You Can Overcome Anything
When you feel shipwrecked, you won’t have someone there to hand you a life preserver. When you have to make a blind leap into the vast emptiness, you find yourself without a parachute. Nevertheless, you somehow manage to get through these tough times. Sometimes you do it with a smile. Other times, you slam the door and don’t look back. You might not have a cure-all for every mistake or a compass that shows you the right path. But don’t despair. Sooner or later, you’ll overcome any obstacle. You’ll come out triumphant with your head held high.
This might sound like just another motivational quote from positive psychology. Another cheesy “If You Want It, You Can Do It!” poster with a big smiley face. The truth is, this psychological focus goes a lot deeper than a cheesy catchphrase. In fact, we can see the evolution of this concept since Martin Seligman laid out the theoretical and scientific basis of positive psychology in the nineties.
Contemporary positive psychology is experiencing a second wave. This new iteration values the human capacity for transformation. In order to do that, you have to understand the complexity of the emotional experience and appreciate that it isn’t always easy to separate the negative from the positive. To survive and overcome adversity, you must know how to live with this range of emotions. They can be challenging, but also complementary. They form part of an emotional balance that self-regulates quite efficiently.
“Facing it, always facing it, that’s the way to get through.”
– Joseph Conrad –
Where’s the exit?
You might be able to solve your problem by distancing yourself or changing the scene. Get on a plane, go somewhere, break your routine. Or maybe that’s not it, maybe what you need is to say what you’ve been holding in for so long out loud, to finally express yourself clearly. Close that stage of your life with a smile (or slam the door shut). It’s also possible that what you need is already there. You just haven’t realized it yet.
Whatever the situation is, whatever problem or black hole you’re trying to get out of, remember one thing. You will get out. The key is fixing your gaze on the way out, not getting stuck on the problem itself. Believe it or not, most of us do the former. So, when you’re facing adversity, you might focus only on your pain and the injustice of it all… You look fear in the face, but you can’t rise above it.
Every problem has its limit. If you manage to get past it, you can finally come up for air and make an escape plan. But how many of us actually do that? So often we don’t, and there are consequences. Adversity can be paralyzing, and we’re poorly trained and unaccustomed to dealing with negative emotions. Most of us can’t tolerate them. Second wave positive psychology focuses on the importance of not exhausting your resources. If you manage to accept your negative emotions instead of fighting against them, you will make progress.
You can overcome anything, but where’s the exit? The way out is on the horizon, just past the limit of your fear.
Lessons about adversity
In the past few years, positive psychology isn’t the only area experiencing interesting advances. Every day we have more studies and articles focused on the psychology of post-traumatic growth. This branch of research stresses that, although things don’t always work out, you will emerge from adversity a changed person. All processes involve a change, and change implies losing, gaining, and transforming.
Lessons on adversity tell us that maybe you lose some of your innocence. You lose your ability to trust, your spontaneity… Certain things will fall away in the process, and you won’t get to the other side unscathed. There’s no doubt about that. Nevertheless, in the words of poet and architect Joan Margarit, a wound is also a place to live. In that difficult place, you find an unmatched creative strength. You discover resources you didn’t know you had, and you create a better version of yourself.
You can overcome anything if you have an escape plan. All you have to do is realize that you won’t be the same on the other side. You’ll be stronger. Understanding that and internalizing these ideas will help you on your life journey. First, you have to realize that no one is immune to adversity. Second, that all of us have the potential to practice this thing called post-traumatic growth.
Martin Seligman himself reminds us of that in his work on 9-11. Something that he saw in everyone who survived the terrorist attack was their capacity for resilience. So often, the most difficult events lead to the most positive changes. They humble you and make you more level-headed. You become more resilient, accept your own vulnerability, and have a more holistic philosophy of life.
In conclusion, a person’s strength isn’t found in the strength they have to resist certain things. It’s found in the unbreakable human will to transform and remake ourselves over and over again.