The 5 Stages of Adversity Response
Imagine accidentally leaving your mobile device at home, or a key client backs out of an important deal last minute, or you’re living in a state of quarantine due to a global pandemic. So how do you react?
Are you angry and disappointed, ranting and raving to anyone who will listen? Do you feel dejected and victimized, resigned to the situation even as you deny the cold reality of it? Or do you experience a rush of excitement—perhaps tinged with fear—because you sense an opportunity to develop your skills and talents in ways you’d never imagined? The truth is, you’ve probably reacted in all those ways when confronted with a challenge—maybe even cycling through multiple emotional states in the course of dealing with one really big mess.
Our global institute, Peak Learning, has been studying our response to adversity for over three decades and in doing so has established a range of potential responses known as the Adversity Continuum. There are five key responses along this continuum, ranging from the worst possible response (avoidance) to the most optimal (harnessing).
Let’s start with the first – and the worst – response, avoidance. Avoidance is either denial that the adversity exists or that it has little to no effect on our life…when in fact the opposite is true. Trying to avoid adversity in this way is a fruitless and ignorant attempt at getting through said adversity.
The next – slightly better – response, is surviving. Surviving an adversity is celebrating the fact that you’re still standing when the smoke clears. Just being alive (figuratively and possibly literally) after the adversity passes is the only thing that matters. Over time this approach can lead a person to believe they are the perpetual victim of their adversities which of course lowers their confidence and perceived ability to influence the situation.
Coping is our third level up in the continuum. We tend to hold the word “coping” in high regard and why not? Visit any bookstore and go to the “self-help” section; you will see row upon row of books with the word “coping” in the title. Whether it’s coping with financial loss, weight gain, or good old-fashioned stress; we tend to think that coping is the way to go. Coping, however, is not the most optimal response. It is in fact doing some positive things in response to the adversity, but it is also doing some negative things as well. An example of this would be if you suddenly and unexpectedly got laid off from work. Your initial response is to grab the first employment opportunity you can so that you can sustain your cost of living…which is something positive. But then you find yourself stuck in a dead-end job that barely affords you the income that you were used to getting. And to make matters worst, it’s a job you don’t even enjoy but you resign to this fate thinking that it’s enough…which is definitely something negative.
The fourth category of response is managing. Managing an adversity is certainly a positive way to respond. It is identifying the downside(s) of the adversity and taking action to minimize that from happening.
Finally, we have the most optimal response – harnessing. Harnessing an adversity is both minimizing the downside AND maximizing the potential upside. It’s saying to yourself, “How can I convert this situation into an advantage?” It’s about exploring ways that you can come out the other side stronger, wiser, better than you were before the event happened.
How do I move up the continuum?
So the obvious question you should be asking at this point is “How do I hard-wire (re-wire) my brain to respond better within this continuum?” Try the following tried and tested activity:
- Step one is awareness. Keep a daily journal of your adversities…small, medium, and large.
- Beside each adversity assign a number from 1 (avoiding) to 5 (harnessing) as it corresponds to the Adversity Continuum.
- At the end of the week, refer back to your journal and look for trends. Which kinds of adversities are you giving 1’s and 2’s and which others are getting 4’s and 5’s?
- Now ask yourself, “What am I doing differently for those adversities that I manage and harness that I’m NOT doing when it comes to those that I cope, survive, or avoid?”
As you continue this process it will soon become habitual and your brain will instinctively respond differently (better) when adversity strikes. Your goal is to constantly move your response category up…even just one level closer to harnessing. Remember your efforts to hard wire resilience is a long-term fitness plan, not a crash diet. With effort comes results and in the words of Henry Ford, “Whether you think you can OR cannot…you are right!”
Mr. James L. Hargrove is the leading authority on the integration and application of grit and resilience throughout South-East Asia. He has spent the past 12 years consulting with and training corporate leaders across most industries on how to thrive in this V.U.C.A. world. As a highly sought-after thought-leader, speaker, and teacher, Mr. Hargrove combines inspiration and humor with application and substance, delivering a compelling and practical message to his audiences.
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