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Here’s a question for you: What are you made of? What are you really made of? When push comes to shove, when the rubber meets the road, when the chips are down, what lies at the very core of your character?

You learn what you’re really made of only when things go wrong and you are tumbled, end over end, by some adversity or setback that hits you like a Mack truck coming out of an alley. Since your behaviors on the outside are the real indicators of who you are on the inside, only by observing how you behave when things go wrong can you tell what you really have inside you.

Let’s make one thing clear at the beginning. Life is a continuous succession of both small and large problems. They never end. No sooner do you get control of one situation when you are hit by another. Life is a process of “two steps forward and one step back.” When you become a great success, you simply exchange one type of problem for another. Before, you had small problems in life, with limited consequences; now you have large problems in life with enormous consequences. No matter how smart and clever and careful you are, you’ll face challenges, difficulties and sometimes heartbreaking adversities every day, week and month of your life.

And thank heaven for that! You couldn’t possibly have become the person you are today if you had not had to contend with adversity on your way up. Perhaps your chief aim in life is to develop a noble character, to become an excellent human being, to become everything you are capable of becoming. Only by contending with challenges that seem to be beyond your strength to handle at the moment can you grow more surely toward the stars.

One of the rules in dealing with adversity in life is that you are only as free as your well-developed alternatives. You are only as free as the options you have. Only when you can switch and do something else can you be flexible in dealing with your current situation. If you have not developed an option or an alternative, you will become anxious and even panicky when you are threatened with a sudden loss or reversal in a particular area of your life.

We can avoid tragedy on that scale by following a four-step method for dealing with any adversity. Dale Carnegie wrote about it more than 50 years ago, and it’s still one of the most powerful mental tools that anyone can use when confronted with problems or worries of any kind.

1. Define the problem clearly. What exactly is the problem? What exactly are you worrying about? Write out the definition of your problem. Make sure that it’s a single problem. If it’s more than one problem, write out clear definitions of all the problems that together constitute what you are worrying about right now.

2. Think in terms of worst case scenario. Ask, “What’s the worst possible thing that can happen in this situation?” Be frank and honest with yourself. You might lose your money, your relationship, your customer, or someone or something else that is really important to you. If everything fell apart, what is the worst thing that could occur?

3. Resolve to accept the worst, should it occur. Having identified the worst possible outcome, you now can go through the mental exercise of accepting that it is going to happen, no matter what you do. The remarkable thing is that as soon as you stop resisting the worst case scenario, you’ll relax, your mind will clear, and your ability to deal with the situation will improve dramatically.

4. Begin immediately to improve upon the worst, which you have already accepted is going to happen. Throw all of your mental resources into the battle to minimize the problem or resolve the difficulty. Concentrate on the future. Don’t worry about what happened, why it happened and who was responsible. Think only about the question, “What do I do now?” How can you minimize the consequences? What’s the first step you can take? And the second step? And the third step?

Successful people are not people without problems. They are people who respond quickly and positively to their problems. In dealing with adversity, perhaps the four most important words that you can remember are these: “This, too, shall pass.” Whatever it is, however difficult it may appear, say to yourself, “This, too, shall pass.”

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