Finding the Lessons in Difficulties and Disasters

Whenever an external event in our life – a car accident, a flooded basement, the unexpected, undeserved loss of a job, the life-threatening illness of a spouse or a child – throws us for a loop and our well-being way off balance – it’s important to eventually be able to integrate the event into our ongoing life story – this really did happen – and to find any lessons, meaning, or growth in how we responded to the event. We strengthen our resilience when we can perceive how we have coped with and even grown from an event that may have looked like a disaster at first.

The exercise below is one way to create that coherent narrative. It’s possible to use this tool with inner earthquakes – the harsh judgment of the inner critic – but I would practice with the concreteness of external events first.

1. Take out pen/paper/journal.

2. Think of a struggle in your own life that seemed very difficult or even impossible at the time and that, looking back, had an important lesson to be learned, a “silver lining.” You can now recognize there was some redemptive feature in the event, so that you gained some sense of learning or meaning from the experience, and some sense of your own capacities to cope.

3. Write down the event and the learning from it. You may frame this inquiry in the form of:

This is what happened.

This is what I did.

This has been the cost.

This is what I learned.

This is what I would do differently.

4. As you remember the event and the learning, note what deeper lesson the challenge or crisis taught you that you probably would never have learned otherwise. Write that down, too.

5. Reflect on your experience of inquiring into the hidden meaning of life’s crises and challenges. Notice any shifts in your perspective.

6. Repeat this exercise with other challenging life events. See if you can claim for yourself your own capacities to cope and grow.