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Acknowledge, improvise, adapt, and overcome. The Marines’ slogan is “Improvise, adapt, and overcome.” I add”Acknowledge” because it is implied in improvisation; if you’re going to improvise, you must first recognize what it is you are improvising in response to. This is an exercise in mindfulness.

Standing up in the face of adversity is a skill set that can be learned. There can be so many distractions though; don’t ignore them. Manage them. Leverage them.

Acknowledge, but don’t dwell

To acknowledge your circumstances does not mean to over-analyze it, get on the pity-pot about it, or dwell on how unfair life is, etc. It simply means that you should have a basic idea of your situation, minus any extra judgments. Then, begin to adapt your thoughts, words, and actions in a way that maximizes your probability of success in getting where you want or need to be. If you are not sure where to start, begin by asking somebody for help. This can be a friend, teacher, counselor etc. Quite often, the realization that you can ask for help is enough to get the proverbial ball rolling in your favor.

Adapt – changes that help

The biological definition of “Adaptation” is “a change or the process of change by which an organism or species becomes better suited to its environment.”

Now we are far more complex than a single celled organism, for example, so we can use mindfulness to consciously adapt rather than waiting for natural selection to shape things over a few million years. But the idea is the same: change in a way that better suits your needs, circumstances, or environment.

For example, when I was in graduate school, I was working on the final stages of my thesis . . . when out of nowhere, my hard drive crashed and I lost 2/3 of my paper. Gone. Could not retrieve it. I still do not know what happened. Either way, I had about a week to rewrite what had taken me months to write.

I had a few options:

  1. Freak out and hastily throw something together and likely not do very well.
  2. Talk to my adviser to see if I could get some extra time
  3. Quit graduate school and go home
  4. I had no idea what my 4th option was at the time

In this situation, freaking out would clearly not help my circumstances at all (although there were a few minutes of sheer panic). I wasn’t sure I wanted to bring this to my adviser without first trying to solve it myself, and I knew that I was not going to quit and go home. So, I was left with an unknown option.

To adapt, I had to acknowledge my circumstance, horrid as it was so that I could plan accordingly. Once I acknowledged that this situation sucked, I was able to move on. Dropping the panic and self-pity freed me up to look at what I still had:

  1. 1/3 of my paper, fortunately, the most difficult part to write for me
  2. My results and data
  3. My memory of conclusions I had drawn etc.
  4. And most important, my hand-written outline of that entire paper

I took a break to eat and call a friend in the program to vent a little. Then, I sat down with my outline and started typing where my paper now ended. Since I had already created all of this, it was much easier to write it a 2nd time. This helped. My adaptation then moved to breaking down the rewrite into planned blocks of time. I’d be burning the midnight oil, but I would get it done. In the end, I was able to shave off about 15 pages (which helped my grade immensely), improve the quality of my writing, and come up with some new conclusions that took my work to a new level. I was a bit sleep deprived and cranky, but I adapted to what at first seemed like an impossible situation.

The most important part was regaining a calm state of mind so that I could assess what tools I DID have, rather than focusing on what I had lost.

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