Overcoming Adversity & Failure

After facing crisis, adversity, or failure, we have 3 different path options on our mental maps.

You can circle where you currently are. The negative event creates no change. You end up where you started, and you never move on from the pain you faced.

This path leads you toward further negative consequences. You are worse off after the negative event. For example, after getting laid off from work, you start drinking and eventually become an alcoholic.

The third path takes us from being in a place of failure or setback to being in a place where we are stronger and more capable than before the negative event happened. We call this Post-Traumatic Growth. For example, after getting laid off from work, you then decide to start your own company which grows massively.

So let’s say you face setback or failure or crisis or you-name-it negative event. Maybe you lost a client at work or missed an important meeting. Perhaps you have a fight with a friend or break up with your significant other. Pick your adversity.

No matter what adversity you face, you have some decisions to make.

You will make the most successful decisions when you’re thinking clearly and creatively enough to see all 3 types of paths that are available to you and see the outcomes of each path.

However, when you’re stressed or in crisis, seeing the path up can easily be missed.


What’s the key to being able to pick Mental Path #3 and have Post-Traumatic Growth?

Your explanatory style. How you explain the nature of past events, particularly less-than-stellar ones.

There are two explanatory styles – optimistic and pessimistic.

Optimistic explanatory style (OES) – Adversity is local (contained & not high-stakes) and temporary

Pessimistic explanatory style (PES) – Adversity is global and permanent

Your beliefs affection your actions. If you have a pessimistic explanatory style, you sink into hopelessness and stop trying.

If you have an OES, you’re spurred onto higher performance. For example, 1st year US Military Academy students with a more OES perform better than test scores predict and are less likely to drop out than their peers.

MetLife agents with OES sold 37% more insurance than agents with a PES. Sometimes, that number was as high as 88%.


How do you cultivate an optimistic explanatory style so you can be more successful?

Introducing: the ABCD model of interpretation

Adversity – the event you can’t change

Belief – your reaction to the event, why you thought it happened and what it means for the future

Consequence – the result of the adversity (for better or worse)

Disputation – challenging your BELIEFS about the event & consequences


Here’s some questions to challenge your beliefs…

  • What is the evidence for this belief? Is the evidence airtight?
  • Would we let a friend get away with such reasoning? Or is the reasoning clearly unfounded once we step outside of ourselves and take a look?
  • What are some other plausible interpretations of this event?
  • What are some more adaptive reactions to it?
  • Is there another counterfactual we can adopt instead?


Let’s look at an example…

Adversity – I lose an important client at work.

Belief – “I’m terrible at my job.” “I can’t fix this.” “I’m going to get fired.”

Consequence – I get in trouble with my boss. I lose part of my commission.

Disputation – “I would never tell a friend that they’re terrible at their job and will get fired, because they lose a client. The truth is, the client couldn’t financially afford to work with my company any longer. I now have the opportunity to pitch better clients who are better suited for my company.”

Now, rather than feeling despair and hopelessness, I now reach for the opportunity to pitch new clients with bigger budgets than my previous client that I lost.

When you change your beliefs about a circumstance, you change how you interpret a circumstance. When your beliefs and interpretations change, your actions change.

Suddenly, you’re upleveling instead of hitting rock bottom.