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Overcoming Adversity: How to Respond When Things Go Wrong

George Grombacher February 1, 2022

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Overcoming Adversity: How to Respond When Things Go Wrong

Bad things happen to us.


Me dropping my ice cream when I was four was bad. My parents getting divorced when I was five was worse.


Adversity, also known as difficulty or misfortune, comes at us in different levels. The trick is what we do when it happens; how do we respond when things go wrong.


We’re constantly taking in new stimuli that lead to a response. We stop at red lights, and go when the green light comes on.


In fact, everyday we’re making 35,000 decisions. If we assume eight hours of sleep, that means we’re making around 36 decisions a minute. While many of those are unconscious decisions, the bottom line is that we’re constantly taking in information and making decisions.


Growing up, I was a competitive tennis player. Without realizing it, tennis taught me a lot about handling adversity. With only 20 seconds between points, it’s essential to move on from the previous point quickly and as completely as possible. There’s no value in dwelling on past failure.


Today, I view adversity and failure as a teacher. While I don’t dwell on it, I try to take as many positives from bad experiences as possible.


I’m going to share with you how I handle adversity in my life.


Here’s what we’ll cover:


  • How do you respond to adversity?


  • How would you like to respond?


  • Developing your process


  • Putting it into practice


Let’s get started.


How do you respond to adversity?


When something bad happens, how do you respond?


Do you brush it off and keep going with your day? Do you curl up into the fetal position for hours?


I’ve learned I should wait 24 hours. I need time to process information and to go back and forth in my head. The process typically works like this; I get angry, then less angry, then I’m able to think rationally about it.


When I was younger, I would respond immediately. And as I’m sure you’ve experienced, this is not usually a good approach.


In every aspect of life, we have patterns we follow.


You probably wake up and do similar things everyday to get ready. You’ve got habits and routines for nearly everything. The same is true for how we deal with adversity.


Reactive versus proactive


There’s a poker term, “on tilt,” which refers to a state of mental or emotional confusion or frustration when a player adopts a less than optimal strategy, usually resulting in the player becoming overly-aggressive.


When we respond to adversity by following our initial emotions, we fall into that trap.


Being proactive is taking a step back. It’s recognizing and acknowledging our feelings, and then taking time to process and carefully formulate a response.


Stoics talk about how you can’t control what happens to us, only how we respond. Embracing this philosophy will serve us greatly as we work to overcome life’s adversities.


How would you like to respond?


When things go wrong, how would you like to respond?


You’re in control. You have choice. You decide.


That’s the reality, and that’s immensely powerful.


Don’t allow others or outside circumstances to control how you think, feel or act. Don’t allow someone or something to form your identity.

Going back to scale, there are varying levels of adversity, and I’m cognizant of that. I say that because I’ve also never experienced a horrible trauma like being assaulted.


From talking with those who have, every one of them tells me they prefer to view themselves as survivors instead of victims.


My hope and assumption is that you’d like to be more proactive than reactive.


Decide how you’d like to respond, and then teach and train yourself to improve.


Developing your process


You’ve decided how you’d like to handle adversity, now let’s figure out how to make it happen.


I’m a fan of creating an SOP (standard operating procedure) for as many aspects of my life as I can. It doesn’t need to be formal or written down, simply a process that says “If this, then that.”


More often than not, many of our daily adversities come from interactions with others. Whenever something happens, I try to approach the situation with empathy (which sounds easy, but does hard). The more you can put yourself in the other person’s shoes, the better.  The reality is, everyone is fighting their own private wars and dealing with their own junk. A lot of the time, people don’t even realize the impact they’re having on others.


When possible, assume incompetence over malevolence. Meaning, when someone does something to you, assume they don’t know what they’re doing instead of assuming their intent is to hurt you.


Finally, be fascinated instead of frustrated. Approaching situations from the perspective of curiosity over anger can help you better assess the situation.


Putting it into practice


What’s really going on here?


Trust the way you’re feeling, but verify your emotions with facts. Put your detective cap on and ask these questions:


  • What happened?

  • Who was involved?

  • How did it happen?

  • Why did it happen?

  • When did it happen

  • What’s the best way to respond?

  • What’s the best way forward?

  • What can I learn from this?


When you’ve gone through these questions, decide how long you’ll take before you respond.


Will you spend 20 minutes, 12 or 24 hours?


How will you think about and process it? Will you write about it? Will you take a walk or get out into nature?


How do you want to think about it moving forward? Remember, you have the ability to decide how you think and feel about everything. I’m always working to learn from adversity and to move past it as positively as I can.


And know this; some things will take a lot longer to process and move past. But I’m sure you already knew that.


Once you decide how you’ll process adversity, and how you’ll respond, start putting it into practice. Over time and with experience, you’ll refine and get better at it.

You’ll become wise.




Remember, you’re in control. You have choice. You decide how to respond when things go wrong.


If you’d like to dig deeper into this, you can have a no-cost conversation with one of our Certified Coaches, and I invite you to check out our Courses as well.

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Getting better at overcoming adversity will serve you greatly through life! Good luck on your journey and let us know how we can better support you.

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