Select Page

How Do You Respond to Your Circumstances?

Circumstance: a fact or event that must be considered with another fact or event; the surrounding conditions

How do you see your circumstances?

  • Do you let them control you and hinder your progress?
  • Do you see your circumstances as something to work with as you move forward?

Stuff gets in the way of our progress, goals, and desires. What’s my point? ALL of us have that stuff.

The way we react and respond to our circumstances is the measure of ourselves as individuals.

I have been guilty of holding a private pity party during past circumstances. I have let circumstances influence my decisions and hold me down. How does self-pity improve a situation? It doesn’t..

Throughout history, great accomplishments have been achieved in spite of circumstances. If everything were easy to do, we wouldn’t use “great” and “accomplishment” together to describe a situation. Great accomplishments are so named because of the intensity of the circumstances and the ability of the individual to overcome them.

Would the following events be important to the world today if the circumstances had been altered?

Suppose . . .

  • David had fought the Pipsqueak, not Goliath?
  • Sir Edmond Hillary had hiked up Mt. Everest easily, with his whole family along for the outing?
  • All Dr. Martin Luther King’s concerns about segregation were addressed immediately by everyone, without suffering or struggle?
  • Wilber and Orville Wright had quit flying following their first failed flight?

Real success seems reserved for those who move forward to their objective, in spite of very challenging circumstances. If that is true, we must take a closer look at our response to circumstances, rather than just the circumstances themselves.

In the book Good to Great, research identified that the most successful companies and leaders did not deny their circumstances. In fact, they were brutally honest about their situation. With truth on the table, they sought the steps they needed to get where they wanted to go. They did not defer to their circumstances or wallow in their conditions.

The way you think and respond to your circumstances is EVERYTHING!

There are three categories to consider when responding to circumstances

  1. Time: Will this circumstance be with me forever or just for today?
  2. Extent: How far-reaching is this circumstance? Is it limited to this event or will it affect other parts of my life?
  3. Ownership: Who is at fault here or who can take credit for these events?

In his book Learned Optimism, Dr. Martin Seligman conducted a 25-year study of successful individuals. He researched the language, thoughts, and responses of individuals to various circumstances. Seligman proved that the way you respond to both positive and negative events is a predictor—yes, a predictor—of your success in life.

Let me explain. When someone says the word “circumstances,” do you think of positive or negative circumstances? Most will think “negative.” Dr. Seligman’s research proved that the way you respond to positive circumstances influences your success level as much as your responses to negative circumstances. Here’s how that works.

  • How do you respond when something positive occurs in your life? Do you embrace it and own your success or discount it and make statements like this?
    1. Oh, I was just lucky.
    2. That usually never happens to me.
    3. I can’t take credit for this success.
  • How do you respond when something negative happens in your life? Do you use any of the following statements?
    1. I never have any luck.
    2. That always happens to me.
    3. I’m insecure and I’m not smart enough to succeed.

Can you relate to any of the above responses? Each takes a pessimistic view of the circumstance. Do you know someone who usually responds to circumstances in a pessimistic way? Is that person energized and full of life or does he or she usually feel drained and depressed? We all know the answer to that question. If our responses highly influence our success and fulfillment in life, why do so many people take the low road? It may be that they simply don’t understand their responses are creating their reality or they don’t know they have a choice.

  • Circumstances happen to all of us—that’s a given.
  • How we think and respond to circumstances is our choice.

Here’s an interesting twist: Optimistic individuals respond to positive and negative circumstances in the opposite way from pessimistic people.

The Pessimist

Response to a negative event:

It is my fault. This will go on forever and taint the events in the rest of my life.

Response to a positive event:

This success will be short-lived or temporary. It applies to this event only. Other people or outside forces caused this circumstance.

The Optimist

Response to a negative event:

It’s not my fault. This situation is short-lived and applies only to this specific event.

Response to a positive event:

This success will be ongoing. It is reflective of the positive situations that are happening in my whole life. I take ownership or credit for this success.

A major caution!

This does not give people license to refuse to take responsibility for the negative events they create, such as a drunk driver who hurts someone, an engineer whose miscalculation results in a structural failure, or an accountant who misrepresents the truth in accounting practices, which results in fraud. Those outcomes cannot be classified as optimistic responses to circumstances; they are character and integrity issues.

How do you respond to your circumstances?

Do you own your successes and limit your failures? Or do you limit your successes and blame yourself for your failures? To help you understand the way you frame events and circumstances in your life, I recommend a couple of resources.

Remember: No matter the circumstance, you always have a choice about the way you will respond. It might not seem easy at the beginning, but the results will be worth it.

It is the way we react to circumstances that determines our feelings.

Dale Carnegie

Action Steps

How Do You Respond to Your Circumstances?

  1. It’s not what happens to you but how you respond to your circumstances that makes the big difference.
  2. Blaming others for your circumstances has no productive value. Do you blame others? Do you ever hold a pity party? How will that help improve your circumstances?
  3. The way you respond to positive circumstances is as important in your life as the way you respond to negative circumstances.
  4. Do you take responsibility for the way you respond to both positive and negative circumstances?
  5. When something positive happens, a successful person projects the victory into the future, takes ownership of the success, and transfers it to other areas of his or her life. Think about how you react to positive events. What do you do?
  6. When something negative occurs, a successful individual sees it as a one-off event, specific only to that circumstance. He or she does not count it as a personal achievement. Think about how you react to negative events. What do you do?
  7. Based on your responses, start training yourself to respond in a more optimistic way. (Sorry if you were thinking that your circumstances had little to do with your responses.)
  8. Take the PSI and VPI to help determine the way you respond to given situations and to identify ways to improve.
  9. Your circumstances don’t control you. Your future is influenced by your reaction to your circumstances.
  10. Remember: Whatever your current condition, you can turn it into a positive experience. After all, it’s your choice.

Until next time, keep Living On Purpose!.


Ken Keis

Coming soon new Wellness eCourse!

Dying To Live: Breakthrough Stress Reduction & Wellness Strategies

A full online learning experience and ecourse will be launched soon based on the Stress Indicator & Health Planner. This is based on our half day live workshop converted to the online format just for you.