By: Darlene Mininni

Have you ever had a tough time in your life? Of course you have.

Even if you’ve done everything right—been a good person, got good grades in school—stuff happens: illness, heartbreak, financial downturn. It’s what Jon Kabat-Zinn calls Full Catastrophe Living—the realization that with life’s richness comes its inevitable dilemmas and ironies.

The question is not how do you stop these events. In most cases, you can’t. Instead, the higher question is what will you do once these events arrive so you can successfully move forward.

That means the choices you make during challenging times are where you get your power. You’re choosing your direction. And even unremarkable decisions can hold the key to your well-being.

In my work with clients, I’ve found the most powerful decisions are often the ones uncovered by the simplest of questions.

Three Simple Questions to Ask Yourself When You Want to Move Forward

1. What’s your Intention?

When hard times come your way—whether it’s a career problem or a health issue—the first step is to make a decision on how you want to react to it. That doesn’t mean you stuff your unhappy feelings. It means you set a vision for how you want to face your situation. Your decision might be “I’ll figure this out” or “I’ll just take it one day at a time.” Notice there’s no mention of how you’ll do that. You might not know. That’s okay. Simply start with your intention and create the groundwork for what’s to follow.

Ask Yourself: How do I intend to face this situation?

2. What Can You Learn from This?

Life’s hard times can either make you better or bitter. You get to choose. If you picked better, one way to do that is to find some nugget of wisdom in your situation—no matter how small—that can teach you something useful. Let’s say you’ve just had a break-up. Reciting “all guys are jerks” is not a lesson learned. On the other hand, “I’ve learned that I’m happiest with guys who respect me” is a lesson that can help you move forward. Sometimes your lessons don’t show up right away, but if you keep looking, you’ll find them.

Ask Yourself: What lessons can I learn from this situation that will make my life better?

3. Whom Do You Want to Be because of This?

Adversity can change you for the better, if you let it. Research shows that people often become stronger, wiser, and more connected with others after a difficult experience. How do you want to grow as a person because of your struggle? Maybe you want to be more adventurous in your work since being laid off or take better care of yourself after your health challenges. Think about the person you want to be as a result of your circumstances.

Ask Yourself: What qualities do I want to develop in myself because of my situation?

Sometimes you can move forward in life, not by having all the right answers, but by having all the right questions. What are your questions?

Dr. Darlene Mininni is a regular contributor at Intent Blog and author of The Emotional Toolkit and creator of UCLA’s undergraduate happiness class LifeSkills. Her work has been featured on CNN, PBS, NPR, WebMD, Marie Claire, SELF, and Prevention. She privately coaches women on practical ways to boost their happiness and well-being. For more information, visit her on Facebook.

*Photo by Jonathan Kos-Read.