Gifts of adversity: 3 lessons to apply today

Updated: Aug 16

Things don’t go to plan. We encounter physical and emotional pain and discomfort. It’s all a part of the beautiful thing we call life.

When it does happen (and it inevitably will, because we simply cannot plan to perfection, or be perfect)

we struggle to cope with feeling pain, catastrophise the situation and victimise ourselves “why me”, “this is too hard” , “this ruins EVERYTHING”, “how will I ever walk again?” Well, that’s what I do, and how I saw things went when I broke a bone and fractured my ankle (plot twist - it did not "ruin everything").

I’ll be honest, the first week of the injury was torture. I was on crutches and in physical pain, unable to take care of myself, restricted to life between the couch and bed, out of routine, and with a black cloud hanging over my head: “so, how will I ever walk again?

But here I am, walking. And even running (another plot twist).

Fast forward two months, and I look back at the injury as a blessing that allowed me to reflect on my own thought patterns and see the power of mindset, which we all have absolute power over.

How did this happen and what can we learn from this when thinking about daily adversity – e.g. when we have a ‘bad’ day at work, when we make a mistake, when we forget to do something?

Here are three personal lessons that can help shift the impact of any adverse event, big or small:

1, It’s okay not to be okay.

While the injury caused me a great deal of physical pain, it was the mental struggle that hit me hardest; I was not okay with struggling, and in my mind should be able to deal with this and felt guilt for not being able to: this was an unhealthy and unreasonable state of mind to be in.

Although we learn a lot at school, we’re never taught how to deal with negative emotions. When we feel sadness, pain, anxiety, we feel uncomfortable and resort to coping mechanisms that can include anything from isolation, numbing through substances such as food, alcohol, drugs and even sleep, avoidance of the situation and catastrophising - have you ever noticed any of these behaviours when dealing with stressful situations? I sure did, and it was scary. This is where tools such as mindfulness come in. Pausing to reflect on what we are feeling allows us to see the reason why we are feeling this way to truly deal with the emotion and let it pass. As well as taking a mindful moment to yourself, you can tune into your emotions or talk to someone.

Some more techniques on how to use mindfulness to reduce stress can be found here.

2. The power of perspective and attitude

While we can’t control what happens to us, we have absolute control in our response. How do we do that? We view adversity as an opportunity. For me, feeling bitter and sad felt like pretty HARD WORK. I realised that once I started to look for the positives in the circumstance, things started to feel better, and it was EASIER to do. While I couldn’t walk, I could work around my injury and strengthen my muscles through rehab, while I was on house arrest I had more time to think, write and plan and flex my mind - something I had not given priority to in a long time. Although I wasn’t autonomous and independent in getting the every day things done, I had the support and help of loved ones to take me where I needed to, and ended up spending more time socialising than I had in months. So while the situation of my injury had not shifted, a change in perspective created a new, improved and much easier reality. While a gratitude journal is a great start and basis, there are some specific journaling techniques to help with mindset.

3. You're stronger than you give yourself credit

“If we had no winter, the spring would not be so pleasant: if we did not sometimes taste of adversity, prosperity would not be so welcome"

How dull would life be if we were all exactly the same, and everything went to plan as expected? Change and challenges force us to dig deep, pivot, grow and realise just how much we are capable of and truly embrace that. Noticing and being aware of my own shift in mindset was incredible - to come back from a dark place that felt hopeless at times, to be thriving mentally and emotionally, granted me a level of confidence in myself and what I'm capable of that I had not experienced before.

The thing is, bad things happen. And while we may have a different definition of what 'bad' constitutes and varying levels of pain tolerance (what's hard for me, may not be hard for you, and vice versa) what we all have in common is the power to take ownership of our perception and attitude and shape our future. We're all capable of seeing through tough times, but a few reminders of this can make a world of difference. I hope mine have been useful for you today.