There’s a Taoist story of a farmer whose horse inexplicably ran away. His neighbours said, “What bad luck!” to which he replied, “Perhaps.”
The next day, the horse returned, bringing with it a wild horse. The farmer’s son tried to ride it, fell, and broke his leg. Again, the neighbours sent sympathy: “How terrible this is.” “Perhaps,” the farmer said.
The following day, military officials came to the village to draft every young man into the army. With his leg broken, the farmer’s son was spared from service.
There’s always more than one way to look at what life brings you, and for nearly every event that seems negative, there is a way to reframe it so that you can see at least some positive. And that can be a very good thing: your experiences become more meaningful, purposeful and valuable when you are able to recognize the gift contained in adversity.
The trouble is that, during the time you are experiencing adversity it’s often challenging, if not impossible, to see the proverbial silver lining.
So, how do you find the silver lining when things seem very dark?
See the opposite.
Every day may not be good, but there is good to be found in every day—and a hidden gift in all our experiences. Search for the positive interpretation of the event.
Dog “blow you off”? Well there’s some motivation to train!
Horse needs extra care? You get to spend time together!
Thinking of things in this way likely will feel and seem strange to you. But stretching your brain, thinking outside of your first thoughts, and learning to be proficient at finding meaning in the challenges that come your way, is an excellent exercise in expanding your view of what’s possible.
Ask yourself lots of questions.
Adversity can serve you in positive ways, and one of the best ways to open yourself up and leverage negative experiences is by asking questions like:
- How can I use this experience to learn (and change) something about myself? Positive or negative, any experience is our guide and a great teacher and can help us, if we pay attention, to improve the quality of our lives.
- How could this negative experience affect me in a positive way? This is a challenging question to ask when you feel stuck in the middle of an uncomfortable situation. But being a partner with your pain allows you to open up to the beneficent possibilities instead of being swallowed by distress and negativity.
- How will this make me a stronger person? It’s not about handling difficult circumstances better than others (a mere ego boost), but how an expanded perspective empowers you to be a more capable and resilient trainer, student, parent, partner, etc.
- How does this negative event (and your reaction to it) reflect your life purpose? Sometimes, what we initially perceive as being an obstacle is actually a guide changing our course and steering us to our true path. Sigh, I’ll be honest. I hate this one! But hating it doesn’t change the truth of it!
- What’s the opportunity in the negative experience? Becoming a better trainer? Better student? Expanding your skillset? Learning about a disease or condition? Personal/professional growth? Developing a thicker skin? Building better connections? A mindset shift? Reassessing negative situations means converting them into something productive.
The greatest discovery of my generation is that a human being can alter his life by altering his attitudes. —William James
If nothing else works you may find gratitude for the insight or lesson learned.
Being present in the moment and appreciating all aspects of your life can be grounding when times get rough.
And remember: finding the silver lining in every cloud doesn’t mean ignoring feelings associated with the event—quite the opposite. It means acknowledging and experiencing those feelings fully AND leveraging them to your advantage.
Giving meaning to events, both positive and negative ones, is empowering. A positive life skill is gained when we realize that for every single thing that happens in our lives, we get to choose whether it’s good or bad, whether it will weaken or strengthen us.
This pandemic is awful for many people. It’s turning life upside down. It’s putting long term goals on hold and taking others right off the table. It’s also a great opportunity for many of us to practice reframing, work on process goals and keep building our tool box.
But there are positive actions you can take. Reframing, develop a gratitude practice, revisit classes and courses you have signed up for, get training. Buddy up with a friend and work together.
More Things You Can Do
You can join a program like Zero to CD and get inspired. (Enrollment is open until Monday, May 4th or spots are gone)
You can sign up for The Lemonade Conference and have something to look forward to!
Last but not least I’ve put together a little course called Tools For Tough Times which covers different content than the webinar (or this post) and lets you work through a tool every other day for a month, then revisit what you need. At under $20 it’s a price point set for the pandemic!
If you need a hand reframing, if you want help readjusting your sails – there is help! Please use it. You can also join Quarantea with many amazing people (and me!) any weekday at 4pm ET. Just reach out to me for a link to that!