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Turn It Into Something Good

In life, it's inevitable and perfectly natural that things will go haywire from time to time. Any complex system, from a family dynamic to a tricky project at work, is prone to running off the rails.

How we react to these surprises is instrumental to solving the problem, and that has a direct effect on our success and satisfaction. Next time something goes sideways, consider the acronym "TIISG", short for "turn it into something good".

Sunflowers to inspire us to take a problem and "turn it into something good"

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The Good, The Bad, And Our Brains

Positive experiences feed more positive experiences through a biochemical feedback loop. Positive emotions increase the levels of feel-good neurotransmitters in our brains. As we enjoy this blissful state, we produce more and more of these chemicals. Picture yourself riding an upward-oriented spiral lifting you to greater heights of emotion, upward toward the light and away from doom and gloom emotions.

On the flip side, negative feelings (unhappiness, anger, shame, and other low-vibrating emotions) promote the release of stress hormones like cortisol, which is associated with the "fight-or-flight" response.

While fighting or fleeing can be life-saving in acute situations where your life is in danger, it's a huge burden on the body when it's activated by chronic stress. In this state, where the cortisol switch is stuck in the "on" position, your body's energetic resources are directed away from essential processes, thus robbing you of a vital ally in your everyday fight to stay healthy, vital, and strong.

Turn It Into Something Good, and Find the Silver Lining!

What does that mean for us when we encounter roadblocks, bad news, or other disruptions to smooth sailing? The easy answer would be for us to switch off the negative emotions that threaten to pull us into downward spiral of pessimism and hopelessness. If that were as easy as flipping a switch, we'd be a lot better off, but we all know things rarely work that way. Negative emotions have a seductive quality that borders on addiction in some people, depending on how often they dwell in the throes of negativity.

We short-circuit this downward pull with an active intervention of our conscious mind. Know, deep down, that there is always something good to be found in a tough situation. Take that difficulty and turn it into something good!

The Chinese-language characters for "crisis" contains elements of the symbols for both "danger" and "opportunity", a poignant reminder that there is always something beneficial to be drawn from a crisis situation.

TSIIG requires us to stop, take a deep breath, and ask ourselves: "what good lessons can be drawn from this? What opportunities does this present to me for learning and growth? What habits can I adopt to prevent similar things from happening in the future?"

What's great about "turn it into something good" is that it requires active cognitive engagement, which is a higher state of brain function than the knee-jerk reactions typical of the distress we encounter when life throws us a curve ball (more here on the fast brain vs. slow brain dynamic).

storm clouds remind us to find the silver lining in tricky situations

Retraining Your Mind to Look for the Good

When bad things happen, it's natural to react with dismay. What happens in the next few seconds, though, is critical! If we dwell in the dismay feelings, we lose an opportunity. "Turn it into something good" does not mean to gloss over or ignore problems. It means to recognize that we've been handed a gift: a chance to learn, grow, or see a different direction for ourselves. This gives us courage and supports the fortitude required to solve the problem at hand.

Are you going through a break-up of a romantic relationship?  In time you'll see that you've gained freedom, learned valuable life lessons, and won the chance to attract a more suitable partner.

Have you gotten laid off from your job?  An honest assessment of your skills might show areas where you've neglected to improve. Addressing these could lead you to something more suitable for you.

Have you sustained an injury or been met with an illness?  Your recovery period offers the chance to understand your body better, to put aside unhealthy habits, and to adopt those that promote better long-term health.

Did your car break down in the middle of rush hour?  Maybe it's a lesson in the cost of neglecting routine maintenance! Whatever the cause, you'll get it fixed and you'll drive away with a more reliable vehicle. For good measure, you get a feeling of gratitude that your car, with rare exceptions, gets you where you need to go.

junked cars remind us all things must pass, and to be grateful that our car is running well!

No one should actively invite bad events just to find the silver lining! Yet it's comforting to realize that, aside from death, there are very few things that happen to us that are entirely, completely, 100% bad. Every cloud has a silver lining. Every loss contains a kernel of gain. Finding and nurturing that kernel is mature, adult behavior.

Stay Focused On The Positive

You don't have to be a wide-eyed and naive optimist to practice TSIIG. Turning something bad into something good doesn't require a radical mind shift, just a nudge in a positive direction that can make a huge difference in how you approach both the problem in front of you, and how you deal with the next round of craziness that is bound to come your way.

For my money, the greatest benefits of "turn it into something good" come down the road, once the scenario has been overcome and we can look back on it with the full benefit of hindsight. Chances are we'll have much to be proud of: having solved the problem and learned from it, we gain satisfaction in our own abilities, and in the wisdom gained that might prevent something similar from happening again.

close up view of green agate

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