stormy weatherAre you over-stressed? I often hear people despairing that they are over-committed and over-stressed at work, and don’t know how to get off the treadmill. Work-life balance becomes unreachable, and they feel increasingly unable to be the loving parent or partner they would like to be.

This sentiment is echoed by M Scott Peck whose opening sentence in The Road Less Travelled is: “Life is difficult”. Even the Buddha teaches that the first of the “Four Noble Truths” is “Life is suffering”.

This is a rather bleak commentary on life, so let’s put it into perspective.

It’s true that we all experience some degree of difficulty, heartache, disappointment and even adversity. The practical implication for me is: can I minimise the suffering in a way that doesn’t also diminish experiencing the positive side of life?

Put differently, is it possible to cope well with what life throws at me and also to experience love, joy and happiness?

Unhelpful coping strategies

There are some easy ways of coping with the difficulties of life:

1.   Numb the pain. Alcohol, overeating and drugs are easily available solutions.

2.   Don’t think too deeply. Distractions work well particularly when there are exciting and risky, such as gambling and high-risk sexual behaviour.

3.   Speed up: Speed and rush creates self-importance, gets noticed, praised and rewarded at work.

4.   Rage against the injustices of life: This is a ready option when incompetence, corruption, injustice and dire poverty abound.

The problem with these strategies is that they have the effect of delaying introspection and taking accountability for one’s life. At best they are only temporary solutions, and at worst, they sap our ability to live life with hope, joy and fulfilment. It’s almost as if we make a pact with ourselves that disappointment and heartache are our fate, and must be accepted.

Developing the ability to struggle well

So is there a better way of dealing with overwhelming stress, disappointment and heart-ache?

I think some of the answer lies in identifying and embracing life lessons that arise out of the difficulties. I think it’s useful to find patterns in the way that we struggle successfully and use this knowledge to deal with future struggles.

We can learn to cope well with adversity by the identifying what we already do successfully, and then amplify this already self-proven ability to cope even better. Using gratitude and finding the good in life helps us develop hope and persevere more flexibly. Simply put, we can develop the ability to struggle well.

In this way, resilience is much more than just coping or “bouncing back”. It’s about understanding what are your existing coping abilities and personal strengths, and then intentionally using them to a greater degree. By doing so, you will be better able to use the change needed when coping with difficulties as a springboard to self-development and becoming all that you are able.

So the challenge to you and me is: let’s change our thinking and beliefs about how we cope and deal with every day difficulties, as well as life’s real adversities. Let’s look for the life-learnings that arise out of our difficulties and apply this to how we deal with future struggles. If we learn to struggle well, we will thrive and flourish.

Image courtesy of Stuart Miles at

Resilient Leadership WorkshopResilient Leadership Workshop
Leaders learn how to keep stress positive. They assess their Team Members strategy-fitness and learn three resilience coaching techniques. The outcome is the leaders are better able to deliver organisational strategy and coach their team members when their resilience lags (read more here).

Building Resilience workshop

Building Resilience Workshop

Team members and specialists learn how to bounce back from difficult organisation and life events, such as significant change, setbacks and hardship. The outcome is they are able to resist stressful experiences impacting on their job productivity and stay calm and healthy (read more here).

Mental Strength training

Mental Strength Training

Mental Strength training helps people keep task-focused and persistent. Mental Strength training teaches the process and tools to remain composed under pressure and less vulnerable to emotional slumps at work and at home (read more here).