Adversity: How to Thrive on Setbacks and Disappointment

“You should never view your challenges as a disadvantage. Instead, it’s important for you to understand that your experience facing and overcoming adversity is actually one of your biggest advantages” ~ Michelle Obama

Anyone can lead when the path ahead is clearly mapped and free from obstacles.

Anyone can manage when the task is well defined and the team is high performing.

Anyone can deliver when the output is unambiguous and nobody changes their mind.


And if that were the end of the story, then the world would be filled with highly effective leaders, and managers, and deliverers… getting the results and keeping everyone happy.

Life is seldom like that.  But then you aren’t just anyone!

So let’s find some ways that you can turn those unplanned setbacks and disappointments to your advantage!

Five Ways to Thrive in Times of Adversity

Remain calm

Please do this.  It bears repeating.

Remain calm.

Adversity Calm

Your team members are watching you, looking for cues.  And they can smell your fear.  They need the opportunity to thrive too – and they will take their lead on the degree of seriousness of the situation from you.

I don’t mean you should bury your head in the sand and pretend nothing’s happening.  Just try and maintain physical calm – take a moment and a few deep breaths in private if you need to.   Don’t run around.  Don’t yell.  Don’t throw things.  Don’t slam doors.

Let people know it will be OK – even if you’re not yet sure how.  Because it almost always is.

Change your view

Adversity ViewLiterally.  If you change your location you can change your perspective.  Look out the window for a few minutes.  Walk around the block.  Go to the lunch room and sit down for a few minutes.

You may be pleasantly surprised at how a brief change of scene can help you clear your thoughts and regain your composure.

Make sure you focus on breathing slowly and deeply, otherwise you may inadvertently trigger higher stress levels.

Change your state

Studies of how the brain creates and retrieves memories, including specific data/information and episodic (event-based) memories, tells us that the state you are in when the information is encoded can provide you with more ready access to recalling that information.  Smells, sounds, or sensations that were present at the time can trigger the memory.  Physical state matters.  Even being inebriated or half asleep can assist with remembering things that happened under similar circumstances.

Adversity ExerciseThe sorts of things that knock you off your usual-upbeat-self are not short-lived, lasting at least a few days before they can be resolved (and they will be resolved).

So you’ve probably got some time to push yourself into a different ‘state’.  Exercise is a great way to do this – I know I have some of my greatest breakthroughs on the treadmill.  Meditation will help, particularly if being more relaxed afterwards allows you to problem-solve with more clarity – or at least gain better perspective.

And if all else fails, try having a glass of wine!  For scientific purposes of course.

Change your questions

Adversity QuestionI’ve talked before about the power of great questions.  In this instance, I mean repurposing your internal (and possibly external) dialogue to create questions that drive you to find solutions.

Instead of “why does this always happen to me?” ask “how can I turn this adversity into an advantage?”.

Instead of “this isn’t fair” try “what can I learn from this?”

And my personal favourite: “how can I use my personal response/reaction/solution to this to demonstrate my character and capability?” 

Great questions will work wonders for your team members as well – so ask them too.

Change your mind

Your mind is a frighteningly capable piece of kit, and no-body taught you how to use it correctly, so it’s little wonder that sometimes it seems to be working against you!

This I know for sure.  If you wander around feeling like a victim, you will find opportunities to be a victim.

If you can reframe adversity as an opportunity to shine, setbacks as an opportunity to learn, and disappointment as an opportunity to grow, you will almost certainly find that is exactly what happens.


Leave a Comment

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.