13 Strategies for Overcoming Adversity & Personal Challenges

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I’ll never forget the first day that I walked into the art class at university only to be cross-examined by the very artistic lecturer. She quizzed me about where I was from and my life experience, and then she shook her head and told me bluntly that I wouldn’t be able to make art. 

Close to tears, I asked her why she thought this. “Because you haven’t faced adversity and you haven’t lived yet, and art is about life—all the ugly and painful parts of it,” she replied. 

Since I was from a small town, came from a good home, and didn’t seem outwardly scared, she assumed I had no story to tell… that adversity hadn’t shaped me yet, and that I had no strategies for overcoming adversity. 

She was wrong. 

I had faced adversity, and I had found ways to deal with the challenges of living (so much so that it didn’t look to those on the outside like I had led a challenging life). My art would reveal my life journey and my lecturer later respected me for my unique view on life. 

All of who I am has been shaped by the adversity and challenges I have faced in life. Overcoming adversity is about embracing the storms of life.

What Is Adversity?

Adversity is when things don’t go your way in life. You get up with plan A, but you end up needing to make plan D through to M before you even have lunch. Life is a process of moving through adversity, of dealing with things when they don’t go your way. 

You can experience adversity in many forms, from physical adversity due to illness or injuries to psychological adversity due to depression and trauma. Financial adversity can affect you when you have insufficient means to live your life or reach your dreams. 

However, adversity isn’t the full-stop at the end of your life’s sentence. You can rise above it, moving from suffering to hope and from struggle to gain. 

According to the Center for American Progress, the greatest adversity most Americans suffer is economic disparity. Yet, with very little by way of financial resources, you can make a success and rise out of your circumstances and have a new future. All you need is the right strategy to face adversity and overcome personal challenges. 

Adversity as the Cement for Character

If adversity is such a challenging experience, why would you want to suffer it? Surely it is better to cruise through life and have everything better, right? 

Wrong.

Adversity is the proving ground of character. It’s the concrete that lays the foundation of your life skills, outlook, and abilities. You aren’t born with the ability to be brave or the talent to work hard. Instead, those are all skills you learned through adversity. 

When things are difficult, you learn the most. When life is easy, you grow soft. Therefore, welcome adversity as an opportunity to learn, grow, and become stronger. Adversity is your teacher—that university lecturer you need to convince you can do what they think you can’t.

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When you are in these unchangeable situations, the best you can do is buckle down, make peace, and learn.

When you experience adversity, you learn to overcome it, to be stronger, wiser, and a better version of yourself (which you would never have known existed without the challenge). Adversity shapes your character. It makes you into who you were meant to be. 

Adversity is the gateway to greatness—if you approach it with the right attitude and outlook. 

To overcome adversity (or make the most of it), you need to have a certain mindset or attitude and positive beliefs to guide you when the going gets really tough. These become skills that are honed by the pressure of adversity and challenges. When you face other trials in life, you are more prepared and better able to cope because you have been through so much more. 

Most of us have faced some form of adversity at one time or other in our lives. Chances are you simply bulldozed your way through it and arrived at the other side quite haggardly.

However, if you can approach each challenge or adversity with a strategy up your sleeve, you will have a much better chance of emerging on the other side enriched by the experience and not impoverished by your fears.

13 Strategies to Overcome Adversity and Personal Challenges

Strategies to overcome adversity are guiding principles that help you survive, thrive, and overcome challenges. These are little gems that you have developed through previous adversities and built into your modus operandi to help guide you through the chaos. 

If you don’t know what strategies you should develop, it’s okay—I’ve got a great list of strategies to help you sustain your forward momentum while savoring the experience of challenges and emerging wiser and braver on the other side. 

Strategy #1. Look Back, Claim Success, Step Forward

This strategy may seem like a mouthful, but it’s about scooping energy from your past, then moving into the future. When adversity hits, such as losing your job or getting divorced, you take a moment to look back on life. What are some of the previous (but similar) adversities you faced, and how did you get through them before? 

These don’t have to be huge challenges that you miraculously survived. Something as simple as doing extra chores to make back the $5 you lost at school can show you the strategy you need to deal with a sudden job loss. You can put in the extra work to make ends meet now. 

Sitting on a rock and weeping because of your sudden unemployment won’t solve the problem, but handing in your résumé the same day you are retrenched and calling up previous employers is a great way to be proactive

Strategy #2. Two Second Whine

When challenges arise, you probably feel like crap, right? You want to scream, rant, run away, and get all upset because your smooth sailing suddenly becomes a choppy sea of challenges. 

That’s okay. Give yourself two seconds or two minutes or even ten minutes to feel absolutely dreadful. That’s right, let yourself wallow in self-reflective misery. 

After the predefined period of whining and griping is finished, pull up your socks and look ahead. From now on, you aren’t allowed to moan again. The negative time is up, only positive energy going forward. 

Strategy #3. Make Peace and Learn

Sometimes an adverse situation is unavoidable. You may even find yourself unable to get out or move through the situation. Having to file for bankruptcy or being sentenced to prison are two examples of such situations. 

When you are in these unchangeable situations, the best you can do is buckle down, make peace, and learn. Stop kicking against the thorns and work on finding your inner peace. This is why many inmates turn to meditation in prison—to find peace. 

Learn from the adversity you’ve been brought down by—it’s the only way to grow and not have the situation be a complete waste (or repeated). To learn, you need to stop asking “why me?” and start asking “What does this teach me?

Strategy #4. Count Your Steps

Far from being something only people with OCD do, counting your steps forward can help you see your progress. But it’s in counting how few steps you took backward that you can really see how much progress you have made. 

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Recording failures and successes can help you develop purpose. 

A great strategy is to keep a journal and write down each of the steps forward you took when you deal with adversities. Then record the backward steps too on the opposite page of the journal. Soon, the forward steps will outweigh the backward ones. 

The backward page is also a great place to plan solutions or remedies for the backward movements. 

Strategy #5. Challenge Is Chance

Every single invention that has ever been created has resulted from some form of challenge. Nobody makes something new if they aren’t faced with a problem to fix. Likewise, having adversity strike, you can choose to sit in limbo or make a new invention to fix your challenge. 

From the inventors of the paperclip to the lady next door who starts sewing dog beds to make ends meet, you can see creativity and invention shine when there is no other way to get out of a sticky situation or challenge. 

When you are hit by an adverse situation or challenge, ask yourself what opportunity this brings you. Can you learn something new, make a change in life, or discover a hidden talent because of the adversity that faces you now? 

Strategy #6. Laugh Loudly in the Face of Fear

Adversity is often a scary thing. You feel overwhelmed and you feel like you’ve made a massive failure (or are a failure) when challenges bring you down. One of the best ways to deal with fear is to laugh at it. 

I discovered how to deal with fear when I started riding horses in my late twenties. Falling off wasn’t fun, and most of the other riders were more experienced or several years younger. Fearing that I’d be mocked or that I would quit on what was really my passion, I began laughing every time I fell off. 

Strangely, the falls didn’t seem so bad when I could laugh at them. The other riders also had a giggle while I picked myself up, and they were encouraging too, since I had such a good sense of humor and the ability to laugh at myself. 

When you feel like you’re being swallowed whole by the challenges in your life, take a moment to view your situation like a comedian would. No matter how bad, you can probably find something to laugh at

Even a dark little sense of humor can help you bust the stress that comes with challenges. It’s the stress and negativity that holds you back. Laugh, release tension, and rise above it. 

Strategy #7. Swim Without Looking Back

I love movies, and the movie Gattaca is exactly about this. When you hold energy in reserve, you open the door to doubt. You wonder if you will make it

Like the iconic scene in the movie, you can choose to swim into the sea and hold back energy for the return swim, but then you won’t swim as far. Or you can swim as if you have no intention of returning to shore, and you can see just how far you can swim. Having achieved your goals, you will find that you have more energy than you ever believed you could. 

In my own life, I made the decision to change careers in my mid-thirties. Knowing I couldn’t just quit my job and hope for the best, I had to work two jobs for about nine months. This meant I had to burn the candle at all ends—often working for 16 hours straight each day. 

I never knew I could do it. But I threw myself into the work, keeping my ultimate goal in mind. No matter what adversities came my way, I just kept my head above water and kept swimming. The return journey will look after itself as long as you don’t give up

Strategy #8. Keep Your Eye on the Prize

Adversity can become an obstacle that seems intent on tripping you up on your life journey. When you get rocked off your place, you may feel like you have lost your way. The best way to keep your path is to keep your eyes firmly fixed on your goals

Athletes know this, and when hurdlers run their races, they keep their chin up, focusing on the finish line and not the hurdles that they have to cross. Yet, they run with intent, knowing exactly when they need to push, leap, and cross the obstacles to reach the finish line. 

Strategy #9. Look Up

Being positive is one of the best strategies for managing adversity and life challenges. Cancer patients know how important it is to remain positive, regardless of the adversity that comes with a life-threatening disease. Being positive helps reframe everything that happens to you in a way that gives you options and ideas to move through adversity. 

Strategy #10. Own It

One of the best strategies you can use to overcome adversity is to believe in yourself. You can overcome anything if you believe you can. Like not giving you a chance to give up, you push through because you believe you can. 

Using mantras and affirmations are great ways to help develop your self-belief. Far from being snobby, self-confidence helps you build your world. Like an actor who has to believe in the part they play to make it convincing, you have to believe in yourself to convince yourself you are capable. 

Strategy #11. Warm Up Your Mind BEFORE Adversity Strikes

Tony Robbins, a renowned life coach, says that you should prepare your mind for adversity before it strikes. Instead of waiting for the fan to be impacted by life’s “poop,” get ready now for how you will deal with it—by creating a disciplined mind

Activities like meditation, Tai Chi, visualization, and daily exercise help to build discipline in your mind and body, preparing you to tough it out when you face adversity.

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One of the best strategies you can use to overcome adversity is to believe in yourself.

Like an athlete who trains before the race, developing mental discipline works like warming up your mind to the task of dealing with adversity.

By engaging in disciplined activities like meditation and yoga, you can lay the foundation to help you work at problems with diligence. 

Strategy #12. Record, Reframe, and Reflect

Matthew McConaughey famously stated that he has been journaling for over 37 years. Journaling is a powerful strategy for facing adversity and life challenges. 

Not only does journaling give you a place to analyze your flaws and failures, but it’s also a great way to check on when things went according to plan. When you write about your successes, you give yourself a roadmap to how you dealt with challenges in the past (and won). 

Like a sports coach, you analyze what worked so you can repeat this when the situation calls for it. Recording failures and successes can help you develop purpose

Strategy #13. Act, Don’t React

One of the worst things you can do is to react in a situation. We talk about having fast reaction times, but it should be fast action times when you are dealing with adversity. When you react, the situation is in control of you. Acting means you are in control of the situation. 

No matter the challenge you face or what the adversity you are enduring brings across your path, you should always think, evaluate, and act. Reacting means you have taken yourself out of the driver’s seat in your own life. 

Final Thoughts on Strategies to Overcome Adversity and Life Challenges

A life without challenges is a life not lived. If life was supposed to be easy, you’d be living in Pleasantville. But life, thankfully, isn’t without challenges, and adversity is always there to be the demanding lecturer who shapes your life

If you learn from each challenge, you can develop strategies to overcome future adversity, be more prepared and act instead of reacting. You are not without a plan or methods to help you through the hardship your life may throw at you. 

Above all, remember that adversity isn’t something to resent or avoid at all costs. Instead, adversity is your friend, and if you make the most of each challenge, your life will blossom in ways you can’t even anticipate. 

For more help on dealing with limiting beliefs (just like the idea that adversity is a bad thing), give our 7 limiting beliefs worksheets a try.

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