How to remain optimistic and deal with challenging events

Eric Ho
Table of Contents

There’s no shortage of major events we are living through at the moment that is challenging each of us in different ways.

Whether it’s our individual or collective response to COVID-19 or the basic humanity that binds us together to value – and act – to uphold the dignity and rights of underrepresented groups and individuals, including George Floyd, these major events impact all of us in different ways.

They test our reserves of resilience and challenge us about whether it is fanciful to be hopeful.

They call on us to connect with empathy to individuals whose journeys through life have been different than our own.

It is our capacity as humans that we are able to reflect on the circumstances we find ourselves in, and then to choose how we respond.

And they also make our existing challenges we face at work, or at home, seem insignificant. But even though we may feel that, they can nevertheless conspire to make us feel more stressed and more overwhelmed at work and at home.

All of these events impact each of us in their own way.

The challenge for each of us is to respond in a way that feels balanced and authentic.

Sheep can help us respond to challenging events!

I’m fortunate to experience the wild mountainous landscapes of the Lake District National Park on my doorstep. 

There’s a breed of sheep here that was introduced by Beatrix Potter called Herdwicks. Or Herdys as they’re known. 

There are plenty of other breeds, but these ones seem to have particularly cute, soulful faces.

They’re hardy creatures, designed with chunkier legs and fluffier woollen coats to live high up in the fells and mountains where the winter weather conditions are particularly bleak.

Despite all the challenging and traumatic events that swirl each of us whether in recent times or throughout a lifetime, the sheep I see in the grassy fields and the lush fells remain a constant.

They eat grass, they observe passers by with curiosity and occasional alarm, and they poop.

And they eat again – their days interspersed with sleepy snoozes.

Their daily routines haven’t changed, even when the world around them is convulsing. 

The choices they make are the same each day.

Constancy in an uncertain world

I feel a sense of reassurance when I observe these sheep and acknowledge the constancy of their presence. 

Of course, they have the luxury of being oblivious to the Twitter feeds and Facebook live streams of news pouring out from all quarters of the globe.

But, as I observed them going about their daily lives, it made me reflect on how I respond – how we all respond – to the times when life becomes challenging and turbulent.

What are the things that remain constant in your life when events challenge our sense of resilience and hope? How do you cope with the stress these events bring?

How do you create the constancy in your life – in how you respond – that can help you build hope and optimism, and minimise the stress and overwhelm these challenging events cause you?

  • Perhaps it’s appreciating what you are enjoying?
  • Maybe it’s going for a run, enjoying the sunshine or calling a friend for a good natter?
  • Perhaps it’s meditating, having a bath or doing an online exercise class?

Or perhaps it is none of these?

Are these examples that you have incorporated as part of your response to circumstances that challenge and overwhelm you?

We choose how we respond to challenging events

So, what is the common theme here?

It is our capacity as humans to be able to reflect on the circumstances we find ourselves in, and then to choose how we respond

We could get caught up in a downward spiral of doom and gloom. 

We could focus on the negative stories that play out in our mind.

But what if we paused, reflected on those patterns, and experimented with how to respond differently?

  • Perhaps you choose to focus on looking after yourself – prioritising your mental and physical health so you can be there for the family and colleagues who are counting on you?
  • Maybe you choose to shift your focus to what has gone well, and not just what is going badly?
  • Or you seek out the opportunities when hurdles are put in front of you?

As a coach, I see clients invariably confronting this dilemma of how to respond to stressful, challenging events.

I often see how people see self-care as being selfish. The irony is that often they care for those around them in ways that are generous, compassionate and nurturing, and yet seem unable of offering themselves even a small dose of that as well.

And yet I also know that when we choose to respond intentionally, tap into our motivations, have an actionable plan, and build on our inherent strengths and on what is working already, self-care becomes a liberator.

It might even become the catalyst for each of us to show more empathy to our fellow human beings and in turn transform the world in which we live.

Over to you!

The last example I shared above about choosing to respond differently was in fact a great insight that a client of mine discovered when we worked together. 

It is a nice example of how the science of positive psychology can help us change our behaviours – however ingrained they might be. 

That approach she discovered empowered and energised her to respond to the opportunities she identified rather than be burdened by the hurdles she faced.

I encourage you in the moments that challenge you personally and professionally to ask yourself one question: “How do you choose to respond?”

Be wise, be healthy and be well!


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