5 Ways To Use Life's Challenges To Make You Better, Not Bitter

The "my-life-fell-apart-at-age-26 club" is a group that no one wants to join, but when we do, we're always eager to meet the other members and hear their stories. So when I got an email a couple of weeks ago with a subject line that said, "My life blew up at age 26, too!" it caught my attention.

That email was from Courtney Clark, and while our stories weren't quite the same--I was widowed at age 26 and she was diagnosed with cancer--we could relate to one another. But Clark's story didn't end after she beat Melanoma. Since then, she's had two more recurrences of cancer. And as if that wasn't enough to deal with, she also survived a brain aneurysm. Yet, rather than become bitter about the hand she's been dealt, she chooses to spend her time teaching others about resilience.

Clark, who describes herself as the luckiest unlucky person in the world, is the author of The Giving Prescription, a book that describes how helping others provides physical and emotional healing to anyone going through traumatic circumstances. She's also a keynote speaker and the founder of a nonprofit.

Courtney ClarkCourtneyLClark.com

After several conversations with Clark, I wanted to know her secret to bouncing back after adversity. I asked her how has she's handled so many health issues without turning into an angry, bitter person. Here are Clark's five strategies for facing change and overcoming life's challenges without resentment:

1. Concentrate on the Bull's-Eye

Life is full of urgent activities--like that email that just pinged onto your computer as you were reading this sentence. In our busy lives, we often get distracted from the tasks that are really important, and start trying to do 25 other things, too.  But those 25 things put together are less important than the bull's-eye. Particularly in times of challenge, you have to focus on what's most important, and let the rest go.

2. Be Willing to Go with Plan B

We're told that successful people have plans. That's true, but the really successful people are the ones who know what to do when their plan doesn't work out. The key is learning how to let go of a plan that isn't serving you.  I was diagnosed with cancer at 26 and learned that biological children weren't likely in my future. Four years later, I met my teenaged son at a volunteer event. Motherhood doesn't look like I expected, but my son is the child I was meant to parent. We have to let go of Plan A to make room for Plan B.

3. Focus on How You Deal, Not What You're Dealt

Why did hundreds of people survive the Titanic, but Molly Brown is the only one who became infamous for it? Molly commandeered her lifeboat and organized months-long volunteer efforts on behalf of the other Titanic survivors, rallying everyone around her. Two people can be dealt the same issue, with dramatically different results.  Your life story isn't about what happens to you, it's about what you do from that moment on.

4. Keep a Realistic Perspective

Resentment naturally builds up when we tell ourselves 'these things always happens to me!' In fact, your 'explanatory style' is the way you explain the things that happen to you. If you always tell yourself that bad things happen to you, you'll always feel like life is a struggle. Instead, get real! Recognize that life doesn't go your way sometimes, but other days you sail through every red light.

5. Give Back to Others

When we're going through a stressful time, we might not feel like we have any energy left to give to someone else. But giving back to others is one of the best ways to recover from a challenge.

When researching my book The Giving Prescription, I found that giving works to heal you--but it's not because you see someone worse off and favorably compare yourself to him. Instead, it works because you come to realize that no matter how challenged you may be, you still have the power to help someone, or even change their life. That's a pretty big perspective-shift!

Amy Morin is a psychotherapist, keynote speaker, and the author of 13 Things Mentally Strong People Don't Do, a bestselling book that is being translated into more than 20 languages.

http://www.forbes.com/sites/amymorin/2015/07/13/5-ways-to-use-lifes-challenges-to-make-you-better-not-bitter/

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