How to deal with adverse circumstances

Bad things can happen. Others are promoted but not you, clients leave, companies announce lay-offs. In such circumstances some people seem to fall apart, while others find ways to move forward and get things done. 


Resilience is an asset, in both your personal and your professional life. Can you become more resilient? In Fast Company, Art Markman, professor of Psychology and Marketing at the University of Texas at Austin, discusses if resilience can be acquired. The short answer is yes, but only up to a point.

People seem to have a happiness set point. Generally speaking in the weeks and months after a significant positive or negative life event, you tend to return to roughly the level of happiness you had before that event. That doesn’t mean that events can’t have a long-term influence on how happy you are, just that the best predictor of how happy you will be several months after a big positive or negative event is how happy you were before it. Also, if there really is a calamity out there that you are trying to fend off, anxiety might be the right response. When you are anxious you tend to ruminate over the cause of the anxiety. If there is a potential threat, then thinking it through carefully may allow you to develop a plan to move forward. It might not be pleasant, but maybe it is useful.

Still, there are several things Prof. Markman suggests to cope better with bad times.

Understand what you can control and what you can’t

Research shows that when times are bad, people are more resilient when they focus on things they can do to move forward rather than focusing on the ways that circumstances have conspired to put them in a bind. Focus on actions you can take that will make your situation better. As you engage in those actions, you will find that you feel better about your work and will also be more productive.

Surround yourself with people even if you don’t feel like it

When you are sad or stressed, you often don’t want to be around others. But there are several advantages to social engagement. When you talk about what is making you sad or anxious, you often find that other people have had similar experiences that they can share. In addition, social connection is motivating and can help you to focus on tasks that need to be done.

Look for an easy win

Find something in your work life that you can complete quickly and successfully. That way, you can remind yourself that a significant setback is not a sign that you are cursed.

Give everyone the benefit of the doubt

Just because someone was not able to give you something you wanted, it does not mean that everyone is out to get you. When you think negative thoughts about other people, you can create a self-fulfilling prophecy. If your thoughts are full of suspicion you will interpret other peoples actions in the most negative way. They will sense your anger and distrust and treat you accordingly. Similarly, when you interpret the actions of other people positively, you are more likely to create good interactions with others.