Growing through adversity

Growing through adversity

March 29, 2020 2 By Rick

Grit and resilience are two of my favorite concepts and topics. Given what the world is facing today – panic, chaos, lockdown and quarantine, I thought it might be useful to review these concepts again. But let’s define them first so we can all be on the same page. Grit is the combination of passion (zeal) and perseverance (hard work) sustained over a very long time. When I was going through BUD/S (Basic Underwater/SEAL training), the instructors would say “everyone wants to be a frogman on a sunny day. But to get through this, you must want to be a frogman on the worst and most challenging days.” Resilience is the optimism to keep bouncing back from failure, usually to a new norm, while remaining positive. Grit and resilience are the skills we need the most today but perhaps have the least. We should ask ourselves why this is so. Adversity makes us grow; it makes us strong at our weak points.

Can you handle the “suck?”
When we tell people to follow their heart and their dreams, we should also ask them the following questions. If you decide to do this, do you love your goal so much that you can take the pain and the punishment along the way, too? Are you ready to put in the hard work and practice that following your dream will require? Can you handle the many failures you’re likely to experience in pursuit of your dream? This is the “unsexy” part of the quest – the “suck!” Can you handle all this? Can you get mentally tougher, develop grit and build resiliency through adversity? 

Advance by adversity 
Too often, we try to “overcome” adversity by trying to avoid it, go over it or go around it. We see this a lot with parents today. They are always holding their kids up with strings and sweeping away any obstacles that appear in their path. They never allow them to go through anything that may result in failure. Most people fail in life because they can’t “stick” with anything. Diets, exercise, business ventures, training… you name it. Consider adversity as an obstacle course. Crawling through adversity teaches patience and perseverance. Resilience and grit are about holding on through thick and thin, and most importantly, not quitting. It’s about advancing by adversity. Adversity is a muscle to be developed and maintained. Most peoples’ adversity “muscle” is so atrophied that even the simplest of things, like starting a workout regime, will squeeze them to the point of abandonment. Many of us have been there. Many of us are there right now in this crisis and have no idea that there is a solution. Adversity is like a muscle; you can rehab and strengthen it and make this muscle strong. 

Use change productively
Resilient and gritty people respond healthily to their hardships. They can use change and adversity productively. Unfortunately, there are few times when we are not facing a struggle, a worry or some type of change. What we want to do is to use this change or struggle positively. Resilience is what allows us to move through hardship and become better. No one escapes pain, fear, and suffering. Yet from pain can come wisdom; from fear can come courage, and from suffering can come strength – if you are resilient. Of course, this doesn’t happen automatically. Fear doesn’t always lead to courage or injury, and hardship won’t automatically make us better. Pain and suffering can strengthen us or break us. Fear can paralyze us or make us act. FEAR has two meanings: Forget Everything And Run or Face Everything And Rise! Grit and resilience make the difference!

Same old, same old
Much of what works for the SEAL teams, Olympic athletes, top-performing organizations, and the Greeks 2500 years ago is the same stuff! It’s learning how to focus your mind, control your stress and excel under pressure. It’s learning how to work through fear and build courage, and how to adapt to adversity. Wanting to be resilient and gritty or thinking about becoming resilient and gritty won’t suffice. You’ve got to choose to live this type of life. People have a wide variety of coping skills, many of which can be developed and strengthened. Resilient and gritty people view themselves as survivors – not victims. And they aren’t afraid to ask for help. Let’s face it, we’re all going to meet hardships, struggles, and challenges in our pursuit of happiness and success. The world is facing considerable adversity and difficulties right now. And this is likely to continue for some time. But the good part is that the very same hardships, struggles and challenges strengthen our minds and bodies. It’s this adversity that builds resilience and grit. 

Putting it all together
When you combine confidence, perseverance and fire in the gut, you get resilience and grit, a.k.a. mental toughness. And what does that mean? It means viewing challenge and adversity as opportunities, maintaining confidence and remaining positive in times of stress – like today. It means putting one foot in front of the other and keeping going. Or as Winston Churchill said: “When going through Hell, the best thing to do is… Keep going!” It’s never giving up! It’s having the perseverance and passion to achieve long-term goals. Why do some people keep going when others quit? Well, in my opinion it’s because the ones who keep going have developed these qualities. We can all develop these qualities, but it takes a lot of hard work and commitment. Research has also shown that grit and resilience increase as we get older. That makes sense because the older we are, the more we’ve encountered and the more we’ve overcome. OK, that’s all fine and dandy if you’re older, like me. But what if you’re young and want to develop more grit and resilience now?

Get started
To start off with, prepare if you can for what you’re about to face. You can never prepare too much. Know that there will be “black swans” and “wicked problems” that you can’t prepare for, e.g. what we’re experiencing now. Try and have a bit of fun by making a game out of whatever problem you’re facing. If you can flip what some people might perceive as a threat to a challenge or an opportunity, that’s a great start. If you can find a way to laugh at your predicament, you’ll be that much better. Humor is cheap medicine. Break your challenge or long-term goal into small increments. When I went through BUD/S, I remember focusing only on the next evolution or maybe even the next meal – nothing past that! That way, once I completed the evolution or ate the meal, I could celebrate it. In other words, I celebrated “mini-victories.” And each mini-victory increased my confidence, commitment, grit and resilience. 

Visualization and positive self-talk
You also need to visualize yourself successfully achieving your mini-goals and give yourself “pep talks.” Visualizing and talking positively to yourself will help you stay productive. Finally, you must see this process of developing resilience and mental toughness in the same way that you exercise a muscle in the gym. If you work on it daily, you will develop it! You’ll develop that inner strength from deep in your mind that will take over when the “crazy” comes and the conscious and rational parts of your brain decide they’ve had enough. You must get your mind to always be on your side. 

What you learn on the journey
The quality of your personal and professional life is not determined so much by your individual successes or failures as it is by what you learn on the journey. It matters what you learn from both your good and bad life experiences. You should use them as a positive springboard into your future.Your life experiences can either hold you back as baggage or help you along the journey as luggage. It’s possible to own your own future.You create your own opportunities. Your background doesn’t determine where you will end up, only where you start. A brilliant reputation – or great connections or a top education may grease the wheels – but your ability to succeed is directly correlated to your grit, resilience, mental toughness and the effort you put into something. No matter what life has served you, you can still shape it. You’re in charge. You own it! It’s your choice. We will weather the current crisis and be much grittier and resilient for it. We grow through adversity. Never forget that!