At some point in your life you will face a setback, and the way you respond to it will be critical. According to the National Institutes of Mental Health, six out of ten women and five out of ten men will face one or more major crises during their lifetime.
Claire Dorotik-Nana, in her new book Leverage: The Science of Turning Setbacks into Springboards, suggests that moving quickly past adversity is not always the best approach. Instead, she writes, setbacks, despite their severity, are valuable opportunities for us to learn, strengthen, and recreate ourselves.
That may be hard to imagine. But, she writes, “Some people appear to embrace the struggle, perfecting their skills against the twists and turns life deals them,” she writes. They “engage in the challenge because they know it will lead to mastery.”
Dorotik-Nana, who also writes for Psych Central, argues that setbacks can help us grow, and that the process of adverse struggle may be more powerful than the victory itself. Part of the value of setbacks, she argues, is that they take us by surprise. Most of us can identify in retrospect why and how certain difficult situations arose, but those situations were profound largely because they shocked us into reconsidering our approach to life.
Still, recent studies show that the impact of negativity (adversity) on happiness is more than twice as strong as the impact of positive events. Or, as well-known social psychologist Roy F. Baumeister famously put it in a 2001 paper [PDF], “Bad emotions, bad parents, and bad feedback have more impact than good ones, and bad information is processed more thoroughly than good.”
So how are we to manage this?
Well, in the first place, Dorotik-Nana writes, “Individuals consistently miscalculate which choices will lead to happiness.” Although we typically gravitate toward potential solutions that are familiar and comfortable, we are often incorrect. The fervor with which we cling to our false beliefs and assumptions may result in stagnation. Instead, we can adapt. But if we get too locked into a particular “safe” pattern during the happier times in our lives, that can prevent us from adapting when the not-so-happy circumstances call for it.
And so, Dorotik-Nana gives us exercises designed to help us “learn to leverage.” These were enjoyable to do, and I found that they were often enlightening, too. They include things like ranking priorities, assessing values, and creating setback storylines. Recent research shows that rewriting our personal storyline, or personal life narrative, can have a remarkably positive impact. It gives us a chance to focus on where we are and where we want to go, and provides clarity and motivation. It also helps us make the abstract more concrete.
As someone who has experienced her share of life-changing setbacks, I found Dorotik-Nana’s book informative and deeply inspiring. She presents current research in a way that makes the findings practical and useful for everyday life. Not only that, her exercises were invaluable both personally and professionally. This is a book I recommend to anyone who has experienced a setback and who is looking for a new way to view it.
Leverage: The Science of Turning Setbacks into Springboards
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform, April 2015
Paperback, 160 pages