Grant practically leaped out of his car as he arrived for our third coaching session. Over the previous two days, I’d been walking with him to help him overcome adversity and learned helplessness. If you missed those two sessions, check out part one and part two now. You’ll want to read them first.

Overcoming adversity and helplessness
Your voices will argue with you. Argue back. Make your negative voices the enemy. (Tweet That) | Share this Graphic on Pinterest | Share on Facebook

In today’s session I would share with him the last three steps to overcoming adversity and helplessness. I’ll let you listen in our conversation below.

After a little small talk, we dove into the topic of the day. I recapped the first three steps from the day before:

1. Change your counterfact
2. Change your explanatory style
3. Accept the adversity

We covered any questions he had and moved on to the fourth step…

4. Change the why of the event

“Grant, did you lose your job because God hates you? Or because you are just unlucky? Or because you did anything wrong?” I knew he didn’t do anything wrong. The company was simply downsizing an entire department.

“No,” he replied.

“Then why did it happen?”

“I don’t know. I–” he stopped himself. “I know what you’re saying, Matt. What does this make possible? But…this doesn’t make anything possible. Other than being broke.”

“Nothing at all?” I asked somewhat sarcastically. “It doesn’t make it possible to spend more time starting the landscaping business you’ve always wanted? I know cash is tight, but you have time abounding. And didn’t you despise your boss? I know this is causing stress financially, but at least you don’t have him beating you up every day.”

“You’re right. All I have seen is the downside and none of the upside.”

“Do me a favor, Grant. Right now, take a few minutes to make a list of all the things that are now possible because of this problem. And continue to do that every time you encounter a difficulty.” (You, reader, should do the same.)

Once that was done, we reviewed the list and found a lot of things his layoff made possible. He was already working to start his business. He was enjoying taking the kids to school in the morning and already had a client for the spring…the parents of one of his daughter’s friends.

“Let’s move on to the fifth step,” I said.

5. Decatastrophize the event

“Grant, your pain is real. Getting laid off is a horrible thing to have happen. Please know that I realize that.”

“I do, Matt.”

“Good, with that understanding, let me ask you. Did you ever have a serious girlfriend in high school or college?”

“Ha! Yeah I did,” Grant laughed. “Jennifer was her name. We dated for all of my sophomore and junior years of college.

“And what happened?” I asked slyly.

“She dumped me…about two hours before my last final.” Grant said with a smirk. “I didn’t do so well on that exam. Had to repeat calculus in the summer to keep my GPA up for my scholarship.”

“You were devastated, right?”

“Of course. I spent the next week in bed in the dorm. Couldn’t even get myself to go home. Finally my mom came to campus and got me to go home for a while.”

“Been there, done that, brother.” I said. “But it got better, didn’t it? I mean, you have a great wife and two amazing kids who adore you. I’d say it turned out OK, wouldn’t you?”

“Oh, absolutely. Best thing that ever happened to me.”

“Grant, I know it’s hard to see right now, but nothing is ever as bad as it seems. No adversity is ever as catastrophic as you think it is in the moment. Remember that as your starting point.

“Grant, this isn’t some mom-talk, Oprah Channel mumbo jumbo. I believe in micro-evolution, the idea that humans have evolved over time. And we’ve evolved to be incredibly resilient. As a species, we survived the Ice Age for Pete’s sake. This evolution is the result of adapting to hardship over thousands of years.”

“That makes sense,” Grant said. “When I look back, nothing truly was ever as bad as it seemed.”

“So,” I started, “Step one was?”

“Change my counterfact,” Grant answered.

“Step two?”

“Change my explanatory style.”


“Accept the adversity. The past is the past.”

“Good. And today we changed the why and decatastrophized the event. That brings us to the sixth and final step.”

6. Choose your reaction

“Grant, this is the sum of all the previous parts and the easiest to explain, but also the easiest to consciously ignore.

“Believe for the best, Grant. Believe the first five steps. Then choose your reaction.”

“What does that look like?” Grant asked.

“Your voices will argue with you. Argue back. Make your negative voices the enemy. Make them a third party, not a part of you. Argue with your counterfacts. Explain why it means good things. Accept the adversity as it is and don’t let your voices blow it out of proportion.

“Change the why of it and tell them what it makes possible. And when they tell you it’s the end of the world, you tell them why it’s not.”

“Sounds intense,” Grant said as he smiled. “But I know it’s what I need to do.”

“Grant, you, like everyone else, has all of the power inside that you need to overcome any adversity. All is not lost, my friend. Hope is already here.”

Grant and I parted ways one last time. For the first time in a long time, as he pulled away, I saw a sparkle in his eyes. Perhaps, I thought, a family tree was changed today. 

Which of the six steps resonates most with you? What other steps do you suggest to help others overcome adversity or helplessness?

0 thoughts on “Six Steps to Overcoming Adversity and Helplessness

  1. Bill Benoist /Leadership Heart says:

    This is a great post, Matt. I think it really boils down to negative thinking is going to bring negative results. Positive thinking will open the opportunities for positive results. It’s all about reframing the situation.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Thanks Bill.
      Reframing is a great way to describe it.

  2. Thanks for this. I am a catastrophizer and I have been doing it a lot lately. Changing the way you think is hard stuff for a habitual catastrophizer. Even when I recognize when I am doing it I often can’t stop without some serious intervention.

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Glad I could help Jim!

  3. Joshua Rivers says:

    “Choose your reaction.” That is the key. We have circumstances and choices. We can’t always determine our circumstances, but we can choose our attitude and actions.

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