Last week I shared a Stoic exercise called Practicing Misfortune. There are actually 8 exercises that Stoics drew upon for strength in trying times. The second is one we’ve talked about before but is important enough to mention again. It is the concept of altering your perception to see an obstacle as an opportunity or Turning the Obstacle Upside Down.
“Choose not to be harmed and you won’t feel harmed. Don’t feel harmed and you haven’t been.” -Marcus Aurelius
An event isn’t in itself good or bad. It is how we choose to view the event that gives it its quality. To illustrate this, let’s consider that the quality of any event is highly subjective. If it rains today, I might think this is a good thing. I will stay inside my toasty house drinking tea and reading with my warm blanket. However, you may not share my opinion about today’s rainy weather if you had planned a party outdoors.
In order to turn the obstacle in this example upside down, perhaps you move the party indoors and offer hot drinks instead of lemonade. Because of the more intimate nature of the party perhaps you get to know your guests a little better and so your network grows to your advantage. If you had been disgruntled about having to change your plans the party certainly would have been a flop. Because you were open to change, you won the day.
Strive to find the good in everything. Even tragic events that seem to have no redeeming quality. For example, I first started internalizing this concept a year and a half ago when my husband was diagnosed with cancer. I felt disloyal trying to find something good about our situation. What could possibly be good about my husband getting cancer? But as events unfolded, I realized because I was looking for the good, the good found me. I learned that I am actually a pretty good caretaker, event coordinator, and can get us to where we need to be when we need to be there. So, I learned good things about myself. Also, my husband and I grew closer during this difficult time.
We tend to get what we are looking for. If we expect something to be awful, it generally will be. Not only because of our impression of the event but because the attitude with which we face the event alters others’ impression of us. Unconscious or not, people pick up on our attitude and adjust their attitudes appropriately.
Rather than thinking of something not working out as a failure, think about it instead as a lesson learned. You didn’t fail, you were just gently pushed in another direction. When you are conscious of this, you are open to taking new opportunities that are presented to you rather than being daunted by your failure. In this sense, it wasn’t a failure at all, but a step on the path to success.
The lesson here is not to say, “This happened and now everything is ruined,” or “I can’t because this happened.” Instead say, “This happened.” Yes, an obstacle has been placed in your path, but you get to decide if it is an opportunity or a barrier.
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