Overcoming Adversity & Building Resilience

Motivation & Inspiration

“Success is to be measured not so much by the position that one has reached in life as by the obstacles which he has overcome.” - Booker T. Washington

Adversity: a difficult or unpleasant situation. A thing that can block one's way or can prevent or hinder progress. However, Buddhism says that if there is no struggle, there is no progress; without struggle, success has no value. I believe this is true. That anything worth doing is going to be hard work. In fact, there are so many famous quotes and stories about resilience and overcoming adversity I believe them to be universal human experiences. In the years that I have been doing public speaking and workshops talking about overcoming adversity, not once has someone raised their hand when called upon to tell me they had never experienced any obstacles, roadblocks, hardships, setbacks, or adversity.

It is something we all have in common and you relate to people so much more through failure. Not everyone knows what it’s like to have wild success, but everyone knows what it’s like to have set a goal and not accomplish it. That of course is not unique to sport and to athletes, everyone in life can relate to that no matter their pursuit. One thing I’ve come to expect when I set goals for myself on my pursuit of excellence, is that there will always be challenges and setbacks! Nothing worth doing is going to be easy; but think of harder challenges as a compliment to where you're at and remember that it is "only when we are tossed headlong into the crucible of adversity, do we rise to the challenge!"

You find strength on the edge of failure that you might not have otherwise known you possess and that is called being resilient. Resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties using the mental processes and behaviours in promoting personal assets and protecting oneself from the potential negative effects of stressors. Maya Angelou said that "you may encounter many defeats, but you must not be defeated. In fact, it may be necessary to encounter the defeats, so you can know who you are, what you can rise from, how you can still come out of it." This is resilience, and I’ve got three tips to help you build up your resilience:

1. Growth Mindset

Fostering a growth mindset is what causes some to seek out challenges, overcome adversity, and thrive (as opposed to those with a fixed mindset, who avoid challenges, are devastated by setbacks, and give up.) We have the wonderful ability to learn, grow, develop, and improve and challenges are just an opportunity to do so.  A person’s true potential is unknown and unknowable at this moment. It’s impossible to foresee what you can accomplish with years of passion, hard work, dedication, and training.

Failure, setbacks, challenges, and adversity are not a limit of your abilities when you look at them through the lens of a growth mindset. Rather, they are an opportunity to grow and you can take advantage of those moments to generate, recognize, and incorporate chance events into productive opportunities. Reframe the challenges and roadblocks in your journey using a growth mindset as times when you get to become stronger, to learn more, to become better, and comeback even stronger. Adversity is not the end, it's just a step on your journey - on your ascent to realizing excellence.

2. Self-Talk

What are you saying to yourself when things get hard? Building on what I've just said about growth mindset; what you are saying to yourself during those challenging times, when you've hit a roadblock, or you've had a setback is very important. Often in those situations the negative self-talk comes creeping out and it is easy to listen to the narrative that you aren't good enough, that things are too hard, or that you should give up, but thoughts are not facts! Failure, setbacks, challenges, and adversity are an opportunity to grow and you can make it past this rough patch! Your inner dialogue can help foster resilience.

A common misconception: It's not about trying to eliminate the negative thoughts; it's about replacing them when they arise. If the thought is, "I'm not good enough" you can add "yet" because, "I am going to keep working to improve, I will grow and become better, and those setbacks are opportunities for me to become stronger." If the thought is, "things are too hard" you can add "right now" because, "I will keep working hard to improve my skills and abilities to overcome this challenge." If the thought is, "I should just give up" you can add "but I won't" because our hardest times often lead to the greatest moments of our lives.

3. Preparation

We can prepare for challenges and setbacks in order to overcome them. Doing so will also make us stronger and better equipped to face new challenges down the road. Your past successes overcoming adversity can help fuel your confidence to face the challenge in front of you now. Think back to other difficult times in your journey or in life; how have you handled adversity in the past? How did you come back after a major setback or failure before? How did you cope with those roadblocks you've already faced?

Canadian Astronaut Chris Hadfield talks about how nothing ever goes perfectly to plan and how you can prepare to deal with incredible disruption. He says that you can’t always control what happens to you in life, but you can control how prepared you are. He also talks about preparing for every scenario, even the bad ones, because planning for the worst can actually be energizing and confidence-boosting; when you have a contingency for every scenario, you’ll never be caught off-guard.

While you may experience challenges or setback along the way, your goals and resolutions are helping create the conditions for lasting change to take place in your life. Attitude and intention are just as important as the outcome in your pursuit of excellence and fostering growth mindset, having positive self-talk, and preparing for setbacks will help you along the way.