M is for Moving From Mourning To Mobilising To Making Your Best Contribution  


There are many models for overcoming setbacks. Some people go through the stages of shock, denial, anger, hurt and healing. They then get new strength, set goals, work hard, achieve success and gain self-confidence.

Individuals who suffer a setback often need to spend time in their chosen sanctuary. They may rest, sleep, write, listen to music, see a counsellor or whatever.

Sanctuaries are great. But there comes a time when a person needs to move on, otherwise the muscles atrophy. Focusing on what they can control, they can start shaping their future. They can set specific goals, apply themselves and get a success.

Different people experience different feelings when working through this process. They may go through the stages of mourning, mobilising their energy and then making their best contribution.

The events of 2016 led many people to go through these stages. Shocked by elections in Europe and the USA, many experienced a sense of sadness. Slowly regaining composure, they began to look ahead. Many then focused on how they could use their strengths to plant seeds of hope in the world.

Looking back, can you think of a situation when you went through these stages? You may have spent time mourning but then mobilised your energy. Moving forward, you aimed to make your best contribution in your personal or professional life.

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the past when you went through the stages of mourning, mobilising and making your best contribution.

Describe the specific things you did to go through these stages.

Describe the specific things that happened as a result of going through these stages.





Different people respond in different ways to deeply painful events. Some experience grief and suffering. Some feel a loss of control. They feel there is little they can do to get their lives back on track.

Some experience a sense of sorrow. Such deep pain can be sparked in different ways. It may involve, for example:

Sorrow for what has been lost. 

Sorrow for what might have been.

Whatever emotions a person feels, these can lead to a period of mourning. Each person will go through this process in their own way.

George Bonnano has devoted much of his professional life to the scientific study of grief. He describes some of the strategies that people use to deal with bereavement in his book The Other Side Of Sadness.


George also studied people who had experienced trauma, the attack on the Twin Towers and atrocities. His findings are illuminating, but some will find them challenging. He found that, over a period of two years, these people showed the following characteristics.


The majority of people, up to 65%, showed resilience in the face of such events. They were affected by the experience, of course, but it did not change their life trajectory. They seemed able to move on from the experience within several months.


Up to 25% of the people recovered after a reasonable time. During this time they might experience lows, but eventually they recovered and were able to get on with life.

Chronic Grief or Dysfunction

Up to 15% of the people, however, found the experience debilitating over a much longer period. Some fell into a state of chronic grief. Others showed other forms of dysfunction.


George found little evidence that people went through the stages outlined by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross. These are Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression and Acceptance.

Whilst this model has helped many people, Elisabeth studied people who knew they were dying, rather those in other situations. George reports that some people feel relieved when told it was okay to not necessarily to go through these stages.

Some people veered between sadness and more hopeful feelings. They had deep lows, but sometimes they might laugh and enjoy aspects of life. Such spikes were natural.

Every person was different. It was vital to respect their individual way of dealing with grief because:

There is no standard way of grieving.

George says that it is possible to learn from people who show resilience. We can then pass on knowledge and tools that others can use to deal with grief. He says that such people often show the following characteristics.

Context Sensitivity

They are able to see the difficult event in context and put things in perspective. They ask questions like: “What is actually happening? What do I need to do?”


They have a repertoire of skills for dealing with painful challenges. They ask questions like: “What are the strategies I can follow to deal with the situation? Which strategies do I want to pursue?”


They try different strategies and are good at reading reality to see which work. They ask questions like: “What is working? What is not working? What can I do to build on what is working and find solutions to what isn’t?”

George says that treatment programme focus on the extremes, such as people who are deeply disturbed. It is then widely assumed that these methods apply to everybody.

Many people recover from grief in their own way. At the same time, however, we can all benefit from learning tools for charting our personal journeys.


George also says something that sounds counter intuitive: sadness can help us to deal with the situation. When we are sad we turn inwards.

We slow down. Our heartbeat gets slower. We pay more attention to things in a more accurate way. This enables us to focus on what is important when making decisions.

Our states of sadness come and go. Sometimes we have other emotions, such as laughter and positivity. We cannot stay sad for months on end, otherwise our system cannot cope. That can lead to chronic depression.

George’s work tells us a lot about how people manage after encountering trauma, bereavement and other painful experiences. After a period of mourning, however, people often move on to the next step.


During the past 50 years I have worked with some individuals who have experienced grief and fallen into depression. One of the hardest parts is for them to mobilise their energy and start moving again. Here to make this happen?

The first step is a psychological one that only they can take. They choose to focus on what they can control rather than what they can’t control. They then follow positive habits in their life and work.

They start by doing things that
give them positive energy

Energy is life. So it is important for people to do the things that give them positive energy. Sometimes this can involve them doing simple things, such as listening to their favourite music, cooking nourishing food, walking in the forest or whatever.

Sometimes this can go deeper. It involves them rediscovering the things that give them joy. Here are some of the answers that people mention when exploring these themes.

Positive Energy

The things that give me positive energy
in my personal or professional life are:

Being with our children … Gardening … Listening to the sound of our waterfall … Singing in the choir … Taking walks by myself … Playing the guitar … Cooking for our family … Caring for our horse … Doing exciting projects at work … Sleeping deeply.

They can then focus on doing more of these things. One person explained their approach to nurturing such positive habits.

“Nowadays I spend more time with encouragers. They help me to feel more real, more myself.

“Music lifts my soul. So now I start the day with upbeat music, rather than listening to bad news on the radio.

“I also returned to playing guitar and performing with a band. We are all middle-aged now, but it is fun to do the occasional gig. I have also started recording my own songs.

“A few years ago I became so depressed that I made Eeyore look cheerful. Now I focus on doing what I can to encourage people around me.”

People can choose what they focus on in life. They can focus on positive things or negative things, solutions or problems, hope or hate.

Sometimes this calls for having a practical mechanism for ‘changing channel’ when bombarded by bad news. The mainstream media, for example, wants to scare people and make them feel helpless.

Healthy people stay sane by developing personal rituals for switching to the creative solutions channel, however, when hearing others complaining. They find ways to channel their energy into doing positive things, rather than being paralysed by problems.

They follow a daily schedule and do
things that give them satisfaction

People often grow by developing good habits. One approach is to take control by setting up a daily schedule and building in activities that will give them a sense of satisfaction.

This approach is recommended, for example, by self-help groups of people suffering from bi-polar disorder. Here is an example from one website.


Develop a daily routine 

Your lifestyle choices, including your sleeping, eating, and exercise patterns, have a significant impact on your moods.

There are many things you can do in your daily life to get your symptoms under control and to keep depression and mania at bay.

Build structure into your life

Developing and sticking to a daily schedule can help stabilize the mood swings of bipolar disorder.

Include set times for sleeping, eating, socializing, exercising, working, and relaxing.

Try to maintain a regular pattern of activity, even through emotional ups and downs.

Exercise regularly

Exercise has a beneficial impact on mood and may reduce the number of bipolar episodes you experience. Aerobic exercise is especially effective at treating depression.  

Try to incorporate at least 30 minutes of activity five times a week into your routine. Walking is a good choice for people of all fitness levels.

Learn how to relax

Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, meditation, yoga, and guided imagery can be very effective at reducing stress and keeping you on an even keel.

A daily relaxation practice of 30 minutes or more can improve your mood and keep depression at bay.

Make leisure time a priority

Do things for no other reason than that it feels good to do them. Go to a funny movie, take a walk on the beach, listen to music, read a good book, or talk to a friend. 

Doing things just because they are fun is no indulgence. Play is an emotional and mental health necessity. 

Appeal to your senses 

Stay calm and energised by appealing to your senses: sight, sound, touch, smell, and taste.

Listen to music that lifts your mood, place flowers where you will see and smell them, massage your hands and feet, or sip a warm drink.

They find something to serve
that is greater than themselves

People sometimes gain strength by choosing to serve something greater than themselves. A person may start by aiming to care for their loved ones. They may also choose:

To serve a spiritual faith, a set of values or a philosophy

To serve a purpose, a mission or a cause

To serve a vocation, a creative drive or a project

Doing what they believe can help them to forget themselves. They feel alive and able to give to other people. Here are some examples.

A spiritual follower may serve their faith … A nurse may be dedicated to helping people regain their health … A medical scientist may aim to find a breakthrough cure … A counsellor may serve the cause of helping people to manage problems successfully. 

An artist may serve their art … A singer may serve the songs they sing … An architect may serve their calling to make beautiful buildings … An environmentalist may make TV films that encourage people to appreciate the beauty of the Earth.

Making their
best contribution

Imagine that a person has emerged from mourning and begun mobilising their energy. Building on what they believe in, they may then focus on how to make their best contribution. Different people take this step in different ways.

Some focus on how they want to encourage people in their daily lives and work.

Some ask similar questions to those asked by Buckminster Fuller when he was drifting in life. He asked:

“What is my job on the planet? What is it that needs doing, that I know something about, that probably won’t happen unless I take responsibility for it?”   

Some aim to build on their strengths and do satisfying work that helps other people. 

Imagine that a person wants to follow this latter route. They can ask the following questions to clarify their best contribution.

What are my strengths? What are the deeply satisfying activities in which I deliver As rather than Bs or Cs?

Who are the kinds of people with whom I work best? What are the characteristics of these people?  

What are the challenges these people face and what are their goals? How can I use my strengths to help them to achieve success? 

Each person will choose their own path in response to these questions. They may use their skills to raise money for a specific cause. They may become a teacher who helps students to shape their futures. They may use their artistic talent to help people enjoy uplifting experiences.

They may become a social entrepreneur who improves the quality of people’s lives. They may become a trusted advisor who passes on knowledge that helps people succeed. Whichever route they choose, they may do the following exercise.





There are many models for recovering from setbacks. One approach is to go through the stages of mourning, mobilising your energy and making your best contribution.

Looking ahead, can you think of a situation when you may aim to go through these stages? You may experience a loss, be faced by a challenging dilemma or feel depressed because of events beyond your control.

What can you do in such a situation? How can you deal with the sorrow? How can you nurture your positive spirit? How can then do something that is satisfying and helps other people?

If you wish, try tackling the exercise on this theme. This invites you to do the following things.

Describe a specific situation in the future when you may want to go through the stages of mourning, mobilising and making your best contribution.

Describe the specific things you can do to go through these stages. 

Describe the specific things that may happen as a result of going through these stages.




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