The purpose of this blog is to provide three things: Information, Inspiration and Practicality. Information is by way of facts, quotes, and educational material. Inspiration will come through true anecdotes of real people, their stories, links to videos. Finally, this should be a very practical blog that provides specific instruction on how to use these steps to enrich your life and enhance the lives of everyone around you. This blog is the precursor to a book I am writing called “The Six Steps to Overcoming Adversity”.
The blog will include inspirational videos, audios, pictures, quotes, book recommendations and much more.
You are invited to comment on every aspect of the blog as well as each and every one of the six steps and add your individual success stories on how you overcame your adversity.
For more than twenty years I have volunteered for a social services organization that helps poor people. At the same time, I have been running a money management organization that assists very wealthy and successful people. This ‘dual-life’ has placed me in a very unique position as my life has been essentially split between assisting people who are doing very well and people who have had tough breaks and are stuck in vicious cycles.
A vicious cycle: A man loses his job. His life changes drastically – for the worse. Everything comes crumbling down. All five of the dimensions of his life get negatively impacted. He is stagnating (or worse) physically, financially, spiritually, mentally and emotionally. I have dealt with many people who were so depressed they felt suicidal. Many of these people didn’t have the energy to get out of bed in the morning – they were clinically depressed and in serious trouble. Once they lost their hope all the cheerleading and positive mental attitude I could muster didn’t seem to help.
So I needed a way to encourage the downtrodden. I needed a step by step technique that might inject hopefulness to the hopeless. My goal was to develop a ‘formula’ to reverse those vicious cycles and turn them into ‘virtuous cycles’ or ‘productivity loops’.
There are always the basics: Goal setting is important. Having a “Positive Mental Attitude” definitely makes a difference. But all of that is not enough to turn setbacks into comebacks. So I set out to do some research.
I interviewed dozens of people who experienced extremely difficult times yet managed to get their lives back together. I even interviewed victims of terror – individuals whose lives were torn apart and changed forever by the brutal acts of sadistic and cruel terrorists.
The result of the last twenty years of work will be my book, and this blog is a preview of that book. I will try to educate by providing useful information, inspire the reader to make a change with true stories, and instruct by making it practical with specific suggestions, charts, “how-to’s” etc.
I believe that there are six concrete steps to overcoming adversity. Six steps to making a comeback in any or all of the five dimensions of our lives. I tested this process numerous times over the course of the last decade with people I have helped coach. Since 2005 I have been teaching these steps in the City University of New York to hundreds of students and have received great feedback. I have gone through some pretty serious adversity since 2008. I watched the “Great Recession” destroy my business. The deaths of my father and then, 16 months later, the death of my mother, changed my life forever. I lost a lot in these tumultuous years – but using the six steps I also grew more as a person than I could ever have done had I experienced nothing but joy, happiness and success.
Imagine boarding a plane, taking a flight and landing in an undisclosed location chosen at random. Your mission is to approach the first person you see and say: “I heard about your problem”. What do you think he or she will reply? They will probably look at you curiously and ask: “How did you know?”
Why does this ring true? It is because we all have problems. All of humanity – wealthy or poor, tall or short, skinny or fat, white or black, man or woman – experiences stress. If you are a member of the human race – you will, without doubt, face adversity.
How we live our lives, in a large way, is dictated in large part by how we deal with our adversity.
Do we let adversity bring us down or do we have the strength and skills to overcome? The following saying speaks to me: “10% of life is what happens to you. 90% is how you respond to what happens to you.”
The six steps don’t just help us overcome adversity. For me, they have been the six keys to my tranquility. They are six steps to turn stress into success, to turn emptiness and suffering into tranquility and peace, to turn sadness into satisfaction, to overcome obstacles, to emerge from difficulties with newfound power and energy and strength. They are six ways to turn a stressful or restless life into a life of meaning, direction, focus and power.
In our lives, we inevitably come into contact with depressed people, people struggling with tough breaks and having a hard time and our job is to help them. You can use this book (and this blog) to assist these people, to encourage them.
Additionally, I have found that often, normal, happy, successful and accomplished people become melancholic. They may become sad and depressed and lose hope. They are often worried about their future and become bitter, anxious, furious and jealous. They can’t imagine why with all their success, they don’t have peace of mind. Sometimes they even feel guilty that they can be so sad when other people are going through so much worse – starvation, death, extreme poverty, homelessness etc.
So my book will speak to two kinds of individuals: The first type: one who wants to help himself and those around him overcome adversity and the second: one who simply wants more peace of mind.
Interdependence of Your Five Dimensions and the Power of Habit
In his book, The Power of Habit, Charles Duhigg proves how our five dimensions are inter-dependent and how a positive (or negative) experience in one dimension, affects the others. He explains how current research has found that willpower isn’t just a skill. It is a MUSCLE – just like the ones in your arms and legs. It can be trained. It gets tired as it works harder and needs rest. So if you want to do something that requires willpower – like going for a run in the evening after work/school – you have to conserve your willpower muscle during the day.
Megan Oaten and Ken Cheng, two Australian researchers, created a willpower workout in 2006: They enrolled 24 self-professed “couch-potatoes” (ages 18-50) in a physical exercise program, and over two months, put them through an increasing number of weight-lifting, resistance training, and aerobic exercises. People forced themselves to use more and more willpower each time they hit the gym.
The results were amazing: They were in better shape — but not just physically. They smoked fewer cigarettes, drank less alcohol, consumed less caffeine, and less junk food. They spent more time on homework and fewer hours watching TV. They were all less depressed. Their physical exercise created gains in their spiritual, mental and emotional lives.
What is important to know about these five dimensions of our lives, is that they are interdependent. This means, when we are faced with adversity in one dimension, it tends to affect the others as well. Take the case of a man who was laid off from his job of 20 years. He faces some financial adversity. The next day he tries to look for another job and realizes that he is not prepared to enter the job market. Things have changed over the last 20 years. He doesn’t have the skills to compete with the other applicants. He feels that the company he loved and trusted and spent his life at betrayed him. This feeling of bitterness can lead to sadness. This spills over into his emotional dimension. He starts to have heated arguments with his spouse and can’t afford to pay the mortgage, or provide for his wife or kids. He doesn’t feel good about himself, and can’t bring himself to do the physical exercise he used to do. He is angry at God, and doesn’t show up to his scheduled volunteer meeting or prayer group. The last thing, he thinks, that he wants to do is help other people – he is the one that needs help! He is so upset that he can’t bring himself to focus or concentrate. He can’t even read the ‘help wanted’ ads in the newspaper. You can see how a crisis in one dimension – financial – can affect all the other four – physical, spiritual, mental and emotional.
In another experiment, they signed up 29 people for a money management program. They each set savings goals, and committed themselves to denying themselves all luxuries, and to writing down logs of all their purchases. They worked hard on their self discipline and willpower to do this.
The results were similar to the first experiment: Their finances improved… But more surprising, they also smoked fewer cigarettes, drank less alcohol, consumed less caffeine, and less junk food. They said that they were more productive at work and school and felt better about themselves. Their “financial exercise” created gains in their physical, spiritual, mental and emotional lives.
As people strengthened their willpower muscles in one dimension of their lives (in the gym, or in a money management program), that strength spilled over into what they ate and how hard they worked! Once willpower became stronger, it affected every one of the five dimensions of their lives!
In yet another experiment, they enrolled 45 students in an academic program focused on creating good study habits. Predictably, their learning skills and grades improved. However, they also smoked fewer cigarettes, drank less alcohol, exercised more, ate healthier, consumed less caffeine, and less junk food. Even though all those things were never mentioned in the academic program at all! Again, willpower muscles strengthened, and mental exercise created good habits that seemed to spill over into other dimensions of their lives.
Hundreds of studies on willpower ensued since then. We now know that the key to a better quality of life… And the skills to overcome eventual adversity – is to build your willpower muscles.
When we look at the lives of some of the most successful people, we see that their paths, while each may have been very different from the other, are similar in one important way: There is no straight and interrupted path. People stumble and fail. Businesses stall, reverse fortunes and are faced with life-threatening challenges. You can say the same thing for marriages and organizations, schools and teams – you name it. The fact is, life is just full of challenges and adversity. The people who know how to handle the “inflection points” and turn themselves (or their businesses or teams) around – are the ones that we read about in Forbes Magazine. The people that don’t have the power or the skill to overcome adversity – when they need it most –unfortunately wind up with severe difficulties. They may lose their jobs and become depressed. They may become so bitter that they eventually lost their friends and/or family. Sadly, they can become homeless and suffer from more and more adversity without end. To be sure, most people agree that to become successful in life, you will have to master the art of overcoming adversity.
The chart above, while overly simplistic, demonstrates a fundamental aspect of reality. It can be about a company’s growth. On the whole, this looks like an extremely successful company. Look where they began and see where they are now! They started small, they grew. Then they had a setback. That is an inflection point. What did they do when they were faced with problems? Did they quit and close down or did they persevere with resilience? They learn their lessons and keep going. They are then faced with another setback, and again, how they responded at the inflection point determined their future.
Can you see how this chart can represent progress in any of the five dimensions of our lives? It can represent the progress toward getting into physical shape. It can be the path to success of a winning team. It can represent your career, or your intellectual pursuits. Of course it can also represent your marriage or a special relationship you have that has survived the years of stress and challenges.
The “Natural Response” to Adversity
As you will see, all six steps have one thing in common: They are all unnatural. They all call for you to break out of what comes naturally and overcome the adversity you are faced with. I believe “doing what comes naturally” is a recipe for disaster. The goal is to do what does not come naturally or easily; it is to do what is actually very uncomfortable and will not feel sincere or real. Doing what does not come naturally may feel counter-intuitive – but that is precisely why this program works.
Does it feel “natural” to go to the weight room and lift weights for an hour a day? Of course not. The natural thing or most comfortable thing is to plop yourself in front of the T.V. with a bag of chips and a soda! Exercise and learning and growth are never comfortable, natural, or easy.
What is the natural reaction to adversity? What feels the most natural? I believe the most comfortable reaction is to wallow in self pity, depressed. Do you know anyone who lost his job or the love of his life? Is it natural for him to become depressed, stay in bed till 3pm, or to become hostile, bitter, enraged? Obviously, it isn’t abnormal for him to ask “Why did this happen to me? Why me? Why is life is so unfair to me!”
An uncomfortable response would be for the person to go through The Six Steps to Overcoming Adversity:
1. First, he says: “I’m facing into this right now. I trust in a higher plan” (Step One – Facing Into It With Faith).
2. Then, he declares: “I forgive everyone for this. There are no scapegoats and I hold no grudge against anyone.”
(Step Two – Forgiveness).
3. Then he asks himself: “What can I learn from this experience? How can I grow from this? Can I learn about tolerance or patience?”
(Step Three – Learning the Lessons)
4. Then he takes an inventory of the five dimensions of his life and becomes thankful for all his blessings and abundance.
(Step Four – Appreciation and Gratitude)
5. Then he thinks about how he can use this experience or any of his skills and his life to enhance, enrich and improve the lives of others.
(Step Five – Giving)
6. Finally, he takes positive steps to improve the situation and turn it around.
(Step Six – Taking Action)
This is uncomfortable, unnatural, and difficult to do.
Just like we have physical muscles that need exercise, we have spiritual, mental and emotional muscles that need exercise as well. When faced with adversity, we are stretching and exerting our muscles.
The goal would be to practice this daily, when we aren’t faced with any crisis, but we are faced with relatively trivial disappointments: such as a client who “fires” you, an investment that loses money, a deal that is broken, or an unexpected delay in your travel plans.
I once heard that nothing creative happens in the sunshine. For growth, there has to be rain. By making us uncomfortable, we are provided us with the gift of insight.
Shortcuts Don’t Work!
There is one place that shortcuts work: It is in the Microsoft Windows operating system. However, can we use a shortcut to overcome adversity? I really don’t think so.
Do shortcuts work in your physical life? Can you work out one day each month really big and do 1,000 sit-ups and 1,000 pushups? Can that compare to doing 30 sit-ups and 30 pushups every day each day?
How about financially? Do “get rich quick” schemes really work?
Do you know anyone who tries to take a shortcut to become spiritual?
He goes to one class or on one seminar and “poof”! He is the Dali Lama!! How long does that last?
In your mental or intellectual life shortcuts don’t really work either. In school – we can cram for every test and maybe get a good grade but … do we really learn anything?
Do shortcuts work in our (emotional) relationships? Of course not.
We can apply these six steps to comebacks to each of the five dimensions of our lives.
We often find ourselves or our loved ones – in any of the five dimensions – in a rut, a doom loop or a vicious cycle. If you feel you just have bad luck and you’re looking to break out and make a comeback, then there are six steps to doing just that, and living a more meaningful life. These six steps also lead to peace of mind, and to overcoming adversity.
Overcoming Adversity One Step at a Time
One day a farmer’s donkey fell down into a well. The animal cried piteously for hours as the farmer tried to figure out what to do.
Finally he decided the animal was old, and the well needed to be covered up anyway. It just wasn’t worth it to retrieve the donkey. He invited all his neighbors to come over and help him. They each grabbed a shovel and began to shovel dirt into the well.
At first, the donkey realized what was happening and cried horribly. Then, to everyone’s amazement, he quieted down. A few shovel loads later, the farmer looked down the well, and was astonished at what he saw.
As every shovel of dirt hit his back, the donkey did something amazing. He would shake it off and take a step up. As the farmer’s neighbors continued to shovel dirt on top of the animal, he would shake it off and take a step up. Pretty soon, everyone was amazed, as the donkey stepped up over the edge of the well and trotted off.
The moral of this story is: Each of our troubles and every kind of adversity can be a stepping stone. Life is going to trip you up, make you fall and then proceed to shovel dirt on you – all kinds of dirt. The trick to getting back on your feet is to shake off the dirt and take a step up – one step at a time.
The Six Steps
These six steps are really very simple to understand. They don’t take six years or six months or even six weeks to implement. In fact, they can be mastered in about six minutes. Every time I am faced with adversity, I know that there are six steps for me to overcome that adversity.
For example – I am in the office and I hear what appears to be very bad news about the markets or about an investment result. I am instantly faced with great disappointment. Before my blood pressure rises, before I panic, before I get depressed – I force myself to follow the following six steps. How do we face adversity with dignity, courage and the ability to act, to respond positively (how do we become truly “response-able”)? It starts with faith and forgiveness. Then it is learning, gratitude and giving. It ends with action.
The six steps are: faith, forgiveness, learning the lessons, appreciation, giving and then taking action.
Exercising in Five Dimensions
Step six can be done every single day by doing what I call “five dimensional exercise”. This means, every day, before I go to sleep, I ask myself if I moved my life forward in each dimension. Did I exercise physically today? Did I eat right, get enough rest and take care of my body? Did I move forward financially – in my career or my business or investments? Did I do something good today and exercise my spirit? Did I read or learn something new today? Did I meditate or think creatively? (That would be mental exercise). Finally, did I tell the people in my life that I love, that I love them? Did I hug my children? Did I exercise my emotional life? This exercise is preventative maintenance and helps with all six steps. It promotes faith, forgiveness, learning, appreciation and giving.
Incredible as it may seem, these six steps can unlock so much abundance, so much blessing and peace of mind.
A Personal Example
When seemingly horrific events unfolded in the aftermath of the 2008 “Great Depression”, and as about 500 banks were seized by the FDIC, and hundreds of investment funds went into liquidation – we faced some brutal adversity. My business partner and I have been working together now for a quarter of a century and we have gone through some difficult times – but this took the cake!
1. Step one: It wasn’t easy, but we found the strength to face into the adversity and trusted that there was a higher plan. We said to each other: “We are probably being put through this to strengthen us, to build our characters, to teach us humility and to teach us many other lessons, etc.” These are all very valuable gifts and blessings in retrospect, but they were not easy to swallow at the time of the crisis.
2. We realized that this is not the time for blaming people. Instead, it is a time to forgive – especially partners, employees, borrowers, investors, strategic partnerships, investment managers we dealt with, etc. We decided that there would be no scape-goats. Why? Because the anger and rage would just hold us back! It prevents us from moving forward. We have a simple rule: no matter what anyone does to us, we will not speak a negative word about the people who hurt us. People are human. They make mistakes. However: the biggest rationale is: this wasn’t anyone’s personal doing. They were just the messengers. No one person or investment or borrower did this to me. I believe God did – and I believe he has his good reasons. This second step is probably the hardest one of all. But if you don’t master forgiveness, don’t expect a comeback. Why? It is because condemnations and bitterness and grudges block insight and change.
3. Learning the lessons: We made a big list of the things we learned. In the last few years since this crisis, every lesson has served us well. Every single one. This is the big “take-a-way” from a seeming disaster and it is a huge hidden benefit. “Hidden” because you have no idea what the lessons will be at the time. It takes humility and introspection to see them.
4. We realized that in order to keep perspective, we had to count our (other) blessings. If you don’t do this every day, you will start to believe that your life and purpose and value as a human being is defined by your results, your performance, (your careers, grades, salaries, bonuses, titles). This “single-dimensional” thinking is why people jump out of windows when the market crashes. So when we faced with adversity we created “appreciation” cards – one for each of our five dimensions. The cards list all the blessings we should be thankful for. The criteria is simply this: What is it, in this dimension, that if I would lose it, I would be upset about it? So… if I still have this blessing, then I should be thankful for it. It is amazing how this exercise creates peace of mind and energy. It lowers my blood pressure and gives me the ability to think straight. I still carry these appreciation cards around with me every single day.
5. Giving: We realized when this happened that now was the time to redefine not just our company mission, but our personal missions in life. Really, this life should just be about serving and helping and enriching people. Period. To the extent that we can do this, fine. If this crisis happens, we have to find other ways to give, other means to contribute to society. And there are many.
When crisis strikes, it isn’t easy to increase your charitable contributions. In fact, in feels counter-intuitive to do so. It didn’t feel natural at all. You would think that if we just lost millions of dollars, we would cut down on charity. So we did just the opposite. In our spare time we got more involved in social service organizations and good causes. Of course, we knew that all the lessons we would learn from this adversity, we would commit ourselves to teach and help other investment managers and investors avoid the pitfalls, the traps, the failures that we experienced. We had the hope that we could use this crisis productively to help benefit other people. There would be a purpose, meaning to this madness.
6. Taking action: This was the step that needed the most energy. We had to focus back on the business. What is the new game plan and how do we implement it? We worked around the clock. It felt like we never stopped working. We came up with a few strategies and persevered as a team with a clear mind.
In this introduction, we described both Vicious and Virtuous Cycles and we have shown how there are cycles in every one of the five dimensions of your life. You have cycles in the physical dimension of your life (i.e. your body), cycles in the financial dimension of your life (i.e. your career, your savings, your investments), cycles in the spiritual dimension of your life (i.e. your soul), cycles in the mental/intellectual dimension of your life (i.e.your brain), and cycles in the emotional/social dimension of your life (i.e. your heart). We saw how these five dimensions are not independent, but interdependent. They play off each other.
We discussed what I call “Inflection Points” and how important it is to be prepared to face into and respond to these times of adversity with courage, with faith, with forgiveness, learning, appreciation, giving and finally with decisive action. The natural response to adversity is exactly the opposite of these six steps. We explained that shortcuts just don’t work when you want to overcome adversity and why it is important to start small, with one step at a time until you succeed. Our goal should be to exercising every single day in all of our five dimensions – not only to better prepare ourselves for the future – but to make each day great! We ended with a personal example of a recent setback I faced – but there is a lot more to come.
As you will see, this blog includes inspirational quotes, pictures, links to fascinating videos, book recommendations, news articles, and so much more. I invite you to participate interactively in the site and share your personal anecdotes. Try the six steps and see if they work for you. Most importantly, find a friend to share them with, and work on it together. I would love your feedback.