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Clarity, Purpose & Vision

“What stands in the way becomes the way” – Marcus Aurelius I think about this idea quite often in my day-to-day life, and its sentiment is universal. It means that adversity, hardship, and obstacles, rather than a hard time we have to deal with, become new avenues for growth and change. Adversity and difficult times are some of life’s staples: they happen to everyone, and even the most resilient person will find themselves faced with an obstacle that stops them in their tracks, it’s inevitable. But I have a few questions for you:
  • Without fear, how do we practice courage?
  • Without encountering hardship, how do we know if we’re growing?
  • Without distractions, how do we hone our focus?
We’ve talked in detail over the last few months about cognitive restructuring, or, taking a situation and reframing it in our minds. Adversity, just like making mistakes, are no different — it’s easy to fall into the trap of feeling like stress, adversity, or rejection are hard times meant to be overcome, meant to be reduced at all costs. In today’s blog, I’m going to propose an alternative to this unhelpful mindset: instead of thinking of these times as some of the worst, meant to be avoided, I encourage you to think of these times as some of the most powerful catalysts for growth.

What is adversity?

Before we can solve the problem, we need to recognize it for what it is. While everyone’s journey is unique as to the types of challenges life throws at us, adversity can best be thought of a hardship, difficulty, or misfortune, often unexpected. It comes from the Latin root adversus roughly meaning “hostile” or “against”. The word adversary meaning “enemy” comes from the same root. Okay, great, that’s the rote definition. But what does adversity mean to us in today’s world, where the challenges we face may not be as clear cut? Modern discourse generally thinks of adversity as not only something that happens, but a psychological phenomenon that has different mental health implications, and different strategies for solving them.

These different types of adversity include:

  • Emotional adversity: We are naturally emotional as human beings, and every corner of the spectrum of emotions has something to offer us. But when negative emotions overwhelm our lives, such as regret over a past mistake, or anger towards a loved one, they leave us feeling like we no longer are in control.
  • Physical adversity: Sickness, injury, or just generally not feeling our best fall into the category of physical adversity. Everybody (and therefore, every body) has been struck with an unexpected health issue, and if they are particularly debilitating, they interfere with our ability to take care of ourselves, and our lives.
  • Social adversity: Maybe you’ve had a falling out with a friend, fighting with your partner, or struggling with feelings of loneliness. Social adversity can be on of the more difficult types of hardship to overcome since it relies on our relationships with other people. We cannot control other people, but we can control our actions, set boundaries, and think of ways to foster more positive relationships forged around mutual respect and acceptance.
  • Financial adversity: Any situation that makes it more difficult to pay for your basic needs such as job loss, unforeseen expenses, or growing debts fall under the financial adversity category.
  • Mental adversity: A mental health condition that impacts your daily functioning such as depression, anxiety, low self-esteem or coping with past traumatic experiences are termed as mental adversities, and they’re far more common than most people realize.
The solution to whichever of the types of adversity you may struggle with varies, but the common denominator for each starts with the same principles of handling stress in general: remaining calm, taking a deep breath, and recognizing your worth. I’ll talk in more detail about the specifics, but for now, I want you to realize that the first step to overcome adversity starts with a shift in mindset.

How does adversity relate to success?

Life’s challenges often appear just when things are starting to look good. Right when we reach the top, we encounter an unexpected obstacle that threatens to knock us off of our balance. Suddenly, we worry about the future, our heart rate increases, we reflect on the worst, and we feel like our destinies are no longer in our control. First off, take a deep breath. Second, remember that you are more than one bad day, mistake, or rejection. These difficult times are some of the best, and oftentimes, our only opportunities to learn valuable life lessons and put into practice all of the wonderful self confidence and self acceptance techniques we’ve worked so hard on. These include resilience, adaptability, deep breathing, problem-solving, and reframing. Some of the most successful leaders in our world have, above all, one thing in common — rather than giving into our natural tendency to avoid risk and failure at all costs, rather, successful leaders learn to embrace them. Growth and success are very rarely made when things are going perfectly; think about it. When things were going smoothly, did you grow? When you were already in the zone, did you ever stop to wonder how your skills could improve even more? Adversity comes in many forms, but instead of dreading the inevitable, the secret to success is to welcome these hard times as just some of life’s tests of our inner strength and perseverance. We come out of these situations stronger, more focused, and a greater sense of clarity. To meet life’s challenges head on is to grow, and I firmly believe that every single one of you reading this post is capable of overcoming hardship no matter when it strikes.

How do I overcome adversity?

Overcoming adversity and moving forward look different to every person; for example, you may be struggling with a temporary problem at work, while another person is struggling with persistent stress outside of work. But the key to dealing with any difficult situation or unfortunate moment is to not only identify the kind of problem you’re facing, but also put your techniques for reducing self doubt and stress into practice. If we stop and take minute to center our mindset, we’re already ten steps ahead.

1. Define the problem.

Define the exact problem you’re facing, and be as specific as possible. Try to shift any notions of blame (whether blaming yourself or blaming others), shame or self criticism out of the equation. For example instead of: “I’m upset about something that happened to me at work, this must be a sign that I’m not meant to be here.” Try: “I’m feeling insecure about my place in the team because of what happened, and I don’t know how to fix it.” Already we’ve gotten more specific, and being specific matters. We get to the root of what exactly it is that is stressing us out, and get closer to the truth. Rarely do the negative thoughts that resonate in the brain truly reflect what happened, and every problem has a solution. The only way we can get to that solution is to think about the issue rationally, give ourselves grace, and recognize that one moment does not define us.

2. Change your mindset on the situation.

Our thoughts are extremely powerful, and they shape our reality. As in my last blog posts about self-fulfilling prophecy, if we believe a situation is bigger than it is, it has a way of inflating and occurring again. Visualization, positive self-talk, and even just taking a half hour to write down your feelings on the issue are all healthy ways of shifting your perspective from that of helplessness to that of power. Fostering a positive mindset is a skill, and adversity offers an opportunity to practice that skill.

3. Think of concrete solutions.

Now that we’ve calmed that little voice of self doubt, we can look at the situation with realistic eyes. Oftentimes, we come back to the moment realizing we were making a mountain out of a molehill. If on the other hand, this process has led you to recognize the problem is very real or you’ve actually made a mistake, then your next step is to give yourself kudos for building self-awareness, practice self-acceptance by forgiving yourself, and thinking up a solution. Is this problem something you can fix through a single action, such as an apology? Or is the solution a more long-term process like say, you had an unexpected financial cost thrown at you? No matter what kind of solution the issue requires, the process of coming to that solution is one that teaches us resilience, allows us to recognize when we’ve made mistakes, and keeps us confident in our ability to remain an active participant in our destinies.

4. Reflect and forgive.

Once you’re out of the weeds, it’s very important to reflect on the situation in a non-judgmental headspace. Self-reflection is not a process of going back and thinking of “what-ifs,” but rather, it’s a debrief we have with ourselves to see what went right, what lessons were learned, how this situation can propel us forward, and above all, forgiving ourselves. Focusing on our role, if any, we had in creating a past adverse moment get us no where. Engage your support system which could include trusted friends or family members, and remember that one bad moment does not define who you are. It is only human to want to remain unflappable, never experience hardship, and never make mistakes. But it is also human to be stressed, experience challenges, and to mess up every once in a while. By maintaining focus, clarity, and chasing our vision of the future, we turn past hardships into tomorrow’s lesson.

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