When things go "wrong" how do you Bounce Back and survive?

31 May, 2010

Some people, and I can't really blame them, get the impression that when you become a therapist or a life coach that you lead a bit of a "perfect" life, where you never get problems and you never get stressed and therefore you are a great role-model for your clients and others in your professional field.

I can't blame people for thinking that, as this is what I used to believe too.

Having been a professional in the self-development field for nearly five years now, and having come from a background of being mostly utterly un-empowered and having struggled in most areas of my life, I marvel at how far I have actually come in life. I NEVER would have had the courage or the will to work for myself and make a success of my life if it hadn't been for the intense personal development I have undergone, and I am grateful for all of it and the person I am now. AND indeed the personal development I continue to live every single day.

Does that mean I don't get challenges? Does that mean I am always completely resourceful and deal with things perfectly all the time? Does that meant I am always happy and bouncing around in bliss?

I am not sure I know anyone living like that ALL the time, do you? My aim is always to be resourceful and utilise my skills to the best of my ability at all times. My aim to practice the skills of happiness and to be relaxed most of the time. My aim to be achieving and moving forward in a way that's just right for me and my life purpose.

I don't always pull this off though. Sorry to burst your bubble of perfection. Or perhaps, it is a relief to hear this?

Which leads me to into the single most important thing to know about personal development. It is NOT about being perfect and living an idealistic life. This makes it unobtainable, which is not useful. It is about learning how to manage yourself and your life resourcefully. It is about responding to life's challenges (which, there always WILL be) in a useful way. It is about CONTINUING to grow and develop and to keep learning, and discover higher and higher versions of yourself that you keep growing into. As soon as you've learned everything life has to offer, you are dead as far as I am concerned. It is about responding to life's challenges by BOUNCING BACK - quickly and resourcefully, with as little impact and as many positive learnings as you can muster, in order to develop even further.

THIS is what develops you. Not the idea of living up to a perfect idea of life or what life "should" be - which simply does not exist.

I had a couple of weeks in the recent past where everything and anything seemed to be going "wrong" in my life: my website was down for one whole week due to a project gone wrong, my email was down for two weeks due to the same error, I broke the telephone jack in my office which meant I couldn't use telephone or email, a few examples among many! My partner started to joke with me that when we live together I was going to be banned from touching anything around the house!

I seemed like I kept being challenged all the time, it seemed like "one thing after another" and there were times where I would look up at the sky in exasperation and say "If there is a God I am being tested here! What am I supposed to be LEARNING from all of this??!".

And there are many things I did learn, which I will share with you here.

One of the things we know from research about depression and happiness from Positive Psychology - mainly from the work of Martin Seligman - is that life is cyclical. This means, that there will be up times, and down times, and many of life events will be considered stressful. You are living in a cycle where nothing stays the same and things change for the better or worse all the time. People who are considered "depressed" will be experiencing these challenges, as do people are considered "not depressed" or even "happy". Therefore it is not "life" itself that makes the difference to how we feel as the cyclical nature of life is the same for all of us. So, what IS it that makes the difference? What causes someone to be depressed and someone else to be happy?

It is life events PLUS a particular style of thinking.

The kind of depressive thinking we know about used to be considered a "symptom" of depression. From Seligman's research we now know it is a CAUSE of the continued state of depression.

To be in a continued depressive state, you internally respond to life's challenges with a style of thinking that Seligman terms as Permanent Pervasive Explanatory Style part of a "Learned Pessimism". Some examples of this include:

Internal self-talk that is highly critical, judgmental or pessimistic

People who are better at doing happiness are better at doing a different style of thinking as an internal response to life's challenges that Seligman terms "Realistic Optimism". They tend to bonce back much more quickly from life's events. Some examples include:

a) Focus on the positive, as oppose to the problem
b) Isolate it to one event, not ALL events all the time. For example they might think "that was bad and that's over now" or "that was one of a kind challenge!"
c) Expect the future to be different (better) than the past "It is over now and it will be ok".
d) They make statements about the event, not about them PERSONALLY "that was hard and stressful" as oppose to "I can't manage that.." or "why is life doing this to me?"
e) Focus on gratitude and appreciation of what IS going well and what is good in life, not the problems.

When I was going through my consistent "challenges" recently I found myself dipping into the Negative Explanatory Style depressive thinking. If caught myself making generalised statements
"everything is going wrong!" and "this ALWAYS happens!" and negative identity/personal statements about myself "why is life doing this to ME?".

I caught myself one day and thought: "hang on a minute! This isn't useful. I need to do something different here to get through this!"

And here's what I started doing, and I share it with you in the hope it will be useful getting through some challenges of your own in life, now, or in the future, in a USEFUL way:

1) Re-framing events as "positive" or "perfect": For example when my internet was down, after the initial panic, I re-framed it as a positive "well, I have been a bit of a slave to my emails lately and wanting to manage time better, so at least this way I can only check them for an hour a day and can spend that time on something else important."

2) Focus on appreciation and gratitude: I really had to make a conscious almost forced effort to do this - and it was totally worth it! I consciously went though every day, twice a day, all the things I could be grateful for in my life, even if they were small things: "I have a roof over my head. I have a lovely cat. I have warmth and running water. I have food. I have a lovely flat mate. I have a loving partner..." and so on. Just focussing on these things always made me feel instantly better in that moment.

3) Seeing the future as different from the past: "OK, this too shall pass. It's been tough and it WILL get better. It WILL be OK". This really helped me focus on something much more positive. None of us can predict the future at all, so if I am going to go to the trouble of thinking about it, I may as well do it in a way that feels good. This allowed things indeed, to PASS.

4) Separating the things I CAN control from the things I CAN'T: "OK, well, there's not much I can do about that now". And "Right, this is the action I DO need to take...". It stopped me focussing my attention on stuff that is not useful, and re-focus it on stuff that definitely is useful, the stuff I could do something about.

5) Positive, soothing and supportive internal dialogue: the way I communicate with myself inside my head, my self-talk, is very important to the way I feel. If I am not feeling good I can guarantee I have let some dodgy self-talk slip in without me noticing. For me, it has to be a continuing self-awareness of watching those subtle internal thoughts and catching the ones that are not useful to me and replacing it with ones that are, the way I would talk to a friend or a loved one. I had to say: "Charlotte! This WILL be ok. You are doing really well.". I had to really concentrate on soothing and supporting myself at every given moment.

Life is cyclical. Life is challenging. Life will continue to surprise you. Life is life, and you are you. It is the way you RESPOND to these events that make a difference to how you feel, we know that from research now. So, if you are not feeling good, let's look at how you are thinking about life and what has or hasn't happened / happening. If you made a deal with yourself to practice these five tools above, I would love to hear about what a difference it made to you. It sure got me through some tough recent times and I learned so much about myself and about life! What an awesome opportunity for me to grow and help my clients grow!

As always, this is a continued practice. THIS is what makes me a good role-model for others.

As always, I welcome your feedback and comments.

Yours with positive thoughts,


www.charlottehinksman.com for NLP services.

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