Challenges and Your Response


A pair of scissors cutting a paper

The truth about life is at some point, you’re going to be hit with some challenges that could seriously affect you and throw you off balance. Whether it’s losing a loved one, getting a bad medical diagnosis, having your business fail, being in a terrible accident, getting fired from your job, being jilted by the love of your life, or other similar events; life, as they say, happens… At those times, you’ll feel so lonely in a crowd and lost in a city filled with road signs, and have no idea of how to keep moving forward.

Everyone in the throes of life’s challenges naturally feels sad, but not everyone lingers on in the pains and emotional trauma. How can you develop a mindset to overcome life challenges and even exploit the opportunity to set yourself on a new path of freedom and victory?

It’s a conscious choice. The power to respond in the right and liberating way is within you and history records so many successful people who are testaments to this infinite capacity of the human mind. Just like any other the muscle in your body, you need to work out the ability to overcome challenges and gain confidence to weather the storms of life that blow your way.

The way you respond to challenges reflects a lot about your worldview; and it can either put you at a vantage position for quick recovery and success; or make you vulnerable to the challenges and others that follow. Developing the right attitude and perception about life will make you more confident, optimistic, open-minded and adventurous. It will show that you have learnt to enjoy life and look forward to whatever comes next.

On the other hand, an attitude of frustration and resignation indicates you might be low on resources, close-minded, pessimistic and have a fearful view of the world around us. This is a limiting attitude and fear and negativity cannot possibly spin a life of happiness and successes. It can only attract more of the same.

The irony about these two opposing worldviews is that there’s just a small degree of difference between them. Even though a positive, optimistic mindset versus a negative, pessimistic attitude seem like miles apart, they often start with the same challenges.


If you’d ever imagined legendary martial artist, poet and philosopher, Bruce Lee offering you wisdom on dealing with challenges, you naturally would think it would be about confronting adversity with brute force.

But it’s quite the opposite. Rather, Lee says you should “Be like water.”

He learnt this priceless wisdom from his mentor, and it completely transformed his thinking and taught him a better way to be strong. That Lee’s quote has been often been repeated, but few people actually understood what Lee meant or what informed that wisdom.

Let us revisit it and try to understand the very important life lessons therein for everyone walking the path of recovery to self development and on to prosperity.


The story has its origin in Bruce Lee’s younger years when he was still receiving formal martial arts training and mentorship from Professor Yip Man at the wing chun school of gung fu.

During the training, Yin Man would often come up to Lee and advise him to relax and calm his mind. He would tell Lee to focus less on himself during a combat and more on the opponent’s movement. He taught him to let his mind be fluid and guide his movements in the conflict with his opponents; and to learn to master the art of detachment.

But young Lee couldn’t grasp Yin Man’s concept, no matter how hard he tried; and it worried and frustrated him. Every time he tried to calm his mind, he would instinctively do the opposite.

Yin Man observed Lee’s consternation and gave him further insight into the wisdom he was trying to teach him. He told him to learn to preserve himself and follow the natural flow of things, and not interfere. He told him to never assert himself against nature or be in direct confrontation with any challenges, but to take control by flowing with the tide.

Sensing Lee would need some practical lessons to fully grasp the lessons he was trying to pass across, Yin Man advised his young student to take a week off from training, get away from everything and spend some time reflecting.

Lee heeded the advice to mediate for a week, but he didn’t stop practicing in the same period. So, he didn’t feel what he wanted to and his frustration persisted.

Then a spontaneous thought came to him. Why not get out in nature and sail by himself on a junk in harbour to clear his mind? And that became his Eureka moment!

Lee would later reflect on the experience and the lessons in his own words:

“On the sea I thought of all my past training and got mad at myself and punched the water! Right then—at that moment—a thought suddenly struck me; was not the water the very essence of gun fu? Hadn’t the water just now illustrated to me the principle of gung fu? I struck it, but it did not suffer hurt. Again I struck it with all my might—yet it was not wounded! I then tried to grasp a handful of it, but this proved impossible. This water, the softest substance in the world, which could be contained in the smallest jar, only seemed weak. In reality, it could penetrate the hardest substance in the world. That was it! I wanted to be like the nature of water.

“Suddenly a bird flew by and cast its reflection on the water. Right then as I was absorbing myself with the lessons of the water, another mystic sense of hidden meaning revealed itself to me; should not the thoughts and emotions I had when in front of an opponent pass like the reflection of the bird flying over the water? That was exactly what Professor Yip meant by being detached—not being without emotion or feeling, but being one in whom feeling was not sticky or blocked. Therefore in order to control myself I must first accept myself by going with and not against my nature.”

After his epiphany, Lee just lay there and let the boat float freely and felt oneness with nature. He arrived at state of mind where he realised that he needed to allow oppositions or challenges become mutually cooperative, rather than mutually exclusive; and all feeling of conflict was lost in his mind. That experience on the water was his liberating moment and forever changed his mindset about life and challenges, a foundation on which he also went on to found Jeet Kune Do (JKD).


A man and his family

We can take a lot of cues from Lee’s Eureka moment, as well wisdom from other people’s practical experiences, on the best way to respond to setbacks and challenges and develop a mindset with the right conditions for success.  Here are 13 useful methods to apply whenever you find yourself face to face with one of life’s whirlwinds.

  1. Focus on the positives

Humans have a natural mind conditioning that psychologists call “The Negativity Bias.” It means the mind is inclined to focus on threats and dangers, whether real or imagined.

You need to destroy this evolutionary construct by learning to refocus your mind on the positives and the right things about people and the environment. Look for reasons to love and be grateful with everything around you.

  1. Identify your emotions

The ability to identify and label one’s emotions is an important tool in being in control of emotions and dealing with people and issues in the right way.  It helps reduce the activity in the side of the brain that deals with emotions and conversely increases activity in the brain area that deals with focus and awareness.

So, next time, you sense a debilitating emotion crawling on you, identify and label the emotion, so you can divorce yourself from the negative experience and consciously choose a new and healthy one.

  1. Reflect

Challenging moments in your life is a good time to travel back in a time machine in your mind. Reflect on those memories where you have been low on confidence and create new meanings for them.

  1. Get into your mentor’s head

Everyone has someone they love, admire or look up to. When you’re faced with a challenge, ask yourself how your mentor will react in that same situation. Perhaps, you know or have read how they faced a similar challenge. Go ahead and recreate that attitude.

  1. Exercise

What do you think is the secret to Richard Branson creativity? He says it’s working out. Exercises don’t just put you in the right physical shape; it creates a healthy mental wellbeing. If you can’t take a walk, do some light jogs or other forms of exercises every day, do it at least three days a week. You’ll be amazed at the result, including a noticeable improvement in habit and self-confidence in different areas of your life. This is besides the obvious benefits of an increase in energy levels to face life challenges.

  1. Seek nature

In the classic example of Bruce Lee we discussed earlier, he had his moment of epiphany when he moved closer to quiet nature. Studies have shown that, generally, when we interact with nature, the quality of our life improves and the brain functions better as well. You don’t have to get out into nature every day if you live in a big city, but at least once in a week, try spending some time in the warmth and tranquility of the great outdoors.

  1. Stay confident

The inner workings of your brain can strongly affect your behaviours and influence the way the environment reacts to or treats you. Stand tall and communicate confidence with your body language everywhere you go. It will be conditioned into your mind and your being.

  1. Ask new questions

Every moment of reflection is a question or an answer to a question. So, condition your brain and mind to ask new questions and find new answers whenever you’re confronted with a challenge. Ask yourself: “What’s the matter with me?” “Why am I struggling with this?” “How best do I solve this?” “What went wrong the last time?” “How can I make this work?”

The questions you ask will shape your experience of life; and once you let them flow uninhibited, your brain and your mind will be in right state to give you clear and useful answers.

  1. Get something done

With your new question and new answers found, you can attain epiphany to guide you on the next thing or things to do and how best to get the results you desire. It’s not enough to get the answers to your new questions; the best answers are actually your response in terms of action.

So, get up and accomplish something. It doesn’t matter at the moment how big or small; what’s important is that you’re finding the answers to some of your greatest life puzzles, and taking definite and assured steps towards the finish line.

  1. Make a habit of your desired actions

The secret to maintaining willpower and self-control in the face of challenges is building positive habits. Identify the right attitude and keep building it into a habit through constant practice.

You can begin your positive action-to-positive habit transformation with a 30-day timeline and exhibit the positive attitudes daily until they become natural to you and ingrained in your social skills set. It will keep you in better control of your life. The experience you gain from the building exercise can even help you on setting and accomplishing life goals.


Graphics of a magnifying glass

You’d probably thought challenges and setbacks happen to a few, unlucky people. That’s until you study the early life struggles of some of the most successful and respected people in history.

Let’s take a look at some of the examples where you’ll see that anyone who desires remarkable success in life must first learn to respond in the right way to the failures and disappointments that are certain to come their way.

  1. Thomas Edison identified failure as a part of life and accepted his own mistakes

Thomas Edison, one of the greatest inventors in history, developed the world’s first long-lasting, light bulbs. But before he made that successful invention that changed the course of history in his lab in Menlo Park, New Jersey, Edison had failed over 2000 attempts.

How did Edison overcome his challenge and turn it into success? He simply viewed every failure he had as a learning curve and a part of the process to success. He said that with each failed attempt, he learned something new about what to do and what not to do; and in the end he successfully created a practical, incandescent electrical bulb.

The impact of Edison’s groundbreaking invention reverberated not only through the world of electrical engineering, but also in music and photography forever. Ironically, Edison was home schooled by his mother because within just three months after beginning school, Edison’s teachers concluded that he was “addled.”

Also, Edison suffered a bout of scarlet fever at a tender age, which affected his hearing. But he never allowed any of these inhibitions to stop him from becoming the most renowned inventor of the 19th century.

  1. Steve Jobs never allowed momentary setbacks blur his vision

In 1985, former CEO and Founder of Apple Corporation, Steve Jobs was fired from the company he formed. Like every human, he felt depressed and rejected, but rather than wallow in those feelings, he turned them into “propellers” to launch him into another venture that would change the face of animated films: Pixar Studios. He honed his ingenuity, working in close partnership with Alvy Ray Smith Ed and Catmull. Jobs rejoined Apple in 1996, leading the company to become the most valuable brand in the world.

  1. Walt Disney kept pushing his dreams until it became a global phenomenon

    Not many people still realise that Walt Disney was actually someone’s name and not the synonym for classic animated films and magical theme parks where adults relive their childhood fantasies.

How did Walt Disney (the founder) create this extraordinary company? He had a passion and he never let it wither, no matter how unpopular or “unprofitable” it looked at that time. He started with a film ad company in Kansas, but the young Walt didn’t find the excitement he was looking for in commercials, as he did with animating short films.

He then began creating cartoon strips which ran like interludes before movies in theatres around the US.  He made several attempts to attain success with his film company, but failed until he sketched Mickey Mouse for the first time.