I am a huge Olympic fan, or maybe an Olympic junkie. I absolutely love watching the athletes experience “the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat,” as the announcer back in the day used to say. Of course, as a child the thrill of the victory and the agony of the defeat was exactly what tied me to the television. As an adult, what draws me is the athletes overcoming spirit. There is so much inspiration in watching them overcome obstacles in real time. All of us are overcoming — overcoming fear, anxiety, adversity.
This week Hassan, a long-distance runner representing the Netherlands, was powering through the last lap of the women's 1,500-meter qualifying heat when the unthinkable happened. A runner in front of her tripped setting off a domino effect of fallen runners. Hassan tried to jump over a fallen runner but ended up falling down herself. Now she is in last place, staring at a shocking potential elimination and yet she starts running, speeds past a couple of runners. By the last bend she reaches the pack of runners in the lead, one by one she passes runners. After she passes the eleventh runner, she's in the lead. It was an astonishing comeback to finish first after a detrimental fall. Later the same day, Hassan won gold in the women's 5,000-meter race. Contending with hard times that require more than our strength can endue is the very place where growth happens. Here are some steps to help us grow through adversity.
Define the Problem
What exactly is the problem? What am I worried about? Identify a single problem, not a mess of them and write it out. Much of the time the jumble of thoughts in our mind are throwing a shadow over us and they simply need to be sorted. Once we’ve written the problem down, it doesn’t hold quite so much power over us.
In Hassan's case, the problem was she'd fallen down. When we know the problem, the next step becomes clearer -- get up.
Determine the Worst Case Scenario
What’s the worst possible thing that can happen in this situation? Be gut wrenchingly honest. “I will lose money, relationship, reputation, customers, connection.”
In Hassan’s case, she could lose her championship status, her dignity, any future income, her influence, and more. This kind of honesty is brutal but necessary.
Accept the Worst Case, should it occur
When we stop resisting what could happen, we relax enough to clear our minds and our ability to deal with the adversity dramatically improves. In other words, we say, “Okay. Let’s say that happens. Now what?”
For Hassan, she saw the worst case and realized she could simply start running and let whatever happened, happen.
Improve on the Worst Case Scenario
Don’t worry about what happened, why it happened, who’s responsible, think only how do I improve on this? What do I do now?
For Hassan, she just needed to get up and start running. Then she was in a position to out run the last two runners. After that, she saw the potential of reaching the leading pack. Once in the leading pack, she could pass runners one at a time. Each step of the way we can improve on the current scenario by doing the next best thing.
When dealing with adversity, asking questions is essential. As long as we are asking questions, we are expanding the range of options and possibilities. When asking questions we are keeping our minds focused on an objective — giving it something to work on, not stew about. The stewing, the reacting, the I--can’t-believe-this-happened-to-me kind of thinking shuts down a large portion of our brains. In the face of adversity, define the problem, determine the worst case scenario, accept it and start improving on it. What could happen? The fall might not impede us at all. It could propel us to the biggest win of our lifetime, just like Hassan.