In our research, we asked happy and successful people to share important experiences that drove their success. Almost without exception, they pointed to moments of great adversity and challenge as those times when they developed the relationships, gathered the knowledge, forged the character and built the resolve that would lead to their eventual success.
However, that’s not always easy to appreciate when we’re in the middle of own our real struggles – losing a job, going through a divorce, struggling with our children and suffering from health issues. It’s during those moments that we feel fear and anxiety paralyzing us and preventing us from doing what’s needed to get out of the hole.
It really is true, though, that we find out who we are in moments of adversity. The key to overcoming challenges is to lean into fear and find the courage and energy to act in direct opposition to the forces oppressing you. To do this, you have to change your perspective on adversity. You can, in fact, manage your thoughts and emotions to harness the energy and creative potential of challenges and direct them toward positive growth in your life.
Here are 7 strategies for overcoming challenges that can give you a new view on adversity.
1-Stimulate your growth with a new perspective
Emotional adversity can be very powerful in transforming our lives for the better. This is very much the reason you often see individuals go through drastic changes when dealing with the passing of a loved one, a divorce, or even a near-death experience. This isn’t meant to trivialize the seriousness of such experiences; it’s a suggestion that we try to view them as more than simply negative.
The key is to understand the power of these emotions and channel that energy towards growth. Modern neurosciences show that we actually have the capacity to change the form and function of our brains (neuroplasticity). At no time is this ability greater or more critical than when the energy of adversity is in our lives. In simple terms, individuals who use adversity to evolve are those that experience the most joy and success.
When you encounter adversity, understand that with it comes great opportunity. True, some situations are unavoidably dark. Just do your best to view them as chances to evolve and grow.
2-See with greater clarity by letting the dust settle
One of my favorite verses of the Tao Te Ching is about dealing with adversity. While I’ve read many translations, the basic message is that facing difficult situations is like looking into a cup of dirty water. Lao Tzu, the author, challenges us to have the patience to allow the dirt to settle so that we can see through the water clearly.
While it is important to take action in the face of adversity, it is more important to act from a place of strength. Too often, we act quickly and compound the problems in our lives. The best form of action is to process the problem while remaining calm, gaining perspective and building clarity and certainty. Can you allow the dirt to settle so you can see through the glass clearly?
3-Maintain composure through compartmentalizing
I know that my biggest mistake when things go awry in one area of my life is allowing that to affect other parts of my life as well. A bad morning at home as a father can easily spill over into my time at the office, as well as impact what I eat and how I take care of myself. On those days, it feels like I can’t do anything right, and it’s true, I can’t, because I’m not compartmentalizing my problems.
I suggest creating separation between different components of your life. Take time after work to re-set your energy and attention on your personal or family time. Likewise, when things are going wrong, make sure to focus on getting enough sleep, eating healthy and getting the exercise you need regardless of the difficulties.
4-Give yourself a win by doing something productive
The worst thing you can do in an adverse situation is disengage. Retreating to comfort in the form of food, shopping or some other habitual response is not just destructive to you personally, it often takes you deeper into the hole when the immediate gratification is gone.
I have found that the positive gratification of an accomplishment is often just what I need to reengage with life. When I have anxiety, the simple process of creating a budget, taking my kids to the park or washing the laundry gets me back into productivity mode.
When you feel like you’re locking up, go out and create value in some form. This will give you the energy of empowerment and the feeling that you can control and dictate outcomes in your life. This both reengages you and helps you muster the energy and creativity to tackle your bigger challenges.
5-Exceed your individual potential by asking for help
One of the biggest challenges for many people (especially men) is the belief that we need to be independent and strong. Seeking help makes us feel less competent, vulnerable and creates the feeling that we’re somehow weaker than we should be.
There may be no greater false premise then this. Asking for help is really a sign that we believe we are worthy of help from others. It means that we believe enough in our ability to recognize that people who help us will get something from their investment.
We need to talk to and listen to those who have been where we want to go, because they can probably teach us a lot about how to get there. Find people who can help you and solicit their advice. The vast majority of us actually get more than we give when we’re able to help someone out. And don’t worry, you will get plenty of opportunities to repay the favor by helping others in the future.
6-Give yourself a fresh start with silence
The human brain is the most amazing thing in our world, with capabilities we cannot comprehend. It is certainly capable of coming up with solutions to the problems we face.
I think the best way to tap into the creative power of your brain is to shut it down and clear it out, like rebooting a computer that isn’t performing well. You may choose meditation or prayer to do this; brisk exercise is also great for clearing your mind. Another approach is to go for a walk in the woods. Leave the cell phone and iPod behind, and just allow your mind to be still.
You will be amazed at the ideas and solutions that will spring forth once you’ve quieted your mind.
7-Take the long view by elevating another perspective
I love the work of Eckhart Tolle. Perhaps the simplest and most powerful lesson he ever taught me was, “This too will pass.”
If you look back on your life, you’ll remember times when the challenges felt enormous and the situations seemed incredibly dire. Upon further recollection, though, you’ll probably realize that they weren’t insurmountable. You traversed the challenges, and things most likely worked out okay. Now imagine applying this recognition in hindsight to the challenges you have yet to encounter.
You are always right where you need to be and going where you need to go. Things happen, we act, we adjust and life continues on. Learn, repeat and believe the words, “This too will pass,” and you will begin to know in your heart that even the most adverse experiences will somehow turn out the way they’re supposed to.
Winston Churchill may have said it best when he stated, “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
The same body and brain that got you into trouble are the tools that can get you out. The key to overcoming challenges is to get those assets feeling good, lined up and focused on solving the problems you face.
Begin to leverage difficult times as sources of innovation and creativity, and be assured that you’ll one day point back to those moments as among the most productive in your life.