How to Develop the Ability to Struggle Well

Rod Warner

Are you overstressed?

So many of the people I coach despair about being over-committed and over-stressed at work. They say they don't know how to get off the treadmill. Their work-life balance is a joke, and they feel unable to be the loving parent and partner they would like to be.

Does this sound like you?

Well, M Scott Peck certainly understood it, writing the opening sentence in The Road Less Travelled: "Life is difficult".

Even the Buddha teaches that the first of the "Four Noble Truths" is "Life is suffering". Well, isn’t that a really bleak commentary on our lot in life!

Let’s put this into perspective.

It's true that at one time or another, we will all experience some degree of difficulty, heartache, disappointment and even adversity. It’s a truism that you can’t go through life without having some sh*t happen! So then the real issue for you and me is: can we minimise our inevitable suffering in a way that doesn't prevent us from also experiencing all the good things life has to offer?

Simply put, is it possible to struggle well with what life throws at us?

Unhelpful coping strategies

Let’s start with unhelpful coping strategies. These are the common ways of coping with difficulties in life:

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

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

3. Speed up: Speed and rush create self-importance, gets noticed, praised and rewarded at work. At home, speed and rush provide an easy excuse for not living up to your expectations of yourself.

4. Rage against the injustices of life. This is a ready option with so much incompetence, corruption, injustice and dire poverty around: “It’s impossibly hard to cope when life is unfair!”

Although these coping strategies do work for a while they, unfortunately, delay necessary introspection and taking accountability for one's life. Thus, at best they are only temporary solutions, and at worst, they sap our ability to live life with hope, joy and fulfilment.

When we use these coping strategies, it's almost as if we make a pact with ourselves that disappointment and heartache are our fate, and must be accepted.

That’s a really sad outcome!

Developing the ability to struggle well

So, are there better ways of dealing with the real overwhelming stress, disappointment and heartache that beset so many of us? I think that, fortunately, there are better ways of struggling well.

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

You see, we become better at coping with adversity by identifying what we already doing successfully, and then deliberately amplify that to cope even better.

For example, using your strengths more consciously. Also, being grateful and finding the good in life, which helps develop hope and the ability to persevere more flexibly.

Simply put, it is definitely possible to develop the ability to struggle well.

You see, resilience is much more than just coping or "bouncing back". It's about understanding what your existing coping abilities and personal strengths are, 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.

Then you not only “bounce back”, but you “bounce forward.

So the challenge to you and me is: let's change our thinking and beliefs about how we cope and deal with everyday difficulties, as well as life’s real adversities.

Let's look for the life learnings that arise out of our difficulties and apply them to how we deal with future struggles.

If we learn to struggle well, we will indeed thrive and flourish.

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