There are real benefits to looking for what you appreciate or are grateful about in bad things as well as good. ‘What is there to be grateful for in bad things?’ you might reasonably ask. Here are some ideas and research findings that might help you to benefit from adversity.
Some events that are tough to experience at the time can turn out to benefit you in the longer term (as long as they’re not so hard as to break us completely). We grow and become stronger through overcoming challenges. Unless we face adversity, we remain weak and untried. This is the basis of Nassim Nicholas Taleb’s concept of ‘antifragility’.
You’re Stronger than You Think
Even traumatic events can be a catalyst pushing people to change for the better. This ‘post-traumatic growth’ is reported by over half of trauma survivors, according to researchers Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun who coined the term – a higher proportion than report post-traumatic stress disorder.
Only some of our subjective experience of events comes from the objective facts of the event itself. What the event means to us, the sense we make of it, and how we fit it into the narrative of our lives, comes from what we tell ourselves about it. Consequently, the subjective experience of similar events can be wildly different and have widely divergent effects, depending on the beliefs and mindset of the individual.
One aspect that can make a big difference is our beliefs about types of experiences, and whether we classify them as something to avoid or something that can be beneficial. In some cases, stress (usually thought of as bad for you) can in some cases actually do you good. The factor that makes the difference is your beliefs and expectations about stress. If you have a general belief that stress has a bad effect and should be avoided, you don’t perform as well under stress as someone who believes that stress encourages learning and growth.
Henry Ford Was Only Half Right
You have probably come across the Henry Ford quote “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re right.” This quote is so often repeated because it encapsulates an essential truth – that self-belief is important to performance. But it also overlooks an even more important principle discovered by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck – that what really makes the difference is not your belief in your current abilities and attributes, but whether you believe those abilities and attributes (like intelligence or ‘character’) are fixed or that they can be improved.
So why isn’t achievement as simple as Ford’s maxim implies? Belief that ‘you can’ is fragile if it’s based on an ability that you believe is fixed; it will crumple as soon as you hit a setback that you can’t easily overcome.
But if you remember that you can learn from setbacks, you’ll treat them as a cue to put more effort in. What’s more, your subjective experience will be more pleasant and easier to appreciate – meaning that you’re in a more resourceful emotional state enabling you to recover more quickly and find ways round the obstacles, confident in the belief that ‘failure is information’, that you are able to solve problems, and that you can find a way through to where you want to get to.
If you’d like to develop your appreciative mindset, and get started with using a leading-edge method for coaching teams and small groups, join the Practical Appreciative Inquiry course starting on 5 June. It’s a small-group course but there are still some places available. Find the full details and how to book here.
“I wanted to learn more about the AI approach and use it in my teams/organisations work. Andy’s experience, the examples, the materials – everything just added to the blend nicely.” – Shabih Zaidi, Consultant Anthropologist, Executive Leadership Coach, Facilitator & Trainer, Switzerland