You’ve heard the old adage, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. If only that were universally true. We’ve all known people, sometimes even ourselves, who didn’t emerge stronger after a challenge, but in some cases even became emotionally crippled by it. Whether we emerge stronger or weaker, depends on our consciousness when we are met with challenges.
I’m going to use a tree analogy here. One of the most interesting studies is that of the biodome. For those of you that are unfamiliar with this experiment, it is a very large glass dome that supports an artificial world. It’s a controlled environment, completely self-contained where scientists studied humans, plant life, farming techniques and biological functions. For months and months, everything seemed to be perfect. No plant, animal or human seemed in any way adversely affected by the artificial ecosystem.
However, one day, a tree fell over. Unprovoked, seemingly. And then other trees started to topple. Startled scientists and humans inside the dome soon realized that the trees began to fall when they reached a certain height because the root systems were shallow and undeveloped, thereby, incapable of supporting the mass of the tree.
What had our brilliant researchers forgotten in their near perfect synthetic world?
Without resistance the trees simply did not grow deep roots. In fact, other studies have been done and the data supports this idea. Going even further, the numbers show that trees in habitats with powerful winds grow deeper roots than trees in milder climates.
What is the difference between people who grow stronger and those who struggle after adversity? Like trees, it is the resistance we meet in life that makes us stronger and more resilient, and more able to handle the bigger challenges that could occur.
There is a phenomenon known as post-traumatic growth. In the early 90’s psychologists, Richard Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun, coined the term post-traumatic growth after conducting numerous surveys on hundreds of patients who had survived severe injuries or loss. Instead of feelings of depression, anxiety and stress, each patient displayed remarkable effects of renewed appreciation for their lives, a stronger connection to their spirituality, and overall inner-strength.
Post-traumatic growth refers to the positive psychological change experienced as a result of the struggle with highly challenging life circumstances. Simply put, it is the exact opposite of post-traumatic stress!
This effect can be seen in the lives of some of the most influential and successful people. Many of these people overcame extremely traumatic, sometimes life-threatening, experiences only to go on to do incredible things. For example, Maya Angelou is one of the greatest poets, orators, and teachers the world has ever seen. Her body of work spans a lifetime and her teachings help inspire love and growth in people everyday. At the age of seven, Maya was raped. A few days after sharing the event with a family member, she found out that the man was beat to death. In her seven-year-old mind, she believed her words killed him and, believing her words to be weapons, didn’t speak for five years. During this time she read book after book, falling more and more in love poetry. When she finally spoke again, it was because she wanted to be able to share poems, learning her words were the very opposite of hurtful.
Maya Angelou is a shining example of resilience. Resilience isn’t necessarily something we are all born with, but it is certainly something that we can learn. It is resilience that pushes us through to the other side of our challenge and discomfort and we emerge stronger than we started. In times of adversity or in the face of an obstacle, you can always call on your resilience.
The Five Laws of Resilience
1. There is always a choice. If the direction you are going in isn’t working, pick another path. A ballerina who has a traumatic injury to a foot will spend a bitter lifetime dwelling on the loss of her dance career or she can choose a new path. Realize that every challenge is an opportunity, not a punishment. Overmore, we get to choose how we view our lives and events in our lives. When things go sideways it’s easier to spend our energy blaming others, but blame gets you nowhere. The reality of your situation, is that it is your situation, no matter the circumstances that lead up to it. Understand that you can handle anything that comes your way. Wondering why something happened to you, has never un-made it happen. Challenges don’t mean you failed or made a wrong decision.
2. Be Flexible. Flexibility is the ability to flow with changes and unexpected events. The more open we are to our life’s process, the more certainty we have in The Creator, the more open we will be to all that life has to offer. Accepting the reality of challenges instead of fighting against them allows for greater opportunity and Light in your life.
3. Set New Goals: Some life events are so traumatic that living the life you had before the challenge is no longer possible. When we are forced by situations to drastically change our day to day life it is important to set new goals for yourself and your life.
4. Use Your Empathy. Empathy is an ability to see situations from a different perspective than your own. To put yourself in someone else’s shoes and feel their pain. One fairly common scenario that I’ve seen many times as a mentor and counselor, is a couple going through a bitter divorce. Both refuse to see the others point of view and this intensity of conflict can cause lasting damage. However, by forcing ourselves to see the other person’s perspective you have a better understanding of yourself and the situation, often defusing conflict and hatred.
5. Be Grateful. Gratitude is the doorway to abundance in all things. Opportunities, resources, relationships, and support. Being grateful for all the things in your life that you love and appreciate is a daily practice that will bring blessings and peace, regardless of whatever else is going on for you. It shifts your awareness instantly from the negative to the Light and has the power to transform you from the inside out.
Approaching challenges from this perspective, that they arrive to strengthen your roots, will help you to nurture and grow your own resiliency.
Thought into Action
How resilient do you think you are? If you are facing a challenge, apply the 5 laws of resiliency and notice how your experience changes.