How to Overcome Adversity

Three Parts:Adjusting Your PerspectiveTaking ActionDeveloping Healthy Habits

Adversity is more than just one difficulty or setback; it's a series of misfortunes that keep you from achieving your goals and finding happiness. This may include social injustice and personal tragedy, like illness or loss. These experiences can lead to hopelessness and depression. Everyone will experience adversity at some point in life, but you can overcome it with the right attitude and hard work.

Part 1
Adjusting Your Perspective

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    Define and prioritize problems. When experiencing adversity, you can easily become distracted with minor setbacks and disappointments. These can quickly add up and become overwhelming. It's important to differentiate between minor inconveniences or disappointment and real obstacles to achieving your goals. For example, losing your ride to school and having to take the bus is an inconvenience; losing your job and no longer being able to afford classes is a major obstacle to graduating college.
    • Defining problems and understanding which is most pressing will help you develop an effective plan of attack.
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    Accept the inevitability of adversity. While some may experience more than others, everyone will suffer setbacks and periods of difficulty. By accepting adversity as a normal part of life that happens to everyone, you'll waste less time feeling stuck and helpless.[1]
    • Accepting adversity doesn't mean you won't feel sad and frustrated by setbacks. Give yourself permission to feel negative emotions, but try setting a time limit on how long you can dwell on them. For example, schedule 30 minutes to cry and feel in your pain. When time is up, divert your attention to completing a task.
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    Believe in yourself. This probably isn't the first time you've experienced setbacks, which is compelling evidence you're capable of overcoming adversity.[2] You have survived every hardship you've experienced to date. You have always found the necessary strength to overcome in the past, so there is no reason to think you won't be able to do the same this time.
    • Try making a list of past experiences of adversity and success to see that your resilience is pretty impressive.
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    Look for the positive. If you want to overcome adversity, then you have to focus on the positive, whether it means the positive aspects of your situation, or the positive results you'll feel if you achieve what you want in the future. Make a list of all of the good things in your life, or all of the good things you may have to look forward to, and you'll see that there's more to be happy about than you think.[3]
    • If you are struggling to see the positive in your own situation, look for inspiration in others' stories.[4]
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    Reframe your mistakes as learning opportunities. Don't look at your mistakes as failures. Instead, understand and acknowledge when you've done something wrong and identify what you have learned from the situation and what you will do differently the next time around.[5]
    • If you are struggling to find opportunities to learn, try telling someone else the story of what happened and ask him or her to pick out lessons to take away. Tell the story in the third person to increase the objectivity of the listener.
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    Focus on the future. Learn what you can from the past and quickly shift to applying those lessons to the future. The past cannot be changed, so lingering on it may contribute to feelings of hopelessness. The future, however, represents possibility.
    • To help shift your focus to the future, understand a difficult past can make a successful future even more rewarding, so overcoming adversity becomes a future goal.[6]

Part 2
Taking Action

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    Set realistic goals. Setting reasonable goals and breaking them up into smaller goals that can be achieved in succession will help you to remain motivated and decrease frustration. Your confidence will get a boost each time you achieve a small goal progressing to a larger goal.[7] For example, if you want to lose 30 pounds, set a goal to lose one pound a week. It will take a long time to lose 30 pounds, so focusing on smaller weekly goals will provide opportunities to regularly boost your confidence.
    • Focusing on smaller goals also makes setbacks seem less significant. Failing to lose one pound doesn't seem as bad as failing to lose 30.
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    Create visual representations of goals. Having visual reminders of your goals in various locations will help to motivate and focus your energy. Keep reminders in your home, office, locker and in your backpack or handbag.
    • These representations may be very basic or extremely elaborate depending on your preferences. For some, this may be simply posting lists of your goals in key places, while others might enjoy making collages.
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    Have a Plan B. Look for multiple solutions to your problems and create contingency plans. Having options will help you remain hopeful and provide alternative routes to success, should your first attempt fail.[8]
    • Make a list of all possible solutions to your problem. Writing down potential solutions will make them feel more tangible.
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    Get a mentor. A mentor will help provide guidance and support, keeping you focused on your goals. Mentors are a positive source of escape from adverse situations. You may have multiple mentors to provide various points of view and guide you in various aspects of life.
    • Choosing a mentor may seem daunting, but you probably know several people who would make great mentors. Consider teachers or professors, family members, or colleagues.
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    Refuse to quit. Giving up will not solve any of your problems. Most circumstances eventually change. You may find new resources and solutions just by staying on task.
    • It's ok to take a break from a source of frustration, but commit to returning to it as soon as you are in a less agitated state.

Part 3
Developing Healthy Habits

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    Take care of your physical health. Regular exercise, a healthy diet, and quality sleep all contribute to a greater sense of overall wellbeing, increased resilience, and higher self-esteem.[9] Adopt a healthy lifestyle to better cope with current adversity and inoculate yourself against future adversity.
    • Always start new exercise routines gradually to prevent injury and speak with your doctor first.
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    Start a gratitude journal. Regularly acknowledging all you have to be grateful for will promote an ongoing positive perspective. A positive attitude will help you tackle future problems and prevent you from feeling overwhelmed.[10]
    • Spend 10-15 minutes a day thinking about what you're grateful for.
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    Nourish your support system. Having people to turn to in your times of adversity will provide comfort and support. Developing a support system before you are in need will make it easier to engage those resources when the time comes. Pay frequent attention to friends and family to keep those relationships healthy.[11]
    • Schedule regular phone calls and dates to maintain and strengthen connections.


  • A healthy lifestyle contributes to ability to cope with adversity.
  • Stay socially active.


  • If you believe you may harm yourself, seek help immediately.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol, as these will likely only contribute to feelings of hopelessness.

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