An image came up on my Facebook feed this morning that read: “Just because someone carries it well doesn’t mean it isn’t heavy”. It’s true, we never really know what someone is dealing with at any given point in time – that they could be dealing with emotionally or physically challenging situations in their life, but not giving any indication that they are struggling, resonates with me. I’ll bet that we can all think of at least one person whose inner strength is apparent to all – who excels during hard times, who rarely complains, who uses his/her strength to help others. Those strong individuals are worthy of our admiration, they give us something to aspire to.
What makes a person persevere through adversity? What habits can we develop that will enable us to develop internal fortitude? I did a little Google “research” on this and found answers that were totally unsatisfactory. A few articles focused on the building blocks of good health: such as eating a whole food, nutritious diet; exercising; and practicing things that build self-awareness like meditation, journaling and counseling. Unfortunately, much of the advice fell into the category of “put yourself first”. Putting yourself first is literally the opposite of what I have observed in truly strong individuals. Contemplating this, I found myself thinking about one of the teen moms in a program I used to supervise during my social work days. I hadn’t thought of her in many years, but her life provides a perfect illustration of someone who developed a great inner strength in the face of adversity.
Early in my career, I supervised a child abuse prevention program for teen moms that included home visits and group services. One of the teen moms in that program had a history of having been abused. As a matter of fact, she had been passed through 23 foster homes during her time in DCFS custody. Given her history and childhood, one would have expected her to struggle with the basics of parenting: appropriate developmental expectations, nurturing, appropriate behavioral guidance and, most importantly, developing a healthy bond with her infant. However, she did not dwell on her past, she put all her efforts in making a better life for her baby. She participated in every home visit; she learned about child development; she learned and practiced infant massage to help her with touch and understanding her child’s cues and communication; she was involved with the daycare and eventually, the preschool; she played with her child and took her to the park. In other words, her constant focus on the GOAL of becoming an excellent mother to her beloved baby gave her the inner strength to overcome the adversity of her past. She overcame.
The same principle applies to great athletes. Instead of focusing on the discomfort of the moment, they focus on the goal of excellence. That takes inner strength. I’m not talking about pushing through the pain that comes with injury. I’m referring to completing a hard workout or pushing yourself past any pre-conceived limitations. Roger Bannister didn’t break the 4-minute mile by believing it was impossible. He broke it through hard work, through running even when he didn’t feel like running. Achieving a great milestone in athletics represents years of discipline, the will and ability to focus on a goal and the strength to keep going, even when it is difficult to do so. In this way, Roger and other great athletes overcome.
Through observation of strong people that I have known; through observing public figures who have overcome adversity; and by reading biographies of men and women who have overcome life’s challenges to achieve great things, I have noticed a few commonalities that individuals who remain steadfast in facing difficulties that we can all learn from.
1. People with inner strength think beyond the present situation – they tend to focus on future goals or a vision for what the future may hold. This drive to attain their goals or shape the future helps them to overcome challenges and discomforts in the present.
2. People with inner strength think beyond their own feelings in any given situation – they strive to understand the role that they play within the context of a larger community. They understand that their actions and behaviors impact those around them and that, in some instances, their actions and behaviors impact the much larger community.
3. People with inner strength tend to study themselves. Athletes track their performances and address their weaknesses, for example. Politicians and public speakers pay attention to how their words are received and adjust their tactics accordingly. Great scientists put their egos aside and actually try to disprove their original theories in an attempt to verify their results or to develop something previously unknown.
Anyone can practice these techniques – not only will they help to fortify your self-confidence, but they will help you to understand and adjust to circumstances which may seem beyond your control.