Life can be hard. Running a business can be hard. Pursuing what is most important to us can be hard.
But thankfully we can do hard things, especially if we tap into our superpower.
For most of us, that superpower lies in our response to the more challenging experiences we encounter.
The reality is that traumatic events are going to happen in life, and we cannot control that. But by controlling how we respond and how we move forward, can allow difficulty and pain to empower us, becoming fuel for something positive.
Dorothy M. Neddermeyer notes that "life is ten percent what you experience, and 90 percent how you respond to it". Our response is our superpower.
I would add to Neddermeyer’s insight that life is 90% how you respond to it in the long term. Immediate / short term reactions can often be emotional, and that's ok. We need to go through that sometimes.
But, when we’re ready, we can grow from traumatic experiences, and become stronger for them. They can become our secret source of power.
We get to choose; Dr Edith Eger
Dr Edith Eger is a holocaust survivor and psychiatrist, and author of “The Choice”. Eger shares her personal journey as well as examples from her clinical psychology practice to demonstrate how we can each make the choice to move beyond trauma.
She was the first person I heard articulate the idea that we can choose how we respond to negative experiences:
Traumatic events will always be a part of my life, but I allow my pain to empower me to move forward. It is fuel for something positive. I choose to use it to help others.
In a recent interview with BBC Breakfast, Eger described how people in the concentration camps during World War II learned that they needed to take care of each other: "There is a gift in everything; I want people to reclaim their power to choose their way of thinking about it."
The first step to discovering and claiming our superpower, is building resilience, allowing us to work proactively with whatever life throws at us.
It is possible to bounce back from adversity and misfortune, but turning such events into fuel which drives you forwards requires resilience. Thankfully, this is a largely learnable skill, given time and practice: we can adjust how we think about adversity.
In The Resiliency Advantage Dr Al Siebert writes that “highly resilient people are flexible, adapt to new circumstances quickly, and thrive in constant change. Most importantly, they expect to bounce back and feel confident that they will.” The latter part of this statement is particularly intriguing, and something everyone can cultivate.
By remembering the adversity we have already overcome, we can increase our confidence in our ability to overcome anything that comes our way. We must remember how far we have already come, and that we have faced and survived things that once seemed insurmountable.
Siebert also notes that resilience can be built by seeing things from another person’s point of view. When we empathise with others we feel less alone and less entrenched in pain. This is why we often seek out the stories of others in similar situations, or feel compelled to retrospectively share our experiences in the hope that it might help others.
There are other practical steps you can take to increase your resilience, allowing you to find your superpower:
Maintain a positive outlook: even when you’re struggling with adversity, try to find redeeming value in the situation - seek the silver lining. This prevents all of your emotions from becoming negative. It is healthy to acknowledge the bad, but also to find a way to see some good, for example noting that “at least I don’t have this other problem”, or appreciating that the lessons you’re learning will help you to become stronger. While thinking “I am sad about that”, also note what you’re grateful or hopeful about.
Sense-check your thoughts: it can be all too easy for problems to escalate in our minds, and feel overwhelming. Counteract this by questioning your thoughts; ask yourself "Is this thought true? What is the evidence for and against it?”. Our brains are wired to pay more attention to negative events and thoughts than positive, it is a survival mechanism. You can build resilience by consciously noticing and appreciating positive experiences as they occur, overriding the brain’s instinct.
Seek solutions: resilient people see an obstacle, problem or negative situation and ask themselves “What is the solution to that? What’s the first step I can take to improve this?”. Take control, and build confidence in your ability to handle whatever life throws at you.
Give back: being of service to others and engaging in acts of kindness boosts serotonin (and associated feelings of happiness and well-being), and broadens our perspective. If you’re able to utilise the things you’ve learned from your own experiences with adversity, all the better.
Tapping into your superpower
Resilience helps us to stay as strong and positive as possible. It can provide the clarity for us to take stock, and consider what it is about us that enables us to keep going, and succeed. Our superpower.
What drives you pursue the things that feel important to you, and make you happy?
What makes you, you?
What are your weaknesses as well as your strengths? How do these work together to form your personality? Can you pair them up and see how your good and bad traits can be two sides of the same coin?
Without your 'flaws', how many of your good traits would we lose? Would it be worth it? Would you still be yourself?
In taking a holistic view of ourselves, we can uncover our strengths, and mitigate our weaknesses. Only then can our key characteristics become superpowers.
For example, those who are labelled as ‘oversensitive’ are often empathetic, compassionate and kind. This empathy it gives them a holistic understanding of people and situations. But it is a double-edged sword, and when overwhelmed empathetic people might lose themselves to other peoples’ feelings and perspectives.
By growing our self-awareness, we can learn to recognise and resist the negatives; we can wield our superpowers carefully and move towards a happier, empowered future
Being stubborn is my superpower
Being a bit stubborn is most definitely one of my superpowers, uncovered through a dedication to self-development and growth during times of adversity. It took building my resilience as outlined above, through education, therapy and cognitive behavioural change.
I have consciously chosen to take responsibility for my own happiness, developing my superpowers as a result. For example: I can't change the fact that illness will weaken my muscles, but I choose to embrace the fact that a more limited future has made me get super-clear about what I want, and determined to pursue it right now. There’s no more ‘maybe one day’.
And knowing as I do that life can be short and unpredictable, I can share my experiences with others, and hopefully motivate them to focus on the things that are most important to them. In doing this, alongside acknowledging and working to avoid any associated potential pitfalls, my weakness has become my superpower.
The thing about personal growth is that it is often a side-effect of adversity. We rarely get a choice in it, we just have to do the best with what we have. So we might as well use it to consider what our superpower is, enabling us to have a brighter future.
After all, you are in charge of your own life. You get to choose how you live it. And you are responsible for your own happiness. So take control, be stubborn and succeed in spite of adversity.
Psst. I shared this a few months ago with subscribers to the fortnightly letters about ‘stubbornly pursuing happiness’… but with more of a personal slant on it. The letters are a good place to dig deeper into topics like this, so sign up here if you’d like to receive them.