The five things to ask when things go wrong

Rebel Business School’s co-founder Simon Paine has suffered and overcome his fair share of adversity, from collapsed businesses to post-traumatic stress disorder. Here he explains his winning methods for dealing with disappointment and broken dreams

Most of us have experienced some big disappointments and setbacks recently, I had a few. When the pandemic hit the UK, my events company lost over £250,000 in a few days. We thought about quitting, everything seemed to be lost. But instead, we started over, rethought everything and, earlier this year, The Rebel Business School won a Queen’s Award for Promoting Opportunity.

I’ve had my own personal battles, too. I’ve suffered post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) as a result of my work as a policeman. In fact, it used to take me months to bounce back when everything went wrong. Broken dreams can be debilitating, they can haunt you. At their worst, they can start a downward spiral.

Today, I’m a very different person. Now, when things go wrong, I can recover in hours, or even minutes. I’ve even got over England’s penalty shoot-out.

The key is to understand you can’t control events, but you can decide how you think about them. If you take control of your thoughts, this will determine how you feel. I take control of my thoughts by asking a series of questions, here are my top five.

1 What can be learned?
When things go wrong, ask yourself: ‘What can I learn from this experience?’ Let’s admit we could have done better and can look for ways to improve our performance. Or sometimes, we just got something wrong or believed in an approach or strategy that just wasn’t right. Similarly, you can also ask: ‘What was this experience designed to teach me’. This question might seem the same as the first, but it’s slightly different. Allow yourself to believe that what has just happened was meant to be and within it there was a very important lesson designed for you. Madness is repeating the same mistakes and expecting a different result. So ask what can be learned and look to do things differently next time.

2 Focus on the things you can control
Life throws many surprises at us and so many of them are completely beyond our control. We can’t control events, only our reactions to them. When the pandemic and lockdown restrictions stopped our business from operating, there was no point complaining about it. We just had to see it as an opportunity to do something different. The pandemic and the government’s response was beyond our control but we could decide how we were going to respond. So we focused on things we could do and found a way to turn negatives into positives.

3 How would a guru react to this?
This is a great thought experiment. Ask yourself: ‘how would my guru, hero or role model deal with this disappointment?’ It’s hard to imagine Gandhi quitting or Tony Robbins sulking in his room. Greta Thunberg has suffered plenty of knocks in life, but she keeps on coming. These people are human too, they’re just flesh and blood like you and me. So take a leaf from out of their books.

4 What am I grateful for?
This is my rescue question. When I find my head spinning I think of the many, many things I am grateful for. The most fundamental of which is life itself. Knowing that somehow we are on a lump of molten rock hurtling through space at more than 66,000 miles per hour is remarkable in itself. It always makes me smile.

5 How can I help others?
How can I lead others through this? Instead of thinking about myself, I ask this question: who can I help? When lockdown restrictions made business impossible, we launched free live online events to support our network. The energy we got back, the feel good factor and the sense we were doing good helped us to overcome our own struggles. Helping others really is one of the most important things to do in order to deal with your own problems.

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