The following article takes its inspiration from Dr Sadaqat Ali’s face book status which talks about how we are shaped and defined by what we do in difficult times, do we fight and grow out of it, sometimes better than before, do we break even and get back on our feet after sometime, or are we worse off.
Humans are learning and developing insights into the design of life when it comes to the challenges and difficulties. Contrary to the learning we had in the childhood primarily from wishful thinking of people around us and fairy tales, Life seems to be a series of challenges and opportunities disguised in form of difficulties.
Enough said, people act and react to adversity in different ways. We read about people who suffer from Post traumatic Stress disorder after they go through bog challenges in life and then there are people who experience and exhibit Post Traumatic Stress growth. Now wait a minute, isn’t that new….Post Traumatic Stress growth. Let us first try to understand the difference
Extremely bad events lead to personal and moral dilemmas. They are existential crises in which one is pushed to make decisions. In PTSD one goes through depression, it is an emotion that tells to detach from goals one previously had, that they’re unreachable. And that creates a fork in the road.
On the other hand post traumatic growth and resilience is when those doors open. If you are paralyzed by the depression, anxiety, by other symptoms of post traumatic mental state, you’re not going to walk through those doors. It all started 20 years ago when a psychologist Dr. Martin Seligman started training teachers so that they can teach students about resilience. Penn Resilience Program as it was known gave so much results that it was used in other areas with normal adolescents, with divorced couples and then it was adopted for corporations. Essentially it was a generic model of mental toughness, leading with strengths and new social skills and leadership.
Interestingly, mental toughness is the core of what Dr Sadaqat talked about in his face book status. When we face hardships and decide not to go down but grow out and get better than before, it is more than an act. It is a statement that we make to the world and our selves. We train our self and brain that there is a way out of the problem and challenges and that challenges are integral part of our lives. It also implies that achievers don’t look at things in ways other people do. They look at things differently. They look at challenges and instead of getting bogged down, start looking for opportunities and chances for growth. This is why top athletes and soldiers are now being routinely trained psychologically in the areas of mental toughness and crisis management. No wonder when their primary career is over, they seem to get more success in their next careers.
Why do some people and some companies buckle under pressure? And what makes others bend and ultimately bounce back?
This question has fascinated me ever since I first learned about a Holocaust survivor Dr Victor Frankl a couple of years ago when I was listening to a renowned personal development trainer Anthony Robbins. Not only that he (Victor) had to witness his wife Tilly, his mother Elsa and his brother Walter perish in the concentration camp, he also had to live with the atrocities himself. Among Frankl’s immediate relatives, the only survivor of the Holocaust was his sister Stella. She escaped from Austria by going to Australia. Yet he not only survived it but also lived long enough till his death in 1997 to teach and guide the world how to cope with pain and challenges without perishing physically and psychologically.
Later in my work with recovering patients and their families I could see a mark difference in the way different people responded to calamities in life such as Alcoholism and Addiction, divorce and marital problems, abusive relationships, diabetes and cancer recovery and so much more. The outcome seemed to resonate with one thing which was a common element in successful people, Resilience and Mental Toughness. In short, that seems to be the combination of having a entirely new paradigm about the challenges in life. Not only that it’s a mental paradigm, it also entails employing combination of hard and smart work after which not only the crisis at hand gets better, but the person employing it gets better and grow as a person. Interestingly, I have observed it to be quite the line between successful and not so successful people when it comes to handling major challenges in life.