No one likes to struggle. Struggling often means failure, pain, and frustration. But while it’s natural to try to avoid struggling, doing so can be counterproductive at best, and actively harmful at worst.
The fact is, you’re not going to succeed at everything you do. No one ever has. Failure is an inevitable part of life. The most successful people you’ve ever heard of have failed more than you could imagine. The difference is, those people have embraced their struggle.
That doesn’t mean they like to fail; rather, it means that instead of complaining about their struggles, they seek out the lessons they can learn from them. As a matter of fact, struggling can be one of the most powerful tools for growth available. There are innumerable things to gain from failure.
Embracing the struggles in life certainly isn’t easy, though. If you’re still unsure, don’t worry. Just follow along, and we’ll break down some of the most significant potential benefits of failure, as well as some ways to handle struggling in a healthy, productive way.
Benefits of Struggles in Life
Struggling seems like an inherently negative thing. Many people view it that way, and no matter your outlook, it’s not fun. But in reality, it can be a force for positive change in your life—if you’re able to harness it. Some of the potential benefits include:
- Greater resiliency
- Developed empathy
- Learn your weaknesses
- Build character and confidence
- Improved performance long-term
- Expanded comfort zone
Let’s break them each down one by one:
Learning to be resilient is one of the most important traits of any successful person. And it’s intrinsically linked with your relationship with the struggles in your life. Those who avoid struggle never learn how to overcome adversity. They never learn to get back up after getting knocked down. They may become easily frustrated and afraid to fail.
But when you’ve had to struggle your whole life, you understand that you have no choice but just to keep moving forward. Experience with adversity is also experience with overcoming adversity.
When you embrace the struggle, you learn that no setback is insurmountable. It becomes, in effect, a self-fulfilling prophecy. The more you struggle and embrace it, the easier it becomes to overcome setbacks. It makes you tougher and more able to perform at your best, even in the face of adversity.
Empathy is the ability to relate to other people on a fundamental level and to feel what they are feeling. It’s an essential skill for building and maintaining interpersonal relationships. Better empathy means better emotional intelligence and stronger connections with others. And it also helps you learn about yourself.
When you deal with adversity, you develop a deeper understanding of the struggles of others. It’s one thing to try to imagine what it’s like to go through something. It’s another thing entirely to experience it directly.
If you’ve never suffered yourself, you can’t empathize with the suffering of others. Any attempts to do so will be conceptual at best, and often underestimate the strength it takes for other people to do the things they do.
Struggling, then, isn’t just about developing your own character and becoming tougher yourself. It’s also an excellent tool for developing relationships and connecting with others in a more profound way.
Learn Your Weaknesses
This may seem obvious, but it’s true. It’s impossible to grow if you don’t know what it is you need to improve. Embracing the struggle allows you to identify your weaknesses and confront them head-on.
That may feel intimidating, and if it does, that’s okay. It can be daunting to look directly at one’s imperfections. But when you only focus on the things you do well, you inherently limit yourself. You never have to struggle or deal with frustration or failure. But you also never grow. Your strengths remain the same, and your development as a person becomes stagnant.
When you’re willing to take risks and endure the discomfort that accompanies them, you will fail sometimes. Perhaps you will fail often. But in so doing, you discover your weaknesses. And as a result, you’re able to work to address them.
Failure is a teacher. When you never put yourself in a position to acknowledge your weaknesses, you will likely be quite comfortable. But through failure, you grow. And by being willing to fail, you are able to succeed on a much higher level than those who never try.
Build Character and Confidence
Here’s a benefit that may sound like a complete cliche. You’ve likely heard a lot of people talk about “building character.” But what does that even mean? What, exactly, is character? Building character is all about developing mental toughness and fortitude. And it’s about developing the confidence in yourself to pursue your goals, no matter what obstacles stand in your way.
When you embrace adversity, you learn things about yourself and what you’re truly made of. Even when you welcome it, struggling is never fun. But it teaches you that you are a strong, thick-skinned person. And the more obstacles you overcome, the greater confidence you’ll have in yourself to overcome more substantial ones in the future.
Certainly, some people are born with more natural confidence than others. But it’s also a learnable skill. You may not consider yourself a confident person, but you’re not a finished product. Just like any other skill, character and confidence can be built up through practice and reinforcement.
As you see yourself overcoming obstacles, you become more comfortable in those types of situations. Even if you weren’t born brimming with confidence, embracing the struggle is a way to show yourself that you do have it in you to succeed even in the face of adversity. Bit by bit, your character will fortify itself, and your confidence will grow.
Improve Performance Long-Term
If you are wholly focused on short-term performance and immediate gratification, then struggling may not benefit you very much. But research demonstrates that working through struggles without receiving assistance leads to improved performance when encountering similar problems in the future.
The researchers referred to this phenomenon as “productive failure.” The idea is that the very act of working through problems on your own—even if you fail—is more helpful and teaches you more than receiving assistance.
When you get stuck on a problem, and someone else fixes it for you, you’ll be able to move forward right away. But if you ever encounter that problem again, you’ll be in the exact same situation. You’ll need to rely on someone else yet again.
Struggling through these problems can be unpleasant, and it can result in more significant short-term setbacks. But it helps you improve your skill-set over the long-term, and lead to improved performance when you encounter similar obstacles in the future.
Expand Your Comfort Zone
Another key trait of successful people is the willingness to try new things. Comfort zones are so named for a reason: they are comfortable. But they also shelter us from the need to grow. When we remain set in our routines and don’t ever try new things, we don’t give ourselves the opportunity to improve.
Struggling ties into this in two different ways. First, those who are willing to embrace adversity will inherently be more willing to try new things. When you have a set routine, you know what works. Branching out means risk. It means the potential for unexpected failure. If you aren’t willing to take that risk, you aren’t going to deviate from your routine.
Beyond that, though, struggle has the ability to force us out of our comfort zone. If we are struggling in an unproductive way—our wheels are spinning out, and we’re not making any progress—we have no choice but to try something new.
Trying the same thing over and over and continuing to fail doesn’t get anyone anywhere. At a certain point, even if you’re apprehensive at the prospect of trying new things, you have to make a change.
The Key: Growth Mindset
One of the biggest themes running through nearly every aspect of this article is that of growth mindset. This is a simple yet potentially life-changing concept that many people are unfamiliar with.
Growth mindset is in contrast with fixed mindset. Fixed mindset is just what it sounds like: you believe your traits—both good and bad—are fixed, and will remain just as they are for the rest of your life. Most people with a fixed mindset don’t think about it in such certain terms. Rather, it’s just a given that exists subconsciously.
Growth mindset, on the other hand, means that you understand that you are never a finished product. You’re always capable of growth and improvement. It’s a subtle shift in outlook, but it can have immense effects. People with a fixed mindset look at failures as permanent defeats. If your weaknesses just are what they are, when you struggle, how are you supposed to overcome?
People with a growth mindset, on the other hand, view obstacles as opportunities. Failures represent a chance to grow. When you don’t know something, that doesn’t mean you’re inadequate; it’s simply a chance to learn. Work to adopt growth mindset, and the struggles in life will be much easier to manage.
How to Deal With the Struggles in Life
Even if you’re sold on the benefits of embracing the struggle, that doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy to do. Here are some key tips on how to deal with the struggles in life. They include:
- Change your mindset
- Be open-minded
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help
- Be optimistic
- Don’t compare yourself to others
- Practice gratitude
- Be present – even when it’s unpleasant
Let’s take a deeper look at each of these strategies now:
Change Your Mindset
Easier said than done, the first step is to work to reframe your perspective on adversity. There are no tricks here and no instant-fix. As long as you dread the idea of struggling, none of our other recommendations will make much of a difference.
Thankfully, your thoughts on the matter aren’t immutable. It may feel as if you have no control over your mindset, but that isn’t the case. While you can’t just choose to have a new perspective and have it take hold immediately, there are things you can do to influence yourself and cause that change to take hold over time.
The basic idea is to tell yourself you love struggle, until, eventually, it becomes true. Essentially you can will yourself, in time, to have the outlook you want. One of the most critical things to do is to focus not just on the what, but also the why. Remind yourself as often as you can of the reasons you want to embrace the struggle.
If you’re persistent, you’ll become more willing to put yourself out there and take risks. But being in the right mindset isn’t always enough in and of itself. You’ll still need some strategies in your toolbox for dealing with the struggle as it’s happening. Follow along for more.
Perhaps this seems overly simplistic. Breathing, after all, is something everyone does automatically at all times. But this automatic nature can actually play a role in amplifying stress rather than relieving it. Pay attention the next time you notice yourself feeling overwhelmed in the face of a challenge. Your breathing automatically becomes quicker and more shallow.
Breathing is intrinsically connected to a lot of physiological responses, including our body’s natural stress response. When you’re dealing with struggles, sometimes the most effective thing you can do is the simplest. Control your breathing by taking slow, deep breaths.
That will play a big role in helping you calm down and focus, putting you in a position to be consciously aware and perform at your best. Sometimes, simply taking a few deep breaths will do the trick. But there are several more advanced breathing techniques that you can learn to utilize as well.
It’s natural to have a set idea of who you are and how you’d like your life to go. Even people who embrace the grind can often be determined to do things their own way at all costs. But closing yourself off to new ideas is a quick way to turn opportunities for growth into something entirely unproductive.
Struggling is both a teacher and a tool. You can learn from it, and use it to grow. But it is not necessarily a virtue in and of itself. When you face adversity but stubbornly cling to the same approach, you’re merely struggling for struggling’s sake. It is only valuable when you observe and apply the lessons at hand.
Further, it’s essential to be open-minded when it comes to the feedback of others. Sometimes there are valuable lessons to be found in criticism just as there are in failures. It’s a natural reflex to take all criticism negatively, or personally. But that’s a fixed-mindset perspective.
To gain the greatest possible advantage from your struggles, successful people look for the bright side of any criticism. Some are indeed simply mean-spirited and unproductive; move past such words without paying them any mind. But much criticism can be constructive in nature; if you stay open-minded, you can learn some invaluable lessons in this way.
Don’t Be Afraid to Ask for Help
Yes, we’ve referred to research that shows it creates better long-term performance to work through individual problems than it is to have other people fix them for you. But that isn’t to say you shouldn’t ever rely on other people.
Yes, asking other people to solve your problems for you isn’t typically beneficial over time. But leaning on your support network isn’t the same as asking them to fix everything on your behalf. The fact is, no one can get through life alone. Your friends and family are more than willing to support you, but it’s up to you to ask.
No matter your mindset, struggling wears on anyone. The strongest people you know still rely on their support network, even if you don’t always see it. Solving your problems on your own is admirable, it’s true. But to do so, you need to take care of yourself and keep your battery charged. And there is no shame whatsoever in relying on other people in order to do so.
Here’s a strategy that is intrinsically linked with changing your mindset, but takes the concept in a different direction. Training your mind to have an optimistic view and look on the bright side as often as possible can play a significant role in making the struggles in life seem much more manageable.
It’s natural to take a pessimistic view of your situation when you’re experiencing adversity. Failure, pain, and frustration are all definitionally negative things. But that doesn’t mean life is a negative thing.
Much like with training your mind to embrace the struggle, teaching yourself to be optimistic is all about faking it until you make it. It takes work to find the bright side of things when that isn’t what your default perspective has been. But if you make yourself find the good in your situation often enough, eventually you will start to do so automatically.
Life is a blessing, even if it often doesn’t feel that way. Even in the face of adversity, there is always a reason for optimism. And when you frame life in this way, it becomes significantly easier to work through your struggles.
There is a fundamental connection between physical and mental health, one the extent of which many people often underestimate. Many people in the midst of struggles may turn to things like smoking, drinking alcohol, or overeating.
While such things may make you feel better in the moment, it ultimately reinforces the stress caused by your struggles, making things worse long term. Adversity may make it more difficult to prioritize your physical health, but it also means your health is more important than ever.
It’s not necessary to make drastic, sweeping changes to your routine. Doing so can, in fact, be counterproductive. If you set unrealistic goals, you are likely to fall short of them, and that may be discouraging and cause you to abandon your efforts altogether. Indeed, it’s imperative to set small, achievable goals. The difference can really add up!
If you’ve never been a fitness buff, never fear. Even something as simple as taking short, regular walks can improve your health and, in turn, your state of mind. Daily movement and physical activity, on any level, can help boost your mood and leave you better positioned to handle struggles.
Don’t Compare Yourself to Others
It’s natural to compare your life to other people. Some of your peers have already reached their peak, why haven’t you? The fact is, everybody’s life goes at their own pace. Comparing yourself to others is a recipe for bitterness. There will always be people more successful than you.
There will also always be someone struggling even more than you as well. As natural as it is, gauging your life in comparison to the lives of others serves no productive purpose. Your life is yours and yours alone. Becoming bitter because someone else has it better than you can be quite harmful. Becoming vain because others have less than you is even worse.
Empathize with others. Ask them for help when you need to. But don’t compare your life with theirs. The best way to deal with your struggles is to focus on your own life. Understand that you’re on your own journey, and your timeline will be different from other people.
Being in a different place on your journey does not equate to being “better” or “worse.” It is just different. Focus on controlling what you can control, and that will make the struggles you encounter on your journey feel much more manageable.
Practicing gratitude ties into the process of being optimistic. Once you’ve accomplished something or had something positive break in your favor it’s easy to put it in the past and move forward. Many people have a tendency to dwell on negative things that happen to them but not on the positive.
But it’s essential to practice gratitude, though, and take some time to focus on and appreciate the positive things in your life. One of the best ways to cement this process is to keep a gratitude journal. Each night, take a moment to jot down some good things that happened to you during the day. Those could be big-picture accomplishments, or something as small as hearing a favorite song of yours on the radio.
It’s a small practice, but it can have a tremendous effect on your resilience and overall life outlook. When you accomplish something significant, take some extra time and celebrate it. Reflect on the time and effort you invested, and the obstacles you overcame in pursuit of that goal.
At the same time, though, it’s important not to dwell too long on any one accomplishment, less you become complacent. Celebrate yourself and appreciate all you did along the way. But then, set a new goal for yourself to pursue.
Be Present – Even When It’s Unpleasant
Finally, it’s important not to hide from the feelings you experience during your struggle. There will be plenty of lows. Adversity is uncomfortable. Failure hurts. But you’ll come out stronger if you are present in the moment, and feel these feelings fully and truthfully.
The benefits of being present are innumerable, but we’ll list a few here. Most directly, when you attempt to hide from pain and frustration, all you really do is numb your feelings. You don’t actually avoid the negative experience, but you do deny yourself the opportunity to benefit from it. It’s only when you experience these feelings honestly that you build character and toughness.
When you don’t hide from the moment, you’re able to focus and perform at your best under challenging circumstances. By being present, you’re able to tackle your struggles head-on. You dictate the way you respond to adversity, rather than being reactive and letting your challenges control you.
And last but not least, being present during challenging times allows you to experience your positive emotions in a fuller, healthier way as well. Negative emotions truly give our happiness meaning. They are two sides of a coin; take either side away, and the very coin itself wouldn’t be able to exist. Being present in the moment helps you overcome your struggles, but it also leads to a fuller life.
The Bottom Line
It’s natural to view the struggles in life as a wholly negative thing. But the secret to success isn’t avoiding struggles, but embracing them. Failure can be a teacher, and adversity a tool for growth. By adopting a growth mindset, you can harness your struggles to transform your life in a positive way. Just keep your toolbox full of strategies for coping with adversity, and each setback you experience will instead become an opportunity.