Dr. Normal Rosenthal on 7 Tricks for Dealing with Adversity

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Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Dr. Norman E. Rosenthal, on how to deal with adversity more successfully. 

Dr. Rosenthal is a world-renowned psychiatrist and the New York Times-bestselling author of Transcendence: Healing and Transformation through Transcendental Meditation.

If you’ve heard of SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder), then you’re familiar with Dr. Rosenthal’s work.  He formally described and named SAD back in 1984.

What does Dr. Rosenthal know about adversity?  A lot.  Aside from his own hardships, trials, and tribulations, Dr. Rosenthal’s work over the past several years has given him unique insight across a wide variety of people, circumstances, and responses.

He is a clinical professor of psychiatry at Georgetown Medical School, he has conducted research at the National Institute of Mental Health for over twenty years, and he has maintained a private practice in the Washington, DC metropolitan area for the past thirty years.

In his latest book, The Gift of Adversity: The Unexpected Benefits of Life’s Difficulties, Setbacks, and Imperfection, Dr. Rosenthal shows us how to use adversity to become better, bigger, and more resilient human beings.

Without further ado, here is Dr. Rosenthal with 7 tricks we can use to deal with adversity …

I have often realized that, as a psychiatrist, I am most sensitive and in touch with my patients’ problems when I myself am experiencing personal difficulties.

This demonstrates how adversity can sensitize people and help them tune-in to the suffering of others. It can also harden people and make them mean. So we have a choice as to how adversity is going to shape us.

As I looked through the lessons I have learned along life’s journey, I realized that the most valuable lessons came from difficult times – whether these were the result of bad luck, errors of judgment on my part, or self-imposed challenges.

Adversity has made me more resilient and has helped me become a kinder, wiser, and better person.

Be a Fox, Not a Porcupine

The most important lessons about coping with hardship that people should take away from reading The Gift of Adversity are seven tricks for dealing successfully with the adversity they may face. There is an old Eastern proverb: The fox has many tricks, but the porcupine has one big trick. When it comes to dealing with adversity, you are better off being a fox than a porcupine. Here are some of my tricks for dealing successfully with adversity.

  1. Accept that the adversity has occurred
  2. Proportion your response according to the nature of the adversity
  3. Analyze the situation
  4. Regulate your physical and emotional state – for example, by keeping regular hours of sleeping and waking, eating regular meals, exercising and meditating
  5. Reach out for help – to family, friends or even kindly strangers
  6. Turn your predicament into a story – to help you process it
  7. Reframe the adversity – think about it in a different way

A Clear Head is Your Friend

The most important tool is a clear head. Don’t panic. In most situations there is time to think; thinking is your friend, and impulsive action is your enemy. Analyze the situation, understanding what you’re up against and what resources you have at your disposal. Of course, in emergencies you will need to act quickly, but that’s when your primitive fight-or-flight responses will click into gear and – with a bit of luck and quick thinking – will save the day.

If They Can Do It, So Can You

In The Gift of Adversity, I describe three individuals who overcame enormous hardship – homelessness, drug addiction, and imprisonment – and emerged successfully, drug free, employed, and happy. Although this transformation involved many elements, Transcendental Meditation (TM) was crucial to their success. Fortunately, I have not experienced adversity at this terrible level, but TM has helped me deal with lesser adversities. For example, it helped me write again, producing three books in three years – something I would never have been able to do before TM gave me the capacity to be alone with my thoughts and access deeper parts of consciousness than were formally available to me.

Overall I would say remember, other people have been this way before and have succeeded in overcoming these very same obstacles and, in many instances, have become stronger as a consequence. If they could do it, so you can you. Now you simply need to figure out what they did that worked and how you can implement a strategy that will work for you.


Dr. Rosenthal is the New York Times-bestselling author of Transcendence: Healing and Transformation through Transcendental Meditation and his latest book is The Gift of Adversity: The Unexpected Benefits of Life’s Difficulties, Setbacks, and Imperfection.   You can find out more about Dr. Rosenthal and his latest work on his site at Norman Rosenthal.com.

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2 COMMENTS

    • I’m with you.

      Anytime I face adversity now, I either remind myself to “stand strong when tested” or to reframe it as a “challenge” and look for the lesson.

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