Why We Should Befriend Adversity

BL00 - Why We Should Befriend Adversity-High-Quality

By Mark A. Campbell, guest contributor

The Latin poet Marshal once wrote, "Life is not merely to be alive, but to be well." Wellness is a concept that we use daily, but scholars cannot agree on defining it. We know for certain that wellness is multi-dimensional, influenced by how we live in all areas of our lives. The National Wellness Institute defines wellness as "an active process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a more successful existence." I have adopted this definition because it puts the onus on us as individuals. Calling it an "active process" means that we are currently seeking ways to improve the quality of our lives. "Awareness" alludes to gaining knowledge and perspective on our lives. "Choices" means that we have the power to do something about our current state of well-being and pick those parts of life that make us better. 

Mental and emotional well-being has reached a level of societal focus that has previously been reserved for our physical health. We would be hard-pressed to turn on the news or scroll through our favorite social media sites without seeing multiple mentions of mental health.

The past two years have forced us to change our outlook on what has previously been riddled with unspeakable stigmas. 

As a performance and wellness professional, I have learned that many factors influence how individuals consistently perform at their absolute best, especially at the highest levels of their fields. One of the most common of these factors, in my opinion, is how they learn to manage themselves during times of adversity. During my decade-long tenure with the Department of the Army, and the Office of the Secretary of Defense, my focus was primarily developing wellness-based programs for wounded, ill, and injured service members and their families. Working closely with tens of thousands of these individuals, often just after the absolute worst experience of their lives, afforded me a chance to gain an intimate understanding of adversity. It also showed me what human performance could look like when we learn to manage those adversities and use the subsequent lessons to become better versions of ourselves. 

Certain words and concepts are often overused, misused, or misrepresented in our society. Meanings can become diluted, leading to what I refer to as "the White Noise Effect." Resilience is one of these words. Mindfulness has quickly fallen into this category. Even wellness is hard to understand, but we know it is an essential part of our existence. Adversity is a concept that is consistently misrepresented socially. We have been encouraged to avoid things like failure, loss, grief, or stress. We want our lives to be seamless and without challenge. The possibility of positive change following times of adversity has long been recognized in literature, religion, and philosophy. There are numerous accounts of highly successful individuals throughout history who learned to manage personal adversity. 

One such example is Viktor Frankl, an Austrian neurologist, psychiatrist, philosopher, author, and Holocaust survivor. Through his challenging experiences, he developed a life philosophy expressed through his writings and work as a therapist. One of his most famous quotes is,

"Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

No matter how bad things seemed for him, he knew that he had the ability to choose the way he perceived it. This year marks the 75th anniversary of his most famous work, Man's Search for Meaning, which focuses on themes of hope, responsibility, inner freedom, and finding meaning in times of hardship. 

We all go through difficult situations, period. There is no magic formula for dealing with these times, but there are ways we can learn to manage them. Through the process of struggling, we acquire knowledge and skills that allow us to function at a higher level. We gain an understanding of our strengths, as well as those areas of life which need improvement. It allows us to connect with our values, which leads to spiritual growth. It helps us gain an understanding of our support systems. We also develop tools and techniques that we can use to manage future challenges more effectively. 

Adversity is an essential part of the human experience.

It acts as a tremendous teacher, a guide, and a compass. Once we learn to embrace it as simply a part of our journey, it becomes an opportunity to learn and grow and can no longer hurt us. As a species, we have consistently adapted to countless challenges, learned from each trying experience, and become better versions of ourselves. We can continue to thrive in times of adversity if we become comfortable with the idea of managing temporary discomfort for long-term growth and success. 

Have you befriended adversity? Please share your experience below!

Coming soon: Mark Campbell is going to be a part of Mindful Leader's new mental fitness online event. Details to follow!

Dr. Mark A. Campbell works with individuals and organizations to enhance performances in all areas of life. Mark spent almost a decade working with the US Army’s performance psychology and resilience program. He also served as a wellness/performance consultant to the US Army, providing classes and workshops to Soldiers, Senior Leaders, and caregivers. He served as the Director of Mental Training for the Army Adaptive Recondition Program, including the Warrior Games. He then served as the Senior Subject Matter Expert for the Military Adaptive Sports Program, for all Service Branches, at the Office of the Secretary of Defense. Mark spent five years as the Director of Mental Conditioning for the 2019 World Series Champion Washington Nationals Baseball Club.

1 comment

Dagmar Bohlmann

Thanks for validating my theory that embracing discomfort - or being comfortably uncomfortable - aids in managing life’s challenges. Unlike my domesticated self - that part that appreciates 72 degrees in the house - the wild part of me likes to seek out challenges in nature to demonstrate to myself that I can do hard things. Typically, my mind stops racing when it falls in synch with my steps, my heavy breaths, my hiking poles clicking against rocks. But I have also experienced inner emotional upheaval when by body was exhausted and the 10,000’ alpine mountain unforgiving. As I dialed through all possible responses to the steep gravel path - anger, frustration, embarrassment, disappointment, and more anger - I got to realize - as you mentioned - who my support system was. Although I had told them to go ahead (so they would not see me struggling) my family insisted to stay close by. “We are family,” my adult daughter said. My son offered to carry my pack. How roles have changed from when they were little. I realize now that my moment of vulnerability presented an opening so I could recognize that my kids would gladly wait for me. Thanks for helping me reframe this experience.  

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