As the German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche said, “that which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Now, as we face unprecedented challenges and hardships both in our personal lives and on the collective level, it’s more important than ever to understand how these challenges can actually help us to grow in ways we might not have otherwise realized.
And science agrees. There is a growing interest in what psychologists and scientists often refer to as “adversarial growth” (or “post-traumatic growth”), a phrase used to describe the ways that stressful, traumatic, or challenging life events can lead to positive psychological or emotional changes.
The concept of adversarial growth suggests that the challenges we face can help us to grow and flourish in ways we may not have thought of without first experiencing the adversity. Here, challenges become the foundation for psychological growth and, therefore, should be welcomed and seen for the valuable opportunities they present. Not only do challenges bring us face to face with our own weaknesses, but they also provide unexpected opportunities for improvement, growth, and happiness.
Here are three ways to see the good even in the most difficult situations and adopt an “adversarial growth” mindset during hard times:
Learn to See Adversity as an Opportunity:
For most of us, adversity is not something we actively seek out or welcome. Unfortunately, we also don’t usually have a choice in whether or not we face adversity – it’s an unavoidable part of life that, sooner or later, comes to us all. We can, however, choose how we see adversity and how we respond to whatever challenges come our way. By viewing adversity as an opportunity to grow and get stronger, we can take some negative that happens to us and actually make it work for us.
The first step in this process requires us to recognize that diversity is a necessary prerequisite for growth. Then, we can choose to respond to adversity with increased effort, shifting our outlooks to what’s known as a growth mindset. A growth mindset has been correlated with success in a variety of settings, from school grades and employment advancement to sports performance or athletic ability.
People who possess a growth mindset usually believe that, with effort and perseverance over time, success is possible. They also believe that overcoming adversity is dependent on increased effort; therefore, when we have a growth mindset and are presented with a challenging situation, we recognize the opportunity for growth and welcome the effort required to make it happen.
Use Adversity to Increase Your Openness to New Opportunities:
Adversity can often feel like a closed door. What we may have been pursuing is no longer possible, and the path we were on seems to be the wrong one. In many ways, this can make us feel like stopping in our tracks or, even worse, giving up altogether.
However, if we adjust our expectations around adversity and remain open to the opportunities for growth and change it can bring, we begin to realize that there are other, new doors and unexplored pathways that can lead us to where we want to be. In fact, an adversarial growth mindset can be so transformative that many people who face adversity or even traumatic experiences often find their very sense of direction or their life goals completely changed in the process.
For example, research into people who have experienced growth through trauma, also known as post-traumatic growth often finds that people are happier after making life changes in response to the events that have so disrupted their lives. Many times, they realize that what they were pursuing before life got tough wasn’t really what they wanted after all, and it took a difficult situation or a challenge to awaken them to new opportunities and new goals that align more closely with their true self.
Find Appreciation Hidden in Adversity:
Adversity can feel overwhelming, making it difficult for us to see light in all that darkness. After all, it is hard to imagine that we might find anything good in losing our job, struggling financially, or coping with loss. However, one component of life, and indeed of growth, is realizing that there are always multiple ways to look at any situation and that we have the flexibility and the power to choose how we respond to any given experience or circumstance.
This type of thinking, known as dialectical or paradoxical thinking, suggests that everything consists of opposites, and it is only through the presence of opposites that we come to fully understand the world around us. For example, it would be impossible to define darkness (the absence of light) without first understanding the concept of light. Similarly, it would be impossible to define cruelty without first defining kindness.
A fundamental component of dialectical thinking is that nothing is ever black and white. Therefore, nothing is ever all good or all bad, including adversity. In each and every situation – no matter how bad it feels in the moment – there are both positive and negative components.
For example, we may lose a job, yet this may also give us the opportunity to pursue other forms of employment that could end up being more fulfilling. We may have to work virtually, yet we have more time for exercise or to spend with family. Dialectical thinking helps us recognize that, even in the most challenging situations, there is always something we can appreciate.
Facing life challenges does not need to feel debilitating or like something that impedes our mental health. By choosing to see adversity through a growth-centered lens, becoming open to new opportunities, and finding the appreciation hidden in adversity, we can learn to embrace life’s inevitable challenges and use them to bring more meaning and joy to our lives.
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