When Bad Can Actually Be Good For You

You will have bad times, but they will always wake you up to the stuff you weren’t paying attention to

Robin Williams

Humans love comfort and familiarity. We do whatever it takes to bring joy and happiness into our lives, and will go out of our way to avoid pain, discomfort or anything we consider to be bad. This approach, however, can actually be holding people back in their lives.

Failure and painful experiences, two of the things which many people fear above all else, can actually be good things. They are also some of the scariest things imaginable, because failure and negative experiences can lead to feelings of loss, unhappiness and uncertainty. In order to avoid these negatives, we become risk-averse. In real terms, this means that we become less willing to take calculated risks in our lives and really challenge ourselves. Instead, we seek the security of the known and the familiar. This is fine if you are happy with the life you create for yourself through this approach. After all, isn’t that what we truly want – to design a life for ourselves and become the kind of person who makes us happy? The problem arises when people are unhappy with what they have become, and the life they now have, through playing it safe.

Thankfully, there is an ever-increasing amount of business and entrepreneurship literature which points to the positive side of failure and bad life experiences. As with everything else, it’s not the event, situation or circumstance which we need to pay attention to. We often have no control over that. For example, a business fails because one of the partners have been stealing money, or we are struck down by a sudden and serious illness. Very little, if anything can be done about that, so it doesn’t help to focus on it and become stressed, upset or give up.

Rather than focus on the issue itself, be mindful of how you are reacting to it. This is at the heart of maintaining perspective and developing resilience, two traits which are shared by many of today’s most successful people.

Mindfulness is not a fancy buzzword, but an essential part of living a happy life. At its core, mindfulness is about self awareness. It’s about having a good idea of who you are, how far you’ve come in life and how far you still have to go. It’s being aware of your own set of values and beliefs, and what is important to you. It’s knowing what you are, and are not, prepared to accept in life, what is non-negotiable and which areas are open for compromise.

Beating yourself up after a failure, or when you find yourself in a painful situation, will get you nowhere. It leads you to curse your luck and seek to lay the blame elsewhere for what went wrong. It can eat away at your confidence and stop your progress in its tracks.

This is where the shift in perspective comes in very handy. Shift your thinking away  from failure, pain and loss being negative. Instead, frame it as a learning experience, as pain is the best teacher of all.

Failure, pain and loss should, ideally, lead to reflection. If it’s something which we attempted but ultimately went wrong, reflect on what went wrong and why. Ask yourself, what, if you were to attempt it again, you would do differently. Look for lessons to be learned and changes you could make in order to bounce back stronger.

Pain and loss are different, but can still be formative experiences. Take losing a loved one, for example. While we come to terms with the loss, we are also forced to face our own mortality and accept that nobody lives forever. At least not in body. When doing this, ask yourself;

  • Are you happy with where you are in life right now? If yes, why? If no, why?
  • Are you living according to your beliefs and values?
  • What can you do to improve the quality of your life?
  • What is stopping you from achieving or experiencing more of what you want in life?

Bad things happen to everyone, even good people. For some, they can be crushing events from which they never fully recover. For others, they can be the catalyst for real, meaningful change. The deciding factor lies in the space between our ears. Our “little grey cells” as Hercule Poirot often called them determine how we view and react to everything which we experience, good and bad.

Our grey cells might be relatively “little” but they are incredibly powerful. They absorb everything we see, hear and experience before determining whether it is good or bad, positive or negative. In plain English..it’s up to each individual how they perceive the world around them. This is why we need to be self-aware, because once we know what we want from life, and what we attach importance to, this helps to provide a reference point to which we can compare everything that life throws at us. In this way, we know if we are truly happy at any given time, or not. It’s easier to remain positive in the face of adversity when we know that this bad situation will have no real impact on our lives and the direction in which it is headed. That way, we save our worries and energy for those things that do involve us.

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