Difficulties strengthen the mind, as labor does the body. ~ Seneca
It’s not the load that breaks you, it’s the way you carry it. ~ Anonymous
When I was a teenager I thought it was cool to wear my Doc Martin army boots everywhere. I felt grungy, I felt edgy, I felt like a punk, and whenever I was asked why I wore such horrendous footwear, my response was:
“Life is a battlefield, why not wear army boots to go with it?”
It was only after growing up and witnessing the social, personal, physical, economic and global turmoil constantly erupt around me that I realized the truth of these words.
Life is a battlefield. But only if you resist.
There can be no war without fighting, and oftentimes the fear, hatred, depression and pain we experience in life comes as a result of our underlying belief that we must fight to be happy, we must fight to succeed, and we must fight to be whole.
Why Do We Suffer?
Our relationships are full of lying, cheating and fighting. We hate our jobs, our bosses, and our coworkers. We feel under-appreciated, taken for granted, ignored, used, abused and forsaken. The people we truly love die or move on, and no one takes the time to care for us, or give us what we feel we need.
We blame other people, we blame ourselves, we blame life, God and the Devil.
A lot of our lives consist of naming, blaming, and shaming. “But SOMEONE must be responsible!” we cry angrily, never knowing who truly is.
Our lives a lot of the time feel like an uphill struggle against thousands of major and minor disturbances that come into our lives out of the blue. “Why do we suffer?” we constantly ask.
We carry an assumption that the answer must lie in the external world: in human nature, in evolution, in religion. Few of us realize that the answer was within, rather than without us, all along.
The Root of Adversity
The root of adversity begins and ends within our minds.
If I was to tell you that our desires, expectations and tendency to resist and oppose creates all of our suffering in life, what would your reaction be?
For instance, listen to this common example of suffering:
Angela and Raj have been in a relationship for 6 years. Raj has been getting increasingly frustrated at Angela’s lack of conservative spending. Angela feels defensive and is becoming more distant. More fights are occuring between the two of them, and Angela suddenly declares one day that she wants to end the relationship.
What happened here? Well, Raj’s desire for Angela to spend money more wisely caused him to personally resist Angela. This caused her to feel alienated and to resist Raj, which caused the breakup. Instead of resisting Angela, Raj could have accepted her the way she was, and worked towards a mutually beneficial solution.
Here is another example:
Adrian’s wife of 30 years has just passed away from cancer. Adrian has been isolated for the past 5 years, and is feeling bitter and resentful because no one stood by him in his loss, and that his wife had to die in such a miserable way.
Here, Adrian had the desire and expectation that other people would stay by his side, resisting the reality of his situation and desiring it to be otherwise. This caused him bitterness and hatred. Also, rather than accepting that his wife died from cancer, his resistance and desire for a different outcome, caused him depression.
Here it’s important to note that if we have the ability and power to change something that will improve the quality of our lives, or the lives of another, by all means we should, but without carrying heavy expectations or resisting the end result.
How to Be More Tough and Resilient
Firstly … don’t expect to become more tough and resilient overnight. For some people developing strength of mind comes quickly and easily. For others, it can take a lifetime of work.
While I’m not quite Chuck Norris in the making yet, I have personally learnt a lot about how to keep a more level-head in the face of adversity. This is what I learnt:
1. Look at the bigger picture.
In 1, 2, 10 years from now, will what you care or worry about now really matter? Chances are you won’t even remember!
2. Could you handle the worst case scenario?
Think about the worst possible scenario that could happen in your situation … could you handle it? Be honest with yourself. Most anxiety springs from the fear that we don’t have the capacity to handle whatever comes our way.
3. Affirm your strength.
Our inner, unconscious thoughts and chatter have a really powerful way of influencing our waking life. When I made it a habit to affirm my strength, my courage and my ability ever day, I felt my overall confidence boost and my worry lessen. Example affirmations include: “I am strong, whole and complete”, “I can solve any problem and face any challenge”, “I’m ready for today. I can do anything.”
4. Be mindful of your perspective.
How do you begin, go through and end your day? Are you worried, hopeless, agitated, irritable, disappointed or depressed? These are signs that you are resisting life and carrying too many desires and expectations. Becoming aware of what you feel and how often you experience negative feelings will alert you to the need to change your perspective, and to learn to accept whatever comes your way.
5. Setbacks are part of the process.
Rejection and failure is a normal and natural facet of life. We all experience it, no matter how young, old, prestigious or humble we are. As author Truman Capote once said: “Failure is the condiment that gives success its flavor”. Without experiencing setbacks, we would never be able to enjoy the true triumph of success either!
6. This too shall pass.
This is one of my favorite mantras, because it speaks of the essence of existence: its transient nature. No failure, fear, tragedy, anger or pain will last forever. Everything passes with time. Nothing is permanent. I take comfort in this thought often, as it helps reduce the pain of any problem or hardship in life I experience.
7. Hone your humor.
Seeing the funny side of life can be difficult, but it pays to develop a well-rounded sense of humor. Laughter is the best medicine. I wrote this article a while ago on the topic.
8. Take care of yourself.
It’s tempting to neglect ourselves when the going gets tough, but this severely detriments our lives and throws us even more out of balance, sabotaging our success. I’ve had to mechanically force myself to take care of my nutrition, body, and general mental and emotional well-being in the past, and I’m sure you’ve had to as well. But in the long run it’s worth it, even if you’re feeling terribly rotten and demotivated at the time. Why? Because it establishes an essential habit that is a vital force in supporting our depth and longevity of resilience.
9. Accept what you can’t change.
Really, what is the point of kicking and screaming over something you have (or had) absolutely no control over? Many things in life are simply out of our hands, and the raw truth is that we can do nothing about them but accept them. Continuing to struggle against what we can’t change lowers our “immunity” to life by creating a host of psychological and emotional issues that can result in physical ailments, illnesses, and sometimes even death. Often times we simply need to surrender to life, and accept what is. This is hard (believe me!) but absolutely and positively imperative to develop resilience in the face of adversity.
10. Cultivate inner joy. Find a consuming passion.
When we expect other people, situations or things to make us happy, we give away our power to others. Eventually we find that because we haven’t developed the capacity to make ourselves happy, we suffer terribly when our external source of happiness is taken away from us. Because of this, many of us feel as though we’re walking on a very fine tightrope in life, one that can snap at any moment and plunge us into an ever-waiting abyss. But life doesn’t have to be that way. We have the power to decide where our joy and happiness comes from, and once we realize this, we see that it isn’t wise to invest too much of our time or energy into people or things that can easily vanish at a moments notice. So find your passion and your calling in life. This can take years, but once you are on that path let it consume you. It’s comforting for us to know that in the face of adversity we still have a source of inner joy that can’t be taken away from us. Often times this source of passion can serve as a guiding hand through our darkest days, and grimmest nights.
To be a tough and resilient person is not about fighting and defying life, but is rather about surrender and acceptance. The more desires and expectations we have, the more we resist, and thus the more unhappy we are.
I would love for you to share the lessons you have learnt in life about strength and resilience. Please share your experience, opinions, and advice below so we can all mutually grow.