Can Adversity Make You a Better Person?
Can overcoming adversity make you a better person? I have asked myself that question more than once over the years.
It sure isn’t any fun going through tough times and the last thing you’re thinking is “oh, I can’t WAIT to find out how much better a person I’m going to be after all this!”.
But, the truth is, if you pay attention and actively embrace the lessons that overcoming adversity offers, you’ll find the diamonds in the rough that you can be grateful for.
In a recent post, I talked about how to reframe your life and your perspective after a tragedy.
But, this segment is focused on addressing those pesky little challenges we face day in and day out. For those of you who have been lucky enough not to have had tragedy as your life instructor, that’s something in and of itself to be grateful for.
Our Body’s Defense System
But, just because we don’t experience some of life’s worst experiences, like the loss of a home, a family member, or a job, it doesn’t mean we don’t experience significant pain, stress, or anxiety over lesser challenges.
In fact, the human body doesn’t qualify its physiological responses by the level or type of challenge we face. It’s built to consider all threats to our well-being the same way.
Whether you’ve just been rear-ended at a stop sign by a guy texting or you just found out your boyfriend has been cheating on you, your body is going to react by creating an adrenaline rush of endorphins and other stress reactions.
They were meant to help us back in the Stone Age where saber-toothed tigers were frequently stalking us for dinner. That short burst of energy and a well-executed exit strategy was hopefully enough for us to avoid an unpleasant ending.
Creating New Coping Patterns
These days, however, we’re required to have more than an exit strategy and a burst of energy. Now, we have to THINK our way through life’s challenges.
Some may say that’s progress, but there’s a hitch.
Instead of thwarting the danger and moving on like our earlier ancestors, we frequently stay stuck in the emotions and physical stress a challenge has created long past the actual physical or emotional threat.
But, instead of letting that anxiety, pain, and/or stress from an unpleasant life experience take hold, there’s an opportunity for us to work on our skills so we can be a better person, friend, spouse, parent or co-worker.
Reevaluating Our Priorities
2020 was the poster year for loss, failure, fear, and stress. But, many people have said it was the catalyst they needed to realize just how much they had taken for granted in their pre-pandemic life.
Who knew toilet paper and hand sanitizer could, at least temporarily, garner gold currency status on a national level?
But, at a deeper level, I’m sure you can name a few things over the past year that you never gave a lot of attention to until it simply wasn’t available anymore.
It might have been sharing a meal with your friends or family, working out at the gym whenever you wanted, or walking into a store that had fully stocked shelves.
So, it begs the question (and you know I had to try and answer it!).
Changing the paradigm
What can we learn from our daily challenges, especially the kind we’ve had the last two years, that can help us thrive instead of just cope?
1. We need more quality “me” time
If there’s one gift from the pandemic that none of us were expecting, it was the substantial free time we were given because jobs, businesses, and travel were put on hold.
Yes, it created financial stress and uncertainty for all of us.
You also might have been among the many that had difficulty dealing with the lack of daily structure because all those have-to lists and schedules suddenly became meaningless.
We were wholly unprepared to know what to do with the one thing we all had wished for at one time or the other. More time.
The gift, though, was that it forced us to step out of old patterns, some of which might have been contributing to issues of unhappiness or contributing to unwanted health issues.
If you used that precious time wisely, you may have used it to take stock of your life, what you need most in your life to be happy and what things were just window dressings.
2. Release what you can’t control
Over the years, my coaching and senior downsizing clients have taught me that so much of what we stress and worry about are things that we have no control over.
We couldn’t control COVID-19 or the resulting panic that it created, but there were ways we could adjust our focus to reduce stress.
For instance, many people stepped up to help others any way they could. By being proactive, they made a bad situation better by physically addressing the needs of others in an immediate way, instead of remaining paralyzed by fear.
By releasing what you can’t control, and doing your best to change your perspective to positive action, thoughts, and beliefs, we remain open to creating better solutions.
Hope has a way of single-handedly reducing stress and worry in ways we can’t even fully understand.
3. Tell a different story
Sometimes it’s the story we tell ourselves that keep us stuck in unhappiness or fear more than the situation itself.
Perspective is simply how we humans channel and process information so we can make sense of it and how it affects our lives.
But telling ourselves a different story is a step beyond perspective. It’s a proactive action we take to re-write our experiences in a more positive way that can create unlimited and life-long benefits.
How do you do it? The simplest way to describe it is this.
Step back and look at whatever unpleasant challenge you’re experiencing and, instead of looking at the negative aspects of it, look for the hidden gifts you may be overlooking.
Often, emotion is where we get stuck in this exercise. Fear, doubt, or feeling unworthy are just some of the common emotions that keep us fixated on the negative aspects of a challenge.
We may not believe that it’s possible for a better ending than we expect. If we believe a positive ending isn’t within our reach, we have just lowered our potential for a positive alternative.
Telling a different story is a tool we should all keep in our arsenal when overcoming adversity.
I know this mental exercise works because I’ve seen it turn lives around, including my own.
So, try and keep an open mind about the self-empowerment it can provide you if adversity knocks on your door again in the future.
So, until next time, my friend….stay safe, stay healthy, and stay strong!