Google defines Adversity as ‘a difficult or unpleasant situation’. This presents adversity in a negative light, but is it always bad? After reading this blog, your answer will be no.
As a sportsman myself, I like to use sports analogies. There are hundreds of examples, but I have chosen the story of Tom Brady, arguably the greatest quarterback to ever live. Brady has withstood adversity throughout the entirety of his career. First, at the University of Michigan, he began, not as a star recruit and automatic starter, but as an average player. He had to earn his spot.
Even after performing well for Michigan, NFL teams lacked interest in him. They labelled him as skinny and lacking physical stature. In the end, he was selected 199th in the NFL draft. Now, 20 years later he has six Super Bowl rings and three MVPs. I am telling you this story because it demonstrates something which I want to make clear; Adversity is only an obstacle when you see it as one.
People always talk about ‘overcoming adversity’. I like to think that adversity is not something we need to overcome, but rather something we need to accept as part of our lives. The same way birth and death are certain, it is certain that you will experience adversity at some point. I began to understand this after listening to a Ted Talk by Aimee Mullins, another example of someone who never let adversity stop them.
Born with a condition that resulted in the amputation of both of her lower legs, she is now an athlete, actress and public speaker. In her talk, she said something that has stuck with me ever since. Charles Darwin, when discussing his theory of evolution, said “It is not the strongest who survives. It is not the most intelligent. It is whoever is most adaptable to change.”
I realise that dealing with adversity is tough, as is everything worthwhile in life. But, there are some ways you can make it easier.
To start, our perspective is crucial. For adversity to be a gift, we have to see it like that. In certain situations, this will be hard. It will be hard to see how losing a loved one is a gift, for example. However, when going through adversity, we have two choices: We can stay angry for the rest of our lives or we can change our perspective of the situation. Find things that you can be grateful for. For example, if you have lost a loved one, be grateful for the memories you got to share with them. Life won’t always play out the way we want it to. But that is the beauty of it. No-one enjoys a movie if they know the ending.
Furthermore, see this adversity as an opportunity. See it as a chance to learn and grow. ‘Turn your wounds into wisdom’, as Oprah Winfrey put it. It can be difficult to see how something so difficult can be an opportunity. However, think about this; Are you the only person on the planet that will go through this? The answer is no. Other people will go through very similar situations. Hence, it is an opportunity to gain wisdom, which you can use to help people get through it in the future.
There is another strategy we can use, courtesy of stoicism. This is the idea of pre-meditating adversity. This involves meditating upon and visualising the worse-case scenario. For example, if you are starting a business, you can visualise the scenario where your business fails. I know this sounds crazy, as common practice in business and self-development is to visualise yourself achieving success.
This is where the whole idea of the law of attraction comes from. I am not saying you shouldn’t do this. Of course, you should believe that you are going to be successful but these two practices aren’t mutually exclusive. They work together. Whilst you should visualise yourself achieving success, you should also prepare yourself for the possibility of failure. In every situation, there are good outcomes and bad outcomes.
All too often, people go headfirst into a venture, and never consider this bad outcome. The problem is that if they fail, they become shocked, and paralysed as they hadn’t anticipated it. By premeditating adversity, we can feel the feelings of failure, before it ever happens. This is important, as everyone will fail at some point. As Soichiro Honda said ‘Success is 99% failure’. This practice allows us to better move through this failure.
Having a purpose will also help to deal with adversity. When you have a strong purpose, you will see the bigger picture and understand that this adversity is a small bump in the road. This may sound scary, as many people don’t know their purpose yet. This is common; I was in the exact same position not long ago. You won’t find your true purpose overnight, however you can become more self-aware and understand what drives you.
A good way to think about this is to think about where you would like to be in 20 years time and then, dig deeper. For example, you may see making millions of dollars in the future, and assume that money is a driver for you. However, It is often far deeper and you may find that what actually drives you, is giving to others, and making money is a means to do this.
If you can identify what drives you in life, then you can use these drivers to push through adversity. When adversity strikes, you can think to yourself ‘I know I want to have an impact on people’s lives and the only way I will achieve this is to push through and keep going’. Don’t even give yourself the choice to stop. Success is a long term game.
Goal-setting can also be very important. Often people set very ambitious goals, and when they reach an inevitable bump in the road, they feel that they have made no progress towards their goals. This demotivates them and makes it far harder to push through.
A great method of goal-setting is an idea from The Happiness Advantage by Shawn Achor. He calls it ‘The Zorro Circle’. It is the idea of setting small, achievable goals, to build momentum and achieve your overarching goal. The example he uses in the book is a college student, whose room was a mess. It was so messy, that cleaning the whole thing seemed unachievable.
So, he drew a Zorro Circle around one small part of the room and told the student to clean it and keep it tidy for the next day. Over time, they kept expanding the circle, until the entire room was tidy. When setting our goals, yes, we should know where we want to end up, so that we can align ourselves but, we should use this snowballing effect. In terms of dealing with adversity, we should focus on taking it one step at a time. As you do this, all of a sudden, what seemed impossible will become possible and you will achieve it.
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Overall, the key with adversity is to change your outlook completely. Change your mental definition of adversity. Not a ‘difficult or unpleasant situation’ but ‘a chance to grow and evolve’. Yes, you will go through tough times, but I always like to think of the fact that there is always someone in a worse spot. Rather than trying to overcome or avoid adversity, embrace it.