3 Keys to rise above Life’s most challenging circumstances

“God created Arrakis to train the faithful.”

Frank Herbert, Dune.

Sometimes, life throws challenges at you.

Life is so intelligent, that she will find your weakest point, and hit you right there.

Life will test your pride, your ego, your will, your faith, your love.

Life will test everything in you.

Life will see your breaking point, or your flexing point.

If you are a high achiever, and Life doesn’t challenge you enough, you will create the circumstances to test yourself, consciously, or unconsciously.

Key #1:

Make sure you always have enough challenge to stay in flow.

If you don’t do it consciously, you will let Life do it for you.

Or, you will do it unconsciously by creating your own problems to avoid being bored. If that is your case, you are not dreaming big enough or on a big enough mission…

Make sure you are aiming high enough, and do your deep inner work.

Key #2:

When life does throw stuff at you, there are several ways you can respond.

First would be to accept it, and see the things for what they are. Acknowledging what is happening is the first step.

Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’ model shows the five parts of grieving:

Change curve. Source: Kübler-Ross (1969).  

The quicker you acknowledge the loss, the quicker you move to the next phase.

The more resistance you oppose to the situation, the more likely you will stay stuck in your situation and start looping.

Looping is what happens to a broken record.

When there is a scratch on the record, the needle with the diamond head supposed to read the record and have the music play in a certain way (harmonious and flowing) actually gets derailed into it’s original position. Then, it starts playing the track again instead of “moving forward” in the music.

Don’t get me wrong, there are moments where loops are nice and interesting. In fact, DJ’s use loops consciously to make interesting mixes, in which case it becomes a pleasure to stay “stuck in the loop”! For instance, check-out this 1-hour loop of Interstellar’s main theme “S.T.A.Y”. This is great music for concentration. I use it for creative purposes and to focus.

But there are other moments when you don’t want to stay stuck in the loop when what you really want is listen to the music till the end.

Alan Watts, in his usual paradoxical wisdom explains it well:

Is there an area of your life where you feel you are looping? (i.e. playing the same scenario again and again?)

Is that serving you, and is that your choice? Or are you staying in this loop for no reason, when you could be moving forward?

Watch the movie Groundhog Day, not only with the eyes of enjoyment, but with the intention of gathering insights from the movie.

If you have faced a challenge in your life, where would you situate yourself in the Kübler-Ross model?

Key #3:

Image by Free-Photos from Pixabay

Remember that the goal of all this is to build resilience, and to learn how to surf.

In 2012, I jumped on the occasion of spending two months in Australia. I was taking care of a young boy, and lived in Sydney. During a holiday in Noosa, I decided I would learn to surf. So I rented a board at my hostel, and went early in the morning to surf, before I went to my daily duties.

I didn’t want to learn from the internet, so instead, I went up to a surfer who was changing at the back of his van, and asked him:

“Hey, I’m a beginner at surfing, can you tell me how to do it?”

He answered:

“Yeah, sure !”

I felt excited that a pro would teach me how to surf !

He said:

“Just get on the board, and surf ! Enjoy it man!”

That was probably some of the most unhelpful advice I received in my life.

Yet, it was probably the most truthful in its essence.

You can learn as much theory as you want about facing challenging circumstances, the Kübler-Ross model (or any other), and steps to take, but ultimately, what you do need to do is to get on the board, and aspire to surf. Aspire to enjoy the ride.

There is no guarantee that you will enjoy the ride. Actually, there is a guarantee that sometimes, you won’t.

But there is another guarantee: If you don’t get on the board, you will never surf.

If you don’t train your mindset, you won’t enjoy the ride.

For mindset training, there is a very simple way to boost your command to shift your perspective:

First, meditate, a little bit, a few times a week. This will build your “mental muscle” command, to bring back your attention to where you want it to be. This is one of the building blocks of mental hygiene and health. Just like you brush your teeth, and exercise physically, it is important to clear up your mind and exercise mentally. More on meditation in this article.

Second, when you notice that there is a circumstance that feels challenging, embrace it, and then, when you are ready, ask yourself:

“What is right about this that I am not getting?”


“What is the gift in this situation?”

I insist: “when you are ready.”

Recently, I have faced a situation which felt very challenging emotionally for me. I felt very angry at myself, resentful, and frustrated. My Inner Coach  was already trying to switch with his wise voice:

“What is the gift in this situation?”

But a stronger voice inside me (doubled with the strong feelings) said:

“I don’t want to see the positive ! Right now I want to be angry and frustrated !”

I was clearly in the anger phase of Kübler-Ross’ model.

Another model I find very helpful and highly relevant for managers and leaders, is the one shared by Vicki Shillington, on a call with Rich Litvin last year.

Vicki explained the three phases of reacting to disruptive change, and what to do in each, namely:

  1. Chaos:
    • Have high empathy for self and others
    • Focus on your safety and health
    • Be reactive
  2. Acceptance/Choice:
    • Focus on short-term opportunities and problems
    • Do less, well. Set your long-term goals.
    • Be proactive
  3. New Normal:
    • Set Vision and create Impossible Goals
    • Innovate openly and push boundaries
    • Maximize opportunity

I highly recommend this article that describes the phases more in depth, at the individual and the organizational levels.

It is important to notice that and not to bypass or try to go “faster than the music”, as we say in French.

What is one insight that you got from reading this article?

What is one tiny step you need to take?

Or maybe, what is one step that you might not want to take (right now), in order to slow down?

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