From the Magazine

How to Turn Your Trial Into Triumph and Overcome Any Obstacle

You already have all the strength you need to turn any trial into a triumph. Here, experts share their easy tips on how to harness that power.

At the end of a long, busy, and frustrating day, you collapse on the sofa and flip on the news. The anchors are sharing an inspirational story of a local woman who, after growing up homeless and in foster care, pulled herself up by her bootstraps, put herself through college, ran for political office, and is now in charge of the state’s department of child services. Wow, she’s amazing, you think to yourself. But I’d never have the strength or the courage to overcome all those struggles — I can barely deal with my own day-to-day problems.

“Too often, we sell ourselves short and grasp at reasons why we feel unable to push through difficulties,” says Sharlee Jeter, cancer survivor and co-author of The Stuff: Unlock Your Power to Overcome Challenges, Soar, and Succeed ($18.36, Amazon). “A lot of times, we think the people who overcome big obstacles have something extra that we don’t have.” And that, says Jeter, simply isn’t true. To help you conquer any difficulty — big or small — Jeter and other leading experts have identified approaches to help you draw from a well of strength you already possess.

“By keeping a few simple concepts and tools alive in your mind, when a storm hits, it won’t seem like a big monster,” explains Jeter’s co-author, Sampson Davis, MD. “Instead, you’ll be able to see it clearly and navigate the best course through it.” Read on for the simple science-based strategies that will help you calmly face any challenge — and win!

Drowning in doubt? Choose hope.

I’m going to fail… again! you sigh as you glare past your toes at the number on the scale. It has barely budged since you started yet another New Year’s diet months ago, and now you’re in a full-on doubt spiral. The fix: “Your biggest weapon when facing a difficult situation or setback is hope,” says Jeter. But how do we harness hope when we’re feeling so very… hopeless? “Hope can be achieved simply by making the conscious choice to believe wonderful things are ahead,” explains psychologist Kristin Neff, PhD, an associate professor at the University of Texas at Austin.

When doubt creeps in, Neff suggests imagining your ideal outcome while saying things like: I choose hope, I’m strong and capable, I can do this, I believe amazing things are coming! This instantly pushes negative thoughts to the background and broadens your perspective so you can begin to see all the good ways your situation could play out, she explains. By making the logical choice to be hopeful in your mind, you foster the feeling of hope in your heart.

Overwhelmed? Build your team.

Not only are you drained after a long day of caring for your elderly mother, but you’re also feeling a wave of panic because you still have to buy cookies for the church fundraiser, drop off your grandson at basketball practice, and get home in time to cook dinner for your husband and his boss. “As women, we think we must project the illusion that we’ve got it all together,” says Neff. This makes it difficult for us to ask for help, and in our attempt to seem perfect, we end up overextended and overwhelmed.

To overcome this “must do it all myself” mentality, Neff suggest first reminding yourself, I’m doing the best I can. I’m worthy of kindness. Then she advises asking a few people you trust (like a neighbor, church member, or co-worker) to be a “team” who can support one another when a member is feeling spread too thin. “This gives you a safe space to practice admitting when you need help — so it will be easier to ask in the future,” says Neff. You’ll not only feel less stressed, you will find that others are often eager to make a kind gesture or lend a hand.

Filled with fear? Let it empower you.

Your stomach is in knots as you anxiously wait for your doctor to call with your test results. You have countless things to do, but you feel paralyzed by fear. “Fear can become a roadblock,��� says Dr. Davis, “and then it has a ripple effect into everything else that we do.” 

The key to pushing past it, explains Neff, is to treat yourself with compassion by acknowledging fear is natural, acceptable, and difficult for everyone. “Remind yourself that you have your own back,” she adds. “Fear is our body’s way of saying ‘pay attention,’ so trying to understand its message can better equip us to move past it.

To do this, close your eyes and take a deep breath focusing on where you feel fear most in your body (such as tightness in your chest or ache in your stomach). As you exhale, imagine the fear leaving your body with your breath. Do this five times, then ask yourself, What’s the fear telling me? What is the worst thing that can happen? How can I prepare for it? This helps snap you our of the paralyzing “fight or flight” mode, so you can feel more in control and at peace.

Unable to move forward? Schedule away uncertainty.

You finally got the funding to start your dream business, but it means giving up a steady position you’ve had for years. You know it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, but a torrent of mixed emotions has you wondering if now is really the right time to take the leap. “Often we try to wait for that perfect moment to take a risk, start something new, or chase a dream,” says Jeter. “And if that moment never comes, we begin to second-guess our choices and feel stuck.”

Jeter says the key to freeing yourself from this limbo of uncertainty is to make a plan and then set a deadline by which you must take the first step — even if that step is a small one.

In a joint study from Harvard and the University of Pennsylvania, subjects who were prompted to schedule when and where they would begin a task were 27 percent more likely to complete it, than those who didn’t.

“We are often met met with our biggest challenges and opportunities and the busiest, most stressful times of our lives, which makes it easy to put things off or second-guess — so having a schedule really keeps things clear,” Jeter says. Ultimately, it helps that decision or dream become a priority, and eventually, a reality!

This article originally appeared in our print magazine.

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