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How to Overcome Any Adversity in Your Life (And Build Lifelong Resilience Along The Way)

Written by Leon Ho
Founder & CEO of Lifehack
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What is Adversity?

Adversity refers to any difficult or unfavorable situation, event, or circumstance that disturbs normal functioning or well-being. In other words, adversity is hardship, misfortune, and challenges that disrupt life. No one is immune from adversity – it is an inevitable part of the human experience.

Forms of adversity include major traumatic events like deaths of loved ones, serious illnesses, natural disasters, or assault. But adversity also encompasses more common hardships like job losses, rejection, poverty, accidents, failures, discrimination, or conflicts. Even mundane daily stresses like traffic jams or technology glitches qualify as minor adversity.

The reality is that adversity will strike multiple times across your lifetime in varying degrees of severity. The likelihood that you will face significant material hardship over a 10-year period is as high as 50-60%, according to research. And small daily adversities are guaranteed to occur. Adversity is woven into the fabric of life.

Adopting a Winning Mindset Towards Challenging Times

Let’s break down how adversity really affects us. When adversity strikes, we experience it on two levels simultaneously – external and internal.

The external experience refers to the tangible facts and real-life impacts of the situation. This includes damaging events that disrupt normal functioning like deaths, disasters, accidents, job losses, illnesses, rejections, or conflicts. The external side of adversity is the concrete reality of undergoing hardship and loss.

But just as importantly, adversity also triggers an internal experience of how we interpret, understand and assign meaning to difficulties. Our perceptions, perspectives, attitudes and assumptions shape the emotional, psychological and behavioral side effects we endure.


Why People Deal With Adversity Differently

The variance in people’s resilience in the face of adversity traces back to the interplay between external and internal. Those who take turmoil in stride rely on an inner mentality of “I got this” – a self-confidence they have the skills and support to endure challenges. Others succumb to analysis paralysis as self-doubt and worst-case scenarios dominate thinking.

Externally the situation may be identically bleak. But the lens through which hardship gets filtered and understood differs drastically. For example, between a “victim mentality” and a “survivor mentality”. Building resilience requires addressing both outer conditions and inner beliefs.

How to Shift Your Mindset Towards Adversity

It’s natural for adversity to trigger negativity, stress and worry that derails our meticulously crafted plans. But shifting perspective exposes uplifting realities too:

Adversity Reveals What Truly Matters

Tough times have a way of bringing into focus what’s genuinely most important. For example, an unforeseen job loss leads someone to recognize how much they took meaningful work tied to personal strengths for granted. Health scares help clarify priorities around self-care, diet, fitness, stress, time with loved ones. Deaths prompt reordering life’s purpose on values like legacy, virtue, spirituality.

Even practical adversities like technology breakdowns expose dependency we have on devices over human connection. Setbacks carry opportunity to re-evaluate plans through the lens of what gives you meaning when structures fall away. Difficulties enable us to plan lives aligned with cherished priorities less visible during peaceful periods on cruise control.

Adversity Drives Growth

Muscles need to face strain and resistance to grow stronger and more capable. In the same way, we have to deal with hardship to expand our skills, mental toughness, determination and character. Wins that come from an easy straight path fail to equip us with the grit, perseverance and resilience that overcoming obstacles carves into us.

In our own lives, we grow the most from challenging times that require more from us. Hard moments like a tough breakup, losing a job, or deaths of loved ones are all hardships that test us. But if we face the pain, we gain grit, strength and resilience that we couldn’t get during easy times.

Adversity Reveals Our True Ability

Like gold, tough adversity reveals the true character of a person that would otherwise stay hidden without intense pressure. Many people claim to have strong principles and self-perception when times are calm. But challenging situations strip away facades, exposing what we are actually made of – whether it is courage, compassion, integrity or love. To make it through tough times, our actions need to back up our noble words. Adversity is a test that shows who we truly are when things get difficult.

As aviation pioneer Orville Wright remarked “If we worked on the assumption that what is accepted as true really is true, then there would be little hope for advance.” Self-limiting beliefs crumble when we persistently act beyond our constraints.

10 Practical Steps to Overcome Adversity

1. Question Your Beliefs and Expectations

Overcoming adversity often requires flexibility in our thinking and willingness to challenge our own assumptions. It’s easy to develop fixed mindsets and expectations about career progression, work-life balance, health, relationships and more. When adversity strikes in any of these areas, taking a step back to question our beliefs can reveal new perspectives.

For example, if passed over for a promotion, one could question underlying assumptions about what’s required for advancement, seek feedback on perceived weaknesses, or identify alternatives like lateral moves to build skills. If facing health issues, questioning lifestyle beliefs around diet, exercise, sleep, or stress could uncover needed changes. If relationship struggles arise, questioning expectations around a partner’s role may help restore empathy.

Here are 3 reflection questions to spur new thinking:

  • What belief or expectation am I holding that might contribute to this challenge I’m facing? What’s the evidence for/against it?
  • If I looked at this situation through someone else’s eyes, what might they see differently? What assumptions are they not making?
  • If the advice I’d give a friend facing this adversity is different than the view I have now, what accounts for that discrepancy? How might my friend’s perspective apply here?

2. Reframe the Opportunity

With every obstacle, there is always a hidden opportunity waiting to be uncovered. So instead of fighting them or giving up, know that there are always two sides to every coin. This means that you can find an opportunity within any obstacle that you’re facing.

For example, a medical diagnosis can shift focus to better nutrition, fitness, sleep – improving wellbeing overall. Or, an empty nest transitioning to more travel freedom and rediscovered partnership. Even setbacks like job loss or divorce contain possibilities to explore new interests or directions.

Rather than see the limitations try asking yourself:

  • If I reframed this challenge as a teacher, what lessons or strengths might it develop in me?
  • How might this difficulty be an invitation to clarify my priorities and realign where needed?
  • What new perspectives or appreciations could result from working through this adversity?

3. Adopt Healthy Coping Strategies

Stress, poor sleep, lacking fitness, and inadequate self-care frequently accompany adversity, which only depletes mental strength to overcome challenges. But implementing even small healthy routines builds emotional resilience to weather stressful events without crashing. Your well-being is your armor against adversity – protect it vigilantly with healthy coping mechanisms that nurture functioning versus allow backsliding into bad habits as an escape.

For example, start and end days with five-minute meditations to bookend worry. Take mini-breaks for shoulder rolls and deep breathing to punctuate intense work. Pack gym bags and prep healthy snacks in advance to circumvent excuses later.

Make wellness non-negotiable no matter the external pressures or internal strains you may face.

Ask yourself:

  • What small restorative practices could I incorporate to rebuild a sense of calm and coherence each day?
  • What sustainable nutrition, exercise, sleep and lifestyle regimes boost my functioning versus allow quick deterioration?
  • Who embodies resilient self-care while managing adversity that I can learn from? What wellness skills and mindsets can I adopt from their example?

Remember that prioritizing personal health is not selfish – it bolsters mental fitness to handle professional and personal trials.

4. Leverage Strengths and Resilience

Recall times you previously overcame major obstacles by leaning on your unique supports, capabilities and inner resolve. These same wells of strength and resilience remain within even if momentarily hidden by current trials. No matter the situation, focusing on activating the best within you versus lamenting weaknesses wins the day in surmounting whatever comes.

For instance, tap talents in creative problem solving to explore solutions. Harness people skills to build a support network. Summon your sense of humor to maintain perspective. Look to previous professional pivots in your career as proof of resilience.

Ask yourself:

  • What natural aptitudes and tools honed over my career best equip me to adapt to this challenge?
  • What past successes in overcoming hardship can I pull motivation from when self-doubt arises?
  • Who sees unique strengths in me I can call upon to affirm my talents in tackling obstacles?

5. Connect with Your Support System

When you feel overwhelmed, isolation often feels like an instinctual way to find comfort. But this is a facade, because it further empowers adversity. Instead, purposefully widen your circle of support through vulnerability and trust in others who care. No one withstands adversity alone – behind every comeback is a support structure beyond just yourself.

Pose these questions to tap your reserve of support:

  • Who uplifts and grounds me when I’m feeling anxious or defeated? How can I deepen connection as hardship continues?
  • Which friends and loved ones have earned my trust to share honestly about my situation without judgment?
  • Whose wisdom do I need to heed to choose progress rather than retreat? What support could they offer if I boldly request it?

Ignite that community to bolster resilience in combating escalating fears, doubts and backing into previous comfort zones impeding progress. Sometimes we endure because others first believed we could.

6. Sort What You Can and Can’t Control

When adversity strikes, feeling out of control is understandable. Attempting to fix everything at once simply strains mental bandwidth. The Circle of Control offers a compassionate framework:

  • Direct Influence: Stuff within your capacity
  • Indirect Influence: Things you can somewhat navigate
  • No Influence: What lies outside your control

This isn’t about banning feelings – they signal what matters. And some problems blur across categories. But broadly sorting issues reduces feeling overwhelmed while clarifying where to focus limited time and energy.

Ask yourself:

  • What worries can I directly act on versus expend energy endlessly obsessing over?
  • Who can I communicate with to indirectly influence some challenging situations for the better?
  • What acceptance and self-care practices will comfort me when worries lie fully out of reach?

The goal isn’t to diminish very real problems but strategically target efforts at what you can control. Practice letting anxious thoughts pass through you with compassion for the inevitable uncertainty life brings. Support others when possible. Purposefully direct your powers where they make the most difference.


7. Break Goals Into Small Actions

When facing major upheavals, an overwhelming instinct is to demand total life transformations at once. It’s really hard to be patient with results when we’re trying to face down challenges head on. But you must remember to take a step back. Realistic and pragmatic progress requires intentional, incremental steps – steadily building skills and self-trust to fuel bigger changes.

For instance, if tackling a career pivot, dedicate time daily to research industry options versus allow worry to stall movement. If confronting a health challenge, identify one positive habit to establish this week with mindfulness, like consistent sleep.

Ask yourself:

  • What is one small, manageable step I will dedicate to daily that substantively moves me towards my goal?
  • What mini milestone can I celebrate in the next week that will motivate continued action?
  • Who can I enlist to endorse my small wins that affirms my capacity to reach the full vision?

Major change through adversity rarely happens overnight. Focus first on accumulating small wins through faithfully executed tiny steps. Tiny becomes mighty when repeated unrelentingly. The longest journeys are traveled through steady daily progress in the right direction. Just take the next step.

8. Reward Small Wins

Recovering motivation depletes rapidly without intermittent reward for efforts against escalating adversity. But even minor positive progression deserves celebration as nourishment generating incentive inspiring next strides. Note all hard-fought inches forward. Applaud promises kept to yourself. Mark battle wounds as badges of honor rather than embarrassed defeats. Each micro win fans the flame of self-efficacy aggregating into eventual overpowering light where darkness once gripped tight.

Motivation can easily wear down to exhaustion if progress stalls. So celebrating even tiny gains renews the drive to persist. Don’t underestimate the power of small wins. It’s like peddling a bike, the momentum gains and going forward gets easier and easier.


For example, acknowledging the relief after opening up to a friend after isolation. Marking down incremental health goals no matter how minor they seem. Acknowledge efforts to gain new skills despite your initial stumbles. Frame mistakes not as embarrassing but badges of courage and commitment.

Ask yourself:

  • What one positive action today, however small, represents heroic effort given my circumstances?
  • Who can I proudly share news of my slight win with to shine appreciative light on progress?
  • How will I tangibly celebrate meeting my smallest milestones – with a special meal? Short respite for self-care?

Battling back from adversity rarely follows a straight line. Reward steps forward, no matter the pace. Each tiny win nourishes resilience reserves equally as the final victory.

9. Mine Your Mistakes for Gold

When navigating adversity, setbacks can feel defeating yet they contain rich potential for “course correcting” future efforts. Rather than ruminate on faults, ruthlessly hunt the lesson within each stumble. Mine your mistakes to gather gems of insight.

For example, reflect on what triggered a relapse back to unhealthy coping habits and adjust safeguards. If a career transition attempt flounders, look for what qualifications require bolstering. View interactions where you lost composure as revealing hot buttons needing management.

Ask yourself:

  • What positive intentions powered actions that contributed to this setback that I should acknowledge first?
  • If I zoom out, what key patterns or missing skill sets does this reveal that I can develop to avoid repetition?
  • Who demonstrates the emotional intelligence and problem-solving skills under stress that I should emulate next time?

The deepest wisdom comes from overcoming our biggest blunders. Don’t see setbacks as failures. They show areas needing growth. Use the lessons to make better choices next time. Each day apply what you learn. Small steps forward using setbacks wisely add up over time.

10. Audit Where You Gain and Lose Energy

Successfully overcoming adversity relies on managing personal energy levels, not just time. Start tracking your individual patterns. Make notes – when do you feel vibrant, focused and light versus strained, easily distracted and weary?

Categorize daily activities as either Energy Giving or Energy Draining. Fun fact – these are often deceivingly similar on the surface! For instance, aimless scrolling or binge watching shows might seem relaxing temporarily but strain mental focus. Whereas household projects, planning healthy meals, or catching up with a close friend could energize by instilling meaning and control.

Ask yourself:

  • What specific activities leave me renewed and resilient versus depleted? How can I modify my routines to do more of the former?
  • What small personalized self-care rituals could I build that shortcut to relaxation while also bettering my life somehow?
  • How can I treat energy level management as non-negotiable by protecting what fuels me most?

Get curious about your energy habits and purposefully craft routines aligning to your unique needs. Your energy investment becomes your energy reserves for facing and overcoming adversity.

Final Words: Tap Into Your Inner Resilience and Growth

Facing adversity can sometimes feel utterly overwhelming. Yet within every life challenge exists opportunity for empowering transformation. There’s always a way.

Renew your perspective by questioning rigid assumptions. Uncover hidden possibilities. Implement healthy coping strategies as sustaining fuel. Recall previous successes drawing on your unique resilience now. And connect to community; no one was meant to withstand hardship alone.


Yes the mountain still looms large at times. So take progress step-by-step. Invest energy wisely. Learn from temporary setbacks. Most importantly, have compassion for yourself and others.

And remember that progress won’t always be linear – so celebrate small signs of empowerment. Each day presents chances to acquire wisdom and show courage. Adversity develops strength; allow the process to mold you. The path may prove more meaningful than any initially left behind. Take heart and walk boldly forward.

More Tips on Overcoming Adversity

Featured photo credit: Lukas Rychvalsky via unsplash.com

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