Transform Failure, Disaster, and Rejection Into a Fortune!

This motivation hack teaches you how to prosper from adversity and pain.

Posted Apr 10, 2017

Are you in control?

Jericho/Wikimedia Commons, used with permission
Source: Jericho/Wikimedia Commons, used with permission

How can you lose $20,000 in five minutes and be happy about it? People think this is a trick question. No one likes to lose money. But with the right approach and by using the Water-to-Wine Hack, any situation, however awful it seems, can become a positive motivational experience. This hack teaches us how to manage the emotions sparked by the inevitable disasters of life: losing money, job termination, grief from the deaths of friends and family, and dozens of more mundane sorrows.

We all know people who always seem to be having a bad day, and other people who are generally upbeat, optimistic, and enthusiastic, despite having the same problems as everyone else. The difference between the constant complainers and the habitually happy is driven by two motivational beliefs: the realization that things will not always go as planned and the understanding that we can control and regulate our subjective responses to life’s tragedies, disappointments, and curve balls.

The answer to my riddle is simple. If you take a risk and fail, you want to minimize your losses, right? That is exactly what my friend Alec Torelli does when he plays professional poker. By the time he was 27, Alec had earned over three million dollars from poker tournament play. Alec sometimes loses large sums of money, because he cannot control the cards he is dealt. But he does control his response to the hand he is given.

Alec Torelli, used with permission
Source: Alec Torelli, used with permission

If he knows he cannot win and folds, Alec has made the right decision in a hopeless situation. He might have lost $20,000 on that hand, but he kept himself from losing more, so he’s happy to see the smaller sum go. Like skillful poker players, we can convert negativity into useful outcomes by focusing on improving ourselves rather than ruminating about life’s unavoidable misfortunes. My next book is dedicated to my son Robert (pictured below), who died unexpectedly at age 30. How could this tragic event possibly be positive? When Robert died, I realized fully all of his numerous wonderful attributes—things that I had sometimes not noticed or taken for granted while he was alive. Upon his death I began to model his best attributes and to teach others his kind ways, and so I began to transform a parent’s most devastating emotion, grief for their child, into a positive legacy. The Water-to-Wine Hack takes practice, but a person who is aware and perceptive can repress spontaneous emotional reactions, stop rumination in its tracks, and aim their energy toward constructive resolutions to terrible situations.

Tragedy and failure are inevitable

Believe it or not, bad things will happen to you. Failure, disappointment, and rejection are part of life. People react to misfortune automatically—many physical and psychological responses are beyond our control. When disaster strikes we may show typical avoidance behaviors and feel nauseous, confused, shocked, distraught, or angry. But after a few minutes, we begin to reflect on what has happened, and start to try and cope. Our coping behaviors come from patterns of behavior that we have learned over the course of our lives. In other words, we make a choice about how to cope based on what we know. Some people dwell on the negative consequences; they might see losing a job as a deflating end point, not an opportunity to succeed and make more money elsewhere. These people will direct their cognitive horsepower toward quelling the negative emotions rather than toward achieving future goals and objectives. They might try to mask or disguise the emotion with nonproductive self-handicapping strategies like drinking or substance abuse. This type of coping may squash the feeling, but it offers no real recovery from the event.

Others consciously and deliberately regulate their emotions by redirecting the energy hijacked by the emotion into something productive, aiming to transform the negative situation into a positive outcome. This second coping strategy does not mean the uncomfortable emotion disappears, but it does shift the focus off the feeling and off the event, which can’t be changed no matter how awful you feel about it. This Hack asks you to realize that your emotion is nonproductive and doesn’t help you recover; rumination wastes energy that we could use to focus on our goals. Sometimes directing our energy is the only aspect of recovery that we can control, and our only way forward is to work toward previously set goals or to be motivated by the event to create new ones.

Start small

Elizabeth Polo/Havana Photography/used with permission
Source: Elizabeth Polo/Havana Photography/used with permission

The grief recovery example I’ve used is a monumental and extremely challenging use of the Water-to-Wine Hack. Instead, you should start small. Think of what annoys you most. Maybe you get peeved when your spouse runs the washing machine when you are in the shower, dousing you with ice water. Maybe you’re prone to road rage. Maybe TV commercials showing sick children or abused animals make you feel hopeless (they do me). But you don’t have to fall in line with the advertiser’s goal and contribute money to get rid of the negative emotion. Try the Water-to-Wine Hack instead. Close your checkbook, redirect your cognitive horsepower, and volunteer your time, talk to others about how to help, or incorporate the cause into other meaningful goals, such as educational or career plans. Do anything that leads to goal progress, which in turn will make you feel better.

However you apply the hack, it’s crucial to direct your focus away from the emotion and toward a productive outcome. To cope, you must affirm to yourself that you can influence your environment. If you doubt that you can bring about the life outcomes you want, you will be more easily sucked under by the dark tides of emotion. Worry and stress come out of familiar, stereotypical patterns of coping that are easy and require little conscious thought. Avoid reactionary indulgence in the form of excessive eating, drinking, substance abuse, or other vices; instead, direct conscious, focused effort toward productive goals. Adaptation takes work. Despair will linger unless your intentional actions produce change and achieve your goals. Remember what you value, and use the Water-to-Wine Hack to get what you want.

This blog post is based on Dr. Hoffman's next book, Hack Your Motivation, due for a May 2017 release. For daily updates on motivation, learning, and performance, follow him on Twitter: @ifoundmo.