#052: The Power in Choosing Your Response [Podcast]

When bad things happen, it’s natural to ask questions like, “Why did this happen to me?” or “What did I do to deserve this?” The problem with these questions is that they are unproductive and disempowering.


Photo courtesy of ©iStockphoto.com/jcgsees

The bottom line is this: you can’t always choose what happens to you, but you can choose how you respond to those situations. This is where our real power—and our real freedom—is found.

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Here are four steps—the ABCDs—for becoming more intentional with your response when you experience pain or setback.

  • A: Acknowledge the pain.
  • B: Be with it.
  • C: Have compassion on yourself.
  • D: Do something different.

As difficult as the pain or the setback might be, if we look back on our lives, most of us would admit that these times are often followed by tremendous growth and blessing.

Listener Questions

  1. Chris Christensen asked, “What do you think about the question, ‘How do we keep this from happening again?”
  2. Don Suess asked, “How can see with the eye of faith when you become shipwrecked by a catastrophic loss?”
  3. Joan Harrison asked, “What do you think about the question, ‘Why have I attracted this into my life?’”
  4. John Richardson asked, “How can you tell when something bad happens if it is really good?”
  5. Mike Skiff asked, “When someone close to you experiences pain or heartache, how can you respond graciously in a way that is truly helpful?”

Special Announcements

  1. Next week, I will be speaking at the SCORRE Conference in Orlando, Florida. This conference is already sold out, but you can register for the next one in October. Registration officially opens on Monday, May 6th. We always sell out, so if you are thinking about coming, I suggest you register sooner rather than later.
  2. If you are considering launching your own platform, you need to start with a self-hosted WordPress blog. This is not as complicated as it sounds. In fact, I have put together an absolutely free, step-by-step screencast on exactly how to do it. You don’t need any technical knowledge. I walk you through the entire process in exactly 20 minutes,
  3. My next podcast will be on the topic of “How To Become A Morning Person.” If you have a question on this subject, please leave me a voicemail message. This is a terrific way to cross-promote your blog or website, because I will link to it, just like I did with the callers in this episode.

Show Transcript

You can download a complete, word-for-word transcript of this episode here, courtesy of Ginger Schell, a professional transcriptionist, who handles all my transcription needs.

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Question: Consider a recent painful experience or personal setback. How would you have responded if you had to do it all over again? You can leave a comment by clicking here.

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  • http://blog.cyberquill.com/ Cyberquill

    Recently, in reaction to I-forget-what, I drove my fist into a turntable record player that I’ve had forever and cracked its lid. If I had to do it all over, I’d throw a book against the wall.

  • http://JonDHarrison.com/ Jonathan Harrison

    I’m a firm believer that better questions lead to better answers, and “What does this make possible?” is an incredibly powerful question.

    Amazing to think that an injury led to what this blog is today – and all the influence and insight it has equipped countless others to lead with -all possible due to how you handled an “accident.”

    That being said, I’m not sure we will ever see a blog/podcast on “How to Live Your Dreams by (literally) Breaking Your Leg.”

    • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

      Great comment Jonathan! I agree that it starts with asking the right question. After both my parents died in their early 60’s (too young by any measure) I found myself asking a lot of “why” questions. I read C.S. Lewis’ book “A Grief Observed” and realized that I should be asking “how” questions – such as, “How can I live a life of impact, purpose and meaning.”

      • http://JonDHarrison.com/ Jonathan Harrison

        The switch from “why” to “how” is just one vowel, but what a difference!

        I love the brutal honesty of Lewis in that writing – your comment has inspired a few “how questions” of my own just now, specifically around how I can enrich my relationship with my parents (my dad is in his early 60’s now). Thank you.

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  • David Isherwood

    One of the basic survival techniques I’ve learnt is not to pretend pain’s not happening! Pain cannot be skirted or bypassed. Rather, going through it enables me to merge the better from the experience. Hebrews 12:2 is a key text for me.

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      David, your comment made me think of Viktor Frankl’s words and what he considered the most important avenue to meaning in life: “Even the helpless victim of a hopeless situation, facing a fate he cannot change, may rise above himself, may grow beyond himself, and by so doing change himself. He may turn a personal tragedy into triumph.” The meaning is found through the pain, not around it.

  • http://forthisisthetime.blogspot.com/ Esther Aspling

    I have had some health setback in the past several years. There were times where I would force myself to keep up and inhuman pace because I felt as if those around me wouldn’t give me grace, so I had to also not only not give myself grace, but prove I could do better than normal. This left me beyond burnt out, and I wish I could have just recognized what my limits were and been okay with them.

    Now I am able to say NO, choose the things I am passionate about and still feel like I’m “doing it all” because I’m not out to prove anything to others or myself.

    Great Post!


    • http://JonDHarrison.com/ Jonathan Harrison

      Esther – good for you. Could you please share more about how you made the transition from burnout to boundries?

      • http://forthisisthetime.blogspot.com/ Esther Aspling

        I am fortunate to have a husband that can hint that maybe I’m taking on too much. Also I try to only do long term things that really fit in with my goals and passion. This is not to say I won’t help watch someone’s children, or make a meal for someone, because those are short term, and are good to do on occasion. I think it looks different for everyone though.

  • http://www.danerickson.net/ Dan Erickson

    Another problem that many of us have is blaming circumstances or other people for these setbacks. That’s called an external locus of control. Along with acknowledging the pain, we should also acknowledge that we are often the ones responsible for the setback.

    • http://www.twitter.com/erikjfisher/ Erik Fisher

      I especially liked the thought Chris Christensen had about “How do we kee p this from happening again?” I often spend too much time in the blame game pointing my fingers at others, or God, or myself, and don’t extend grace.

  • http://www.annepeterson.com/ Anne Peterson

    Really appreciated your post, Michael. My sister died at the hand of domestic violence in 1982. 24 years after she disappeared we went to court, watching the judge pronounce her husband “not guilty.” We never recovered her body, nor did we get answers to many questions. One positive that emerged is my
    desire to write her story to help other girls who may move toward unhealthy relationships. Sometimes when you are IN the painful situation, all your energy is spent in enduring it. But God knows the gems tucked inside each heartbreak. I am working on a book about domestic violence that I hope will help women be aware of what an unhealthy relationship looks like. I believe those who have been abused as children will repeat the pattern and move toward abusive people.

    I launched my first book in February. Right before I was to do an interview, my brother had a massive heart attack and died at 51. This post helped me remember I am still in pain right now.

    I write poetry that touches people deeply. One positive that emerged from my losses. And though people got weary with my ongoing pain, I saw God’s steadfastness. Not once did he step back and say, “I’m done.” And I know he never will.

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      I’m so sorry for all the pain you’ve experienced, Anne. It’s significant! But I’m also inspired by your attitude and determination to use it for good and not harm. Your first-hand experience with loss and understanding of domestic violence gives you valuable expertise and empathy.

      • http://www.annepeterson.com/ Anne Peterson

        Thanks for your comment, Michele. When you go through something like that, you are desperate to find something good in it.

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  • 48DaysDan

    I listened this morning while on the treadmill. But I stopped long enough to write down what I consider your major point – “What does this make possible?” Love that approach.

    • http://www.twitter.com/erikjfisher/ Erik Fisher

      Listened to it this morning driving my 8 year old daughter to work. “Ugh, not another boring podcast, Dad…” :) But she actually listened and had answers, and I think she had an ‘aha’ moment with me.

    • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

      Dan, that some point resonated deeply with me as well – that approach enables the opportunity to inject optimism into virtually any situation!

  • matthewdevries

    Thanks for another great PRACTICAL message! The hardest part about adversity can be the personal emotions. And it is good to allow those to play out and not allow them to control your reaction. What is God letting me achieve through this situation is such a great mindset. BTW, what happened with the guy parking in your driveway? Don’t leave us hanging!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Ha! I did kind of leave everyone hanging didn’t I.

      He simply made a mistake. He had our address confused with another. He was very embarrassed and apologetic. Thanks.

      • http://www.twitter.com/erikjfisher/ Erik Fisher

        Isn’t that usually how those things go? The other person who offends us is often having a worse time than we are.

  • http://www.jonathangaby.com/ Jonathan Gaby

    Michael, this couldn’t have come into my inbox at a better time. I just was laid off and now have to begin the job search again. This podcast has thankfully focused me on the right things and to see this as an opportunity to not only learn from the experience, but also devote a little more time in building my platform, see where I want to go next. I know I have lots of opportunity that I just haven’t yet explored. Thanks again for this timely message.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Jonathan. I’m so sorry you were laid off. That has to be tough. I am glad you found this podcast timely.

  • http://www.twitter.com/erikjfisher/ Erik Fisher

    The incident with the fall was your ‘Peter Parker Radioactive Active Spider bite’ moment! This episode was your blogging superhero origin story! Look what you did with that? I find that very encouraging.

    I also loved that you incorporated the parking incident. I felt a lot of the same feelings you did when I saw the image of the letter Gail talked you down to writing.

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      “Blogging superhero origin story” = LOVE

      • http://www.twitter.com/erikjfisher/ Erik Fisher

        I’m betting Michael had an Uncle Ben who once told him “With great Platform comes great responsibility”. :)

        • http://JonDHarrison.com/ Jonathan Harrison

          Just. Awesome.

          Many have fallen off of a platform. A few fall on a platform. Fewer still, are those who fall, then build a Platform.

        • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

          Too funny!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Peter Parker is a great analogy. I always wanted to be Spider Man!

  • Laurel Griffith

    You are so right about finding the gift in the pain. Two years ago my husband and I relocated to a new city. The move was difficult. I published a local Christian magazine. The publication was well received and we had managed to remain afloat through all the tough economic times. Because of the move, I made the decision to fold the magazine. At the time, I grieved the loss, but now I look back and I would not trade what I have learned through this experience. Because of our move, I entered the blogging world. I have written a book. I attended your Platform Conference to begin to understand more about what it takes to develop a platform. I am learning and growing professionally in areas I would have never pursued. Thank-you for all you are doing to help me along the way.

    • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

      Great story, Laurel. And a perfect example of how closed doors often force you to open others you would’ve never considered exploring otherwise.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Laurel. I appreciate the back-story!

  • http://www.janabotkin.net/ Jana Botkin

    I had a very similar Bad Ankle Year and now I have a Frankenfoot, which mostly works.You and I have matching hardware. 8-)

    “Attracted this into my life”? – You handled that comment with grace. I snarled at it.

    My 2 main questions when bad things happen are – 1. How can I avoid this in the future? and 2. What can I learn from it?

    Thank you for providing a better question!

    P.S. Could you do a blog post on how to rate a podcast on iTunes? Every time I try, I remember that I don’t know how. Thanks!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Thanks, Jana. You are the second person to ask about rating a podcast, so I need to do that!

  • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

    Last year I had a fairly significant personal setback. It wasn’t a tragedy or loss, but overwhelming circumstances that depleted me in every way. In hindsight, I did okay with steps #1 and #2 above. But I struggled with #3, “Have compassion on yourself.” I felt so much guilt for my apparent “weakness” and caught myself asking shame-loaded questions like “What’s wrong with me?” and “Why aren’t I stronger?” Of course, that only added to the exhaustion and emotion. A good friend finally helped me to see the unrealistic expectations I held for myself and how showing myself a little grace and compassion was exactly what was needed. Kudos to Megan for doing the same for you.

    • http://JonDHarrison.com/ Jonathan Harrison

      Michele – what a great example of why we need community, friends, and family.

      • http://www.MicheleCushatt.com/ Michele Cushatt

        I agree. We need each other more than we think.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Usually, it takes someone else to help me have compassion on myself. It’s not my first impulse. Thank God for people around us who can help!

      • Jeff

        Hi Michael, You mentioned that you’ve gotten help in the past from a counselor. Could you tell me what areas they excelled in or qualifications? Is it possible to combine a success coach and a counselor in one?

        • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

          I have always used licensed counselors. What you use really depends on the issue you are dealing with. Sometimes a coach can be as good if not better. It really depends on your needs and their experience.

  • seannisil

    Love the simple ABCDs approach to this topic. I pastor a youth group and often hit on this issue with them…Respond. Don’t REACT. Thanks for the insight as always!



    • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

      Hi Sean, I really like that simple guidance of urging young people to “respond” rather than just “react” – that’s tremendous counsel!

  • http://morethanadventure.com/ Kurt Swann

    Was glad to listen to the podcast as I had surgery on my broken heel 2 weeks ago today so I can definitely relate :) I like the A-B-C-D approach and it’s very helpful.

    I’ve been keeping document called “Things I Can Do” where I note any ideas for what I can still do in spite of the injury. Also, I try to focus on all the doctors, nurses, and staff people so I’m not so caught up in myself. I usually ask simple questions about them such as where they’re from, where they live, or do they have family nearby. That takes my mind off my own situation and they appreciate someone being interested in them.

    This situation has taught me several lessons such as to ask for help and rely more on friends/family and also gives me a better understanding of people with similar problems.

    Thanks again for the podcast!

    • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

      Ugh, that’s a tough one Kurt but it sure sounds like you’ve got a great attitude. I work at a biotech company and know quite a few healthcare workers and every one of them agree that a large contributor to the speed and quality of physical recovery is the patient’s mental outlook. Hang in there!

  • http://sparkvoice.wordpress.com/ DS

    The question about, what can be possible because of this event, is a great flip of the typical emotions/thoughts at the moment. I believe things happen for a reason, but I don’t typically get to that thought process so quickly. Definitely be utilizing your question – thanks for sharing!

    • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

      Agreed DS, that simple turn of phrase is a real paradigm shifter!

  • Roland O.

    There was a recent telling example of your point about the power of choosing your response. Three members of a local family, neighbors of ours in this small Massachusetts town, were seriously injured in the recent Boston Marathon bombings. The father, a Vietnam war vet who received a purple heart, was most seriously injured and lost a leg as a result. In an interview on CNN, the mother and son talk about their injuries and are asked about their reactions to the events. Their responses contain no bitterness or rancor, but rather extraordinary grace.
    To watch the interview (5 min): http://startingpoint.blogs.cnn.com/2013/04/26/white-family-recounts-recovery-journey-after-boston-marathon-john-berman-reports/?iref=allsearch

    • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

      Wow, that was an incredible report and the family seemed incredibly centered and clear despite the situation. Very chilling seeing the checkbook with a hole blown through it.

  • http://www.thedailyretort.com/ TorConstantino

    This was a great and timely reminder Michael – very much appreciated! I especially like ABCD memory technique!

  • http://twitter.com/cupojoegirl Eileen Knowles

    Love when pain and inconvenience can lead to growth when we ask the right questions. Great podcast.

  • http://www.leavingconformitycoaching.com/ Randy Crane

    Great podcast, Michael. Something somewhat similar happened to Walt Disney when he was a child. He had received a pair of boots he’d desperately wanted one year for Christmas. His very first time wearing them, as he walked home he kicked blocks of ice along his path, but inside one was a rusty horseshoe nail. His foot was stuck; his precious boots had to be cut off; and he was laid up for two weeks.

    While he was stuck at home on the couch, unable to go to school and with no radio or other forms of entertainment, all Walt could do was read or sketch cartoons in a big pad given him by his aunt. The spark ignited and the rest is history.

    • Jim Martin

      Great story Randy! I have not heard this before. Thanks for sharing this.

  • http://twitter.com/margieltn1 LifeLifted.Org

    Several years ago I went through a really tough, financial drought. Ended up losing my house to foreclosure, putting my possessions in storage, and basically bouncing around for close to 6 months before I found a job, and my own place again. I was 44 at the time and not only had I not dealt with anything even remotely close to that before…I’d never known anyone who had.

    You noted that asking the question of …”what does this make possible” must be well timed and that is true. During that time…all I wanted was for the situation to end and for my pain to be understood. It was later, when things settled down, that I realized my character had been completely re-carved through the experience, and my compassion for people who lived the way I was living…or worse, grew exponentially!

    Today, I wouldn’t trade ANYTHING for what I learned, or how I grew, through that season. As for what I’d do differently…I would work at staying much calmer, since excitability doesn’t change what you have to do…it only makes it more exausting and takes away from the quality of your decisions.

    GREAT POST! Thanks for doing what you do!

  • Nate

    I have a plate and 6 screws in my leg still too! Maybe something about having a little additional hardware makes for a better leader?
    Really appreciate this episode. I am a restaurant manager who has worked his way up from the bottom in less than 2 years, starting out as a server. Listening to your podcast and others is helping me develop into the leader I aspire to be in my current job and starting my own business (The Pocket Running Coach Podcast). I sit across the table regularly from members of my staff who are facing difficult life issues, many of which are self induced, but some are not. Learning to ask the right questions and help them have the proper perspective has become a skill I use on a daily basis. I often say “Great golfers are great because they can make great shots out of the rough, not because they never make mistakes.” It is ALL about how you respond to the challenges you face instead of viewing an obstacle as a barrier. Thanks for this episode. Nate

  • Eddie Cliff

    I don’t know whether this was serendipity or the exact opposite.

    As I was listening to this episode on my evening run, about 30 seconds into the podcast (before you’d started telling your ankle-breaking story), I tripped on the curb and fell. I was a bit more fortunate than you were and escaped with only a few bumps and interestingly-coloured bruises. After I fell, I paused the podcast and asked many of the ‘how could I be so stupid’ questions you mentioned in the podcast – including the observation ‘if I’d just stayed inside instead of bothering to go for a run, I would’ve saved myself all this pain.’

    For me, the silver lining was two-fold: I had a ready made situation to practise ABCD on and I was suddenly very pleased that I hadn’t broken anything!

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Amazing! I am so glad you didn’t break it!

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  • jben3615

    I recently published an ebook on this subject. Is it ok to share info on the book in this comment section? Great topic, great words, and great truth.

    • http://michaelhyatt.com/ Michael Hyatt

      Sure. Thanks for asking.

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  • http://www.facebook.com/why.ele.9 Yvonne Eele

    Because of a set back that occurred, I listened again to this podcast and enjoyed it even more than the first time. It helps a lot to feel ok about being angry or down about a setback but still look forward to what this makes possible. Thank you for your insights.

  • http://dalemelchin.wordpress.com/ Dale Melchin

    John Richardson asked, “How can you tell when something bad happens if it is really good?”

    I actually have an answer to this question and its related to Mike’s response to when it says that adversity has come up with tremendous growth and blessing.

    I call it the 20/20 construct.

    We know that most adverse circumstances lead to growth and blessing.
    Therefore this can lead to growth and blessing.
    After this break down the situation into various components and see how those particulars will lead to something new or greater.

    Job loss is mentioned here. It creates several opportunties. One of the first is the option to find something new. It also helps us learn to live leaner while we are searching for new work. We have the opportunity to become more self reliant etc.

    OR if a relationship fails. You could ask, how could I become a better person for the next person (if that’s even part of your future plans) or how can I learn to have greater dispassion and maturity across all relationships.

    I may be captain obvious here, but it is helpful to think in these categories while we are first experience the sting of the pain.