In the face of adversity, show your strength
In 2008, I was on a global lecture tour. It was whilst I was in Australia, I learned my youngest son had been rushed into hospital with a burst appendix. The same week my eldest son and stepson had had a massive argument and my husband called to say either my son goes or he goes. My immediate reaction was a desire to cancel the tour, hop on a plane and go home.
When we are in the midst of chaos, drowning in uncertainty, we need practical methods to move forward. When people panic, they make mistakes. They override common sense. Clear, objective thinking goes out of the window when adversity strikes. Immediate reaction is usually the default – and usually it’s the wrong action.
I’m no exception. I was 20,000 miles away. I wanted to freak out, but luckily, past adversities had taught me that there is another way to manage such a situation. Ancient wisdom and modern technology have equipped me to steady my nerves and draw on personal strength in times of adversity.
To be resilient is one of life’s greatest skills – one that is learned, not gifted. Since we are all guaranteed difficulty on this side of the earth, being resilient is probably the greatest virtue we can cultivate for ourselves. To possess such a quality is to be able to get up after falling, or shoulder great trials – only to become better and stronger once the storm has passed.
How can we deal with the storm in the midst of adversity? How do we steady our nerves to make sure we don’t collapse? Is it possible to keep things together in order to give ourselves the chance to rebound, recover, and come back stronger? What follows are a few ways we can steady our nerves and draw on personal strength to thrive, not just survive.
- Tame the mind with the breath: When faced with adversity, our brains react quickly signalling the release of hormones in an attempt to protect us. This causes our breath to shorten and quicken, by doing so we lower our ability to think clearly and accurately. When our brain is exposed to threat, it significantly reduces the activity in the pre-frontal cortex – the region of the brain responsible for reasoning, self-control and forward thinking. By taking a few deep slow breaths, we are taming the mind and impacting on our vagal tone. In doing so we will reduce the heart rate, lower blood pressure and increase the production of acetylcholine, a hormone which helps us concentrate. Intentional breathing increases mental acuity whilst lowering anxiety.
- Picture your Best Self: We all have stories of when the world felt as it was caving in on us, but we survived. During times of adversity, we should draw on these stories to remind us that we have got what it takes to survive. Revisiting past trials, and picturing ourselves victorious, helps us draw on our inner strength, when we need sturdiness the most. Think about a time when you handled a difficult time with courage, strength, and fortitude. What lessons or strategies helped you overcome the trial? Who can confirm that you have what it takes to overcome difficult times?
- Identify your Ikigai: When a storm hits, we are thrown into a whirlwind of uncertainty. Oftentimes, many of the factors are beyond our agency. However, regardless of how turbulent the crisis, there are things we can know for sure. There is always solid ground to plant our feet in. identifying what we know for sure can help us be more resilient when dealing with stressful and chaotic situations. The Japanese Ikigai, can be understood as ‘the reason for being’. During times of crisis, focus on what you can control. What is your reason for being in this moment?
What is your Ikigai?
Back in Australia in 2008, my reason for being was to be strong for my youngest son, compassionate for my eldest son and stepson, and loving for my husband. I called my ex husband and asked him to go to the hospital to see our youngest son to make sure he was being looked after properly. I facetimed my husband and talked to him about what had happened to get a better understanding of the problem. I spoke to my eldest son to reassure him that he was not being pushed out (he was 30 at the time) but perhaps when I got home the following week, we could start flat hunting but, in the meantime, to be more tolerant. I spoke to my stepson to ask him to be more tolerant too as the argument had been about the television. I ordered a new television to be delivered and installed in the old playroom to stop any future petty squabbles.
Right now, my tiny Ikigai is to complete this article. Right now, my Ikigai is to make a cup of tea and to take a ten-minute breather to clear my head. Right now, my big Ikigai is to bring together the four main elements of Ikigai to develop the divorce coaching academy to do what I love, teaching, add what I’m good at, coaching, because the world needs more divorce coaches after COVID has disrupted so many families, and allow other passionate, professional coaches with a clear mission to find their vocation and get paid for it.
By identifying your tiny Ikigai on a moment to moment basis, you can train your brain to look for meaningful things to do. Keeping the mind active on meaningful activities helps us shoulder difficult times.
Ancient wisdom tells us that none of us are immune to difficult times, but what we do have is control on how we respond. To steady our nerves and draw on personal strength during times of adversity, we can control our breath, revisit our past conquests and identify our moment to moment Ikigai. By doing this we give ourselves the best chance to not only survive but to come back stronger and thrive.