6 Strategies For Taking on Any Challenge

on July 6, 2017
According to 75 years of Harvard research, one of the 4 keys of a happy life is to approach challenges as learning experiences. Here’s how to do it.

No matter who you are or what you’ve accomplished, life is full of experiences that can pull you underwater so deeply that it feels as if you will never re-surface.

Zen priest and Harvard educator Robert Waldinger leads The Harvard Study of Adult Development, which has tracked 724 men for 75 years to understand what makes for a happy life.

Having the right communities and relationships is the linchpin for happiness. Being surrounded by people that can get us through our challenges is essential for feeling happy and hopeful.

In addition to relying on loyal friends and family, here are 6 strategies I use to diffuse the strong emotions that accompany our difficulties. They may not solve your problem, but they will help you move through them from a place of clarity, rather than chaos. Regardless of the outcome, they will empower you to make informed decisions, rather than fear-based decisions.

Stop the Negative Self-Talk.

We’re all guilty of playing negative tapes in our heads which limit our ability to step into our potential. In addition to re-writing our self-limiting beliefs, we can challenge our negative self-talk by asking ourselves:

  • What is my evidence for and against my thinking?
  • Are my thoughts factual, or are they my interpretations?
  • Am I jumping to negative conclusions?
  • How can I find out if my thoughts are true?
  • Are there other ways that I could look at this situation?
  • Is this situation as bad as I believe?
  • Is thinking this way helping me to feel good or to achieve my goals?

Recognizing that your current way of thinking might be self-defeating can sometimes motivate you to look at things from a different perspective.

Maintain Perspective.
Your present challenge is one blip on a larger radar screen. It’s temporary and doesn’t define you. It isn’t a reflection of your complete story, strengths, or accomplishments.

We often focus on what’s right in front of us, forgetting the positive experiences that define our history. Maintain a holistic perspective of your life, and ask yourself:

  • What is the worst thing that could happen? How likely is it?
  • What is the best thing that could happen?
  • What is most likely to happen?
  • Will this matter in five years time?
  • Am I empowering this challenge to define me?

Learn from your reactions.

“Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” ~ Victor Frankl

How are you responding to your challenge? How would you advise your best friend? Every moment in our life, we have 100% control over our responses to all stimuli. Psychology Today shares 5 ways we can gain more control over our responses to difficult situations:

  • Consider the person you would like to be
  • Think about the meaning or origin of your reactions
  • Observe the outcome of your reactions
  • Imagine a better response
  • Learn a more compassionate approach to yourself

Learn from the reactions of the other party.

I’ve learned to observe other parties in a dispute or disagreement as a source of learning. I watch how they react and assess what their motivations may be, which helps me think carefully about how I should respond. Harvard research reveals that applying empathy in a disagreement is essential for resolution, and is a crucial factor in successful negotiations.

Observe the situation as an outsider.

Becoming the observer means being aware enough of yourself that you can step outside of an upsetting or difficult situation to observe how you are reacting to it.

It means having a level of self-awareness that even when you’re in the middle of a conflict, you’re aware of yourself and can detach your identity from the situation. I first learned this philosophy in my own meditative work which taught me to separate my Self from a situation, and through the teachings of Don Miguel Ruiz, author of The Four Agreements.

Seek guidance from the outside.

My advisors are my professional lifelines. For all situations where I don’t have the answer, I seek objective, experience-based guidance. I suppress my ego and seek critical and constructive feedback so that I may handle my challenge most effectively, and help others learn from my experience.

I encourage my clients to adopt this strategy, asking them to call me at any time to brainstorm a challenge or a difficult conversation. We all need mentors, coaches, and advisors to guide us through when our vision is clouded.

Remember that you are not your challenge. Your challenge is one aspect of your journey, and is a source of growth and learning. Lean into your challenges, for they are leading you to your best version of yourself. And when all else fails, remember: this too shall pass.

This article originally appeared on Inc.