Updated: Feb 11
Good Management of Bad Experiences Leads to Great Growth
“Most successful people will point to the hard times in their lives as key points in their journey of development.” — John C. Maxwell
Our lives are composed of a series of experiences; some of them are good and we enjoy them wholeheartedly, but some are painful and we’d rather avoid them altogether. But no matter who you are, where you live, what you do, or what your background is, you will never be able to avoid all negative experiences. Even now, you’re probably thinking, “Natalie where is the positivity?!” or maybe you’re thinking about closing this installment entirely because you don’t even want to think about the prospect of negative experiences, but stay with me! No one likes to have a painful or negative experience and we may not be able to avoid them, but we can grow from them!
“Life’s difficulties do not allow us to stay the same. They move us. The question is, in which direction will we be moved: forward or backward? When we have bad experiences, do we become better or bitter?
So how can you turn your pain into gain?
1) Choose a Positive Life Stance
“Life stance” is a phrase used to refer to a person’s overall frame of reference, including their attitudes, assumptions, and expectations about themselves, others, and the world at large. If you can maintain a positive life stance, you will find that you can better manage negative experiences and turn them into positive growth. Family therapist and author, Virginia Satir said it best, “Life is not the way it’s supposed to be. It’s the way it is. The way you cope with it is what makes the difference.” You can rise above your circumstances, refuse to allow negative experiences to undermine who you are and what you believe, and become stronger as a result. Your attitude is the difference maker. Take a moment to assess your attitude toward past negative experiences; which of the following statements best describes how you have approached failure, tragedy, problems, conflict, and challenges that have caused you pain?
I do anything and everything possible to avoid pain at all costs.
I know pain is inevitable, but I try to ignore it or block it out.
I know everyone experiences pain, so I just endure it when it comes.
I don’t like pain, but I try to remain positive despite it.
I process the emotion of painful experiences quickly and try to find a lesson in them.
I process pain, find the lesson, and make changes proactively as a result.
Your goal should be to progress from wherever you are currently on the above scale to the place where you make positive changes as a result of negative experiences.
2) Embrace and Develop Your Creativity
In the chapter, John Maxwell tells a story about a chicken farmer whose land was flooded every spring and who struggled to get his chickens to higher ground before they drowned. After the worst flood he had ever experienced and finding he’d lost his entire flock of chickens, the farmer went to his wife. “I’ve had it!” he said, “I can’t afford to buy another place. I can’t sell this one. I don’t know what to do.” His wife replied, “Buy ducks.” Like the farmer’s wife, people who make the best out of negative experiences are the ones who find creative ways of meeting them. “They see possibilities within their problems.” When you have a negative experience, use your creativity to look at it from a different angle instead of letting it discourage or frustrate you. In the past, have you used negative experiences as a springboard for using your creativity? If the answer is “no,” use a current difficulty and the following steps to help you learn how to become more creative:
Define the problem
Understand your emotion
Articulate the lesson
Identify a desired change
Brainstorm numerous pathways
Receive others’ input
Implement a course of action
Remember, “if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always gotten.” You must take a new path to arrive at a new destination.
“Facing difficulties is inevitable. Learning from them is optional. Whether you learn is based on if you understand that difficulties present opportunities to learn and treat them accordingly.” -- John C. Maxwell
3) Make Good Changes After Learning From Negative Experiences
It is often through negative experiences that we better understand the changes we need to make in our lives. This has a lot to do with how we feel during that experience. In the book, The Heart of Change, authors John Kotter and Dan Cohen explained that “changing behavior is less a matter of giving people analysis to influence their thoughts than helping them to see a truth to influence their feelings.” When negative experiences create strong feelings within us, we either face the feelings and try to change, or we try to escape. The next time you meet a negative experience, remind yourself that you have the opportunity to change and grow. Whether you do will depend on how you react to the experience and the changes you make. Allow your emotions to be the catalyst for change, think through how to change to ensure you make good choices, and then take action. Spend some time recalling the last five negative experiences you’ve had. Write down each experience and what (if anything) you learned from it. Then evaluate whether you decided to make changes based on what you learned. If you did, rate yourself on how well you implemented those changes in your life. Once you’ve assessed all five negative experiences, give yourself a letter grade (A-F) on how well you managed them. If your grade falls below a B, which response areas do you need to pay more attention to in the future to improve your grade? What changes can you make today to be proactive about this?