psychologist from the U.K., are the glasses you use to look at and understand what’s going on in your world. When you put on your reality glasses, you stop, step back, and ask yourself: “Am I seeing this as it really is? “How big is this problem, really?” Or “Have I got this out of proportion?”
When you assess the situation, you may discover that the problem or challenge you are facing isn’t as serious as you had thought. Or you may discover that it is serious indeed. But facing your problems with your reality glasses on helps you gain a sense of control. “You’ve moved into the driving seat,” says Dr. Williams. And that’s the first step in growing stronger through change. Once you’ve got your reality glasses on, here are two important steps to take when you are facing a challenge or difficulty or unexpected change:
- Recognize that you have a choice in how you handle challenges and change. You can’t choose what happens to you, but you can choose how you respond to what happens. You might say to yourself: “Things haven’t gone as planned. I’ve had this unexpected setback. Now, what do I need to do?”
- Take responsibility for your actions and don’t blame your circumstances. Being in the driver’s seat means taking responsibility for what happens going forward. You can get help. You can get support. But at the end of the day, the person who must manage the challenges you are facing is you. It’s your job to take control.
Practice being resilient
Here are resilience techniques to practice and to help you get through challenging times:
- Choose to have a positive attitude. There are many things over which you have no control — but you can choose how you respond to the difficulties and setbacks you face.
- Take care of yourself. Practice healthy habits. Make sure you get enough rest, eat a healthy diet, get regular exercise, get out and walk alone or with a friend, and manage feelings of stress.
- Calm yourself. Tell yourself, “I’m in this difficult situation, but now I’m going to start managing it as best I can.”
- Use “traffic light coping.” This exercise, developed by Dr. Williams, works like this: When you start to feel worried, panicked, or angry — when you start to “see red” — stop and relax. Pause. Take some time to breathe deeply to help calm your body and mind.
- Do something different to shift your mood or outlook. Take a break, listen to music, go for a walk, visit a friend.
- Trust your inner strength. Experts agree that we have strengths we never knew we had until we have to use them. You’ll be amazed at how many personal resources you have that you never even knew about.
- Take action. When you are faced with a setback or challenge, the sooner you start acting, the sooner you take action to take control of your situation, the better you’ll feel.
If you are faced with a challenge that feels big or overwhelming, start with the simplest thing you can do that takes you in the direction you want to be. Ask yourself, “What’s the smallest thing I can do to get started?” Once you’ve thought about it, do it. Finally, Dr. Williams reminds us that “a burden shared is a burden halved.” When we talk to people we trust about our problems and concerns, it makes our problems easier to deal with.
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