When the going gets tough, we tend to seek out those people—and things—that give us the strength to be our best self. We yearn for the feeling that we’ve turned our lives around and are headed for better days.
Looking for the upside takes our mind off the down times. A positive attitude allows us forget, even for a while, the hardships that face us in many areas of our life.
Those times of contentment and happiness are wonderful. We need to spend time with them so when times are harder, we can remember the strength they gave us. But to expect those times to last is not realistic.
Here is the ugly truth: We learn very little by being happy and content. We learn everything by being engaged with the realities of life, especially when it’s hard, confusing, and difficult.
What are the stories that motivate us? They’re the stories of people who were beaten down by circumstances and defied the odds by pulling themselves up by the bootstraps to achieve the impossible. That’s why we love old western movies and Rocky Balboa.
The best motivational speakers are those who have been in the trenches and dug down, inside themselves, to find an inner strength that they didn’t know existed. These transformations remind us that we can find our best self too—it just needs to be teased out.
The unpleasant bits of acid that reality drops into our life every now and then are exactly what we need in order for that best self to thrive. The new science of post-traumatic growth is proving that in the wake of adversity, most people not only recover, they rebound.
Former Army combat veteran J.R. Martinez embodies the built-in human capacity to flourish even in the most difficult circumstances. Wounded in Iraq and suffering from burns over more than 40 percent of his body, Martinez underwent more than 30 surgeries before beginning a new career as a motivational speaker and winning the 2011 fall season of ABC’s “Dancing With the Stars.”
As powerful as his story is, aren’t we’re all just a little relieved that the trauma didn’t happen to us? Whenever our peace is disturbed by adversity, isn’t our first reaction always something like, “Why does this have to happen to me?”
When I was going through the FBI Academy at the age of twenty-five, one of the physical fitness requirements was to dive off a 25 foot diving board while holding an M16 rifle, and then swim to the other side of the pool with the gun. I had two problems: I was afraid of heights, and I couldn’t swim.
As my training class and instructors waited for me to jump, I seriously doubted that in real life I’d ever need to jump into a pool of water with a M16 while chasing a suspect. This was something I had to do, however, to graduate from the Academy, so I plunged in and bounced back up to the surface—still holding the gun—and then floundered until I made the other side.
It wasn’t until a few years later that I realized the swimming pool test had nothing to do with superior law enforcement techniques. Instead, it taught me that those who keep their back straight when confronted with uncomfortable challenges or conflict will inspire others around them. Everyone knew I was afraid of the jump, but it was something that I needed to do. Once I took the plunge, the by-product was two-fold. First, I earned respect from my classmates; and second, I learned that when the chips were down, I could achieve more than I dreamed possible.
How can you gird yourself and prepare for adversity and future down times? There are many ways, but here are three simple and positive approaches:
1. Surround yourself with people who believe in you
- List 5 people who inspire you to be your best – and spend more time with them.
- Spend time with colleagues who ask “Why not?” instead of “Why?”
- Share your struggles, dreams, and goals but only with those who can help you be your best self.
2. Create a benchmark for choosing friends: Ask questions about which friends you choose to spend time with.
- Will spending time with this person drag me down or lift me up?
- Will they make me want to be a better person?
- Will they help make me a happier person? Successful? Stronger?
- Will they help me achieve my most important goals?
3. Revisit the past
- Identify what you did correctly and how it changed the course of your life.
- Evaluate how you could have done some things differently.
- Understand that we repeat behavior – spot positive behaviors in your past that have brought out the best in you so you can repeat those behaviors in the future.
- Ask trusted friends and colleagues to be honest and help pinpoint those times when you’re at your best . . . and yes—when you are not. The purpose is not to criticize, but to help you make better choices.
Like you, I don’t go looking for adversity and hardship, but if I didn’t encounter them I wouldn’t be learning the lessons I’m learning about developing a strong mind to overcome future obstacles—because guess what . . . they are going to show up.
Life is either a daring adventure or nothing at all!
How do you prepare for adversity? What tips can you share on how to surround yourself with friends you can trust? How have you learned from your past?