While we can’t always avoid negative events in our lives—despite our best Law of Attraction efforts—we can control how we react to the bad stuff that happens to us all.
That’s the theme of Dr. Rob Pennington’s Find the Upside of the Down Times: How to Turn your Worst Experiences into your Best Opportunities! (Resource International, 2011).
Dr. Pennington catches your attention immediately with the opening sentence of his first chapter: “I was shot in the center of the chest by an unknown assailant…It was one of the best things that ever happened to me.”
Most of us manage to avoid being shot, but that’s not all he’s encountered in his life. The hospital bill for his treatment back in 1982 was $36,000. Pennington was self-employed, without medical insurance. Reflecting on this financial problem, he states again, “this was one of the best things that ever happened to me.”
There’s a term for people who deny negative events by casting them in a positive light—it’s called being a Pollyanna, after the main character in the 1913 best seller of the same name by Eleanor H. Porter, whose character viewed only the positive side of any event. The Pollyanna term implies naivety and a failing to face reality.
But Pennington isn’t being Pollyannaish. He doesn’t deny the hardships he underwent in facing the events mentioned above, nor in a series of other life events, such as being divorced by his first wife, being fired from his job, being targeted by the IRS in an audit, and being threatened with divorce by his second wife, later becoming her caregiver when she suffered from MS.
Instead, he’s taken the approach of facing life’s negative events with an approach of taking positive action to find opportunities for moving on. He reminds us of the saying, “When one door closes, another opens,” though he notes that finding the open door requires one to turn around and look for it.
Those who prefer remaining in the spotlight often afforded victims of bad stuff will not like Find the Upside of the Down Times. Indeed, they are likely to take offense at the implicit suggestion to get on with your life. Pennington doesn’t render judgment on those in this situation, preferring to focus his advice for those ready to move on, but unsure how to begin.
Strategies for Making the Most of Bad Times
Among the many excellent tips for turning bad events into positive opportunities are these:
- When you’re stuck in traffic or a slow bank queue and you’re going to be late for an important appointment, why compound it by becoming angry, frustrated, and anxious? Being stuck is a fact you probably can’t change, but you don’t have to submit your body and mind to the stresses of anger. Why compound the problem by hurting yourself even more with your mental state? Instead, use these frustrating circumstances of daily life as a time for relaxation. Breathe deeply and slowly, and think of pleasant thoughts.
- Follow this three-step process for locating the positive opportunities within negative events:
1. Capture your thoughts about the negative event, such as: If I’m late for my appointment my client will terminate our contract.
2. Identify the negative connotation words and strike them out, such as: If I’m late for my appointment my client will terminate our contract.
3. Restate the sentence with positive, believable words, such as: If I’m late for my appointment my client will initially be upset but will fully understand my unavoidable delay and will recognize the circumstances could happen to anyone. And he’ll be pleased when I back up my apology by giving him a 10% discount on his next order.
- When you feel stress, consider that stress is your body’s signal that something must be changed. When you take any action to change the situation your stress level will naturally reduce. Pennington provides a five-step process for proactive change to reduce stress.
- Many negative events involve relationship issues. Pennington suggests reflecting on the annoying behaviors of the other person that are affecting your relationship. Put the behaviors into two categories: Preferences and Requirements.
- Requirements are just that, behaviors that are required for the relationship to continue. Violating requirements is a deal-breaker. Examples might be physical or verbal abuse, extra-marital affairs, or criminal behavior. If your relationship issues involve requirements, your partner must understand that continuation will dissolve the relationship.
- Preferences are all behaviors that are not requirements. While you may strongly prefer that your partner clean up after himself, you may decide that behavior can be tolerated in light of the overall relationship benefits. But if you decide this is a requirement, it must be clearly indicated as a deal-breaker if no behavior change is made.
Find the Upside of the Down Times is a small book, but a powerful tool for learning to recover control when bad stuff interrupts your life. To peek inside and order your copy from Amazon click the cover. For more about Dr. Pennington, visit his website.
Pennington’s book assumes a readiness to consider moving forward. This readiness may require getting past the “why me” questions. Many times when life’s negative events drastically change the course of our lives we have a hard time understanding why, why did this happen to me when I’ve done my best to live a good life? For those struggling with these why questions, I recommend Rabbi Harold Kushner’s When Bad Things Happen to Good People (First Anchor Books, 1981).
These two books are perfect complements to each other, providing helpful insights and advice for both the “Why did this happen to me ?” and the “Now what do I do?” questions.
We all face challenges in life and with a bit of self-reflection you may be able to recognize how you’ve grown and benefited by some of the challenges you’ve faced. Pennington seeks your stories at his Find the Upside of the Down Times website.