Curveballs are hard to predict, and they’re rarely welcome news. But while you can’t be sure of the timing, you can be certain that the path of life has many in store – ready to smack us in the face when we least expect it. 

So let’s discuss how to overcome bad circumstances.

Whether it’s a death, illness, divorce, sudden job loss, stock market crash, worldwide pandemic, or all of these at the same time – those curveballs are coming for each and every one of us!

Bad circumstances are mainly “bad” or “unwelcome” because they aren’t what we were expecting. It’s this clash with expectation that makes us shake our fist in the air, asking “why me?!” or “it’s not fair!” 

Of course, the only way out is through, and the journey to acceptance is the only way forward once you find yourself facing your next challenge. 

Here’s the process that can short-cut you to acceptance, so that you can continue living a fulfilled life without being dragged down by anxiety and fear.

Step 1: Deal with your shattered expectations

When something unexpected happens, you’ll be forced to confront the reality that life isn’t always fair. There’s little we can do to control outside events.  

But that doesn’t stop you from feeling the heavy BLAME or GUILT that can come quickly after. If only you had done something differently, made a different choice, done more or done better! 

Learn from your mistakes, but don’t punish yourself. You were doing your best. Tragedies happen. Mistakes happen. No one’s perfect. You can’t change the past. You can’t change other people. In fact, you can’t change most things – but you can control how you react to them.   

When my daughter was born, I had an expectation that I could keep her from getting sick until she could build up her immune system. Every parent knows how delicate a new baby is, and is extra careful to wash their hands and keep the baby away from sick people. Yet, my baby got dangerously sick when she was just 2 months old. She was hospitalized for a week and put on oxygen to help her breathe. You can imagine how terrified we were, and how much I beat myself up for letting this happen! Did this mean I was actually a terrible parent? 

Of course not…but my expectation had been shattered. I took a deep breath and recognized that the only thing we could do was hit the reset button. We created a new, beefed-up protocol for keeping the baby safe while her immune system developed…and moved on. We didn’t let her illness cast judgement on who we are as parents.

“Here is a rule to remember in future, when anything tempts you to feel bitter: not ‘This is misfortune’, but ‘To bear this worthily is good fortune.’”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Roman Emperor and Stoic Philosopher

Step 2: Reset your plan

Once you’ve identified the expectation that was rudely smashed to bits, you’ve cleared the way forward. 

But before you jump right into replanning your future, there’s an important emotional component to acknowledge.

You can’t start to move forward until you’ve mourned the loss, and mourned that your plan just didn’t pan out.  

It doesn’t matter if others have had it worse, or if some people feel your struggle isn’t a big deal. You have the right to mourn it!  

It sucks that it happened! Let yourself sit in that sadness for what could have been, for as long as you need to. 

What you’re really doing is settling this emotional swirl, so that you can start to get clarity about what’s next. If you stay in the swirl, it will continue to obscure your path forward. The only way out is through, so let yourself mourn so that you can clear your emotional slate and see what to do next. 

Once you’ve mourned your old plan, you’re ready to set a new one based on the new reality you’re living.

Step 3: Use Fearsetting to remove unproductive fear

It’s easy to let fear take over your life. When you’ve recently been through something tough, it’s especially easy! You might find yourself trying to “think positive” or push the negative thoughts away, but yet they bubble to the surface again and again.

This next step is about right-sizing your fear and anxiety so that it doesn’t paralyze you. You need to be able to take action confidently and powerfully.

It’s counterintuitive to write down your deepest fears, but that’s exactly what’s needed here. 

Tim Ferriss has a wonderful exercise he calls Fearsetting, based in Stoic philosophy, to right-size your fear. 

Start by writing down your fears. Don’t worry if they sound absurd. Ask yourself what you’re the most afraid of and get them down on paper. 

Then, brainstorm what you could do if those fears DID come to pass, and how you could mitigate the impact. For example, if you’re afraid of losing your home due to lack of funds, you might write down that you could move into a tiny home in the woods (…can you tell I took this example from my own list? I’ve always wanted to live in a tiny house!) 

And finally, brainstorm what you could do now to PREVENT that fear from coming true. In the above example, you might write that you’ll increase your emergency savings fund so that you could cover your mortgage payments in the event of a crisis. 

The aim of this exercise is to get you focused on the things you CAN control, even if your fears seem outside your control. This strategy can pay off in a tangible way, but it’s also an amazing technique to calm your mind and reclaim power over it.

“You have power over your mind—not outside events. Realize this, and you will find strength.”

Marcus Aurelius, Meditations

Roman Emperor and Stoic Philosopher

Step 4: Find the silver lining

This last stage on your journey is hard to swallow…but it will take you the furthest, fastest towards true acceptance!

Ask yourself how this change actually creates a positive impact in your life.

As they say, whenever one door closes another opens. What door has opened for you? 

It doesn’t wash away the past, nor does it make it okay – but it does help to free you from feeling like a victim to your circumstances. 

Has it…

Forced you to pursue your dream side business? 

Shown you what’s truly important about how you spend your time?

Brought you closer to a family member, or to your higher power? 

Made you serious about your health? 

Made you commit to developing yourself to 100% of your potential? 

Made you take action on a dream?

“Now is the time to get serious about living your ideals. How long can you afford to put off who you really want to be? Your nobler self cannot wait any longer. Put your principles into practice – now. Stop the excuses and the procrastination. This is your life! […] Decide to be extraordinary and do what you need to do – now.”

Epictetus, The Art of Living

Former slave and Stoic Philosopher

Identify the silver lining, and take action to become the 2.0 version of yourself (or 3.0, or 4.0). 


Demir & Carey Bentley

Demir and Carey Bentley are the founders of Lifehack Method, WSJ & USA Today bestselling authors, and executive productivity coaches. They've helped thousands of people avoid burnout and soar to their highest level of productivity. Read more about them here.