bout 20 years ago (and am still not that old anyway), I went through what I considered to be the biggest adversity of my life since I was born. I remember after I had overcome it writing to my mum and telling her, “For the first time in my life, I was depressed”. The victory that I got out of that pressure gave me so much confidence and so much acquaintance with how to handle trouble that I was telling my college mates, “I can handle just about anything that comes my way now”. Boy was I so wrong!! However, much as I am looking at the situation in retrospect, I can deduce that the adversity helped me build my mental toughness.
The Better Side of Adversity
Much as we love to evade pressure and embrace comfort, mental toughness is bred in an atmosphere of challenges and adversity. If you would talk to two or three people that have gone through a challenge and have overcome, they will tell you. They will say that they would not want to go through what they went through ever again, but they will tell you that they cannot trade whatever they gained from that season for anything. It is invaluable. Napoleon Hill said it best:
Every adversity, every failure, every heartache carries with it the seed of an equal or greater benefit.
In his book, “Man’s Search For Meaning”, Viktor E Frankl pulls aside the veil and takes us through what the victims of the holocaust went through. Viktor tells us that he made through the situation through mental toughness. He made it because his mind was focused on meeting with loved ones, and completing his project. He penned that book in less than a month after he was released. The book has sold millions over the years and it is one of the most recommended books on earth.
Challenges vs Adversity
Since we do not have a say in when an adversity comes, at least we can choose to challenge ourselves. Both adversities and challenges constrict us and force us to rely on our inner strength and resolve to pull through. The problem is that we spend most of our time trying to evade an adversity or keeping away from challenges. When is the last time that you were either in a challenge or an adversity? Bob Marley said it well when he declared:
“You never know how strong you are until being strong is the only choice you have”
Adversity Cements Resolve
In other words, adversity or challenges reveal what you are made of. Ugandan Parliamentarian Robert Kyagulani aka Bobi Wine was recently arrested and allegedly tortured by Ugandan Security Forces. For more than a week, he was allegedly denied access to his doctors and family members. I have no clue what was going on behind the scenes, but one thing I can guarantee you is this: That man’s mental toughness has just been upped unwittingly by the powers that be. A challenge, pressure or adversity has a way of cementing what one initially believes in. This in turn contributes to great mental toughness. It is what Martin Seligman said:
Hardiness is just what it sounds like—the perseverance and toughness that enable people to emerge from devastating circumstances without losing hope.
~Harvard Business Review. HBR’s 10 Must Reads on Mental Toughness (with bonus interview “Post-Traumatic Growth and Building Resilience” with Martin Seligman) (HBR’s 10 Must Reads)
Creating Your Own Challenges
Now that adversity will bid it’s time to come to you, I think to develop mental toughness, you need to take up some challenges of your own and grow through the process. The following are some of the ways you can challenge yourself in order to develop mental toughness.
1. Quit Your Job
Don’t lynch me. I am talking to those who know in their hearts that they are fed up or they are better than their jobs. If there is that nudging in your heart, please take heed and quit. Believe me, you will grow through leaps and bounds because of the adversity that you will have brought upon yourself. People will call you crazy and you will indeed be crazy to quit…but in the end, the mental toughness that you will have developed will be unlike any other you ever gained on earth. Take that to the bank. Well if you can’t quit, at least set an exit date in place.
2. Physical Challenge
The most immediate way you can put a challenge on yourself is to target a particular physical activity that is measurable. Your body is connected to your mind. Mental toughness is developed when you stretch your mind. For example, I always had a physical personal challenge to run a 10 Km marathon under one hour. In the process of preparation, I grew and I am just about to achieve that fete.
3. Develop an Idea
One of the easiest ways to develop mental toughness is to challenge yourself to bring an idea to life in the shortest time possible. Developing an idea is like a pregnant woman on week 40. It is all systems go. Whether you like it or not, the baby is coming and you must push. You must have this baby. When your future is connected to you developing that idea, I am telling you that your mental toughness is just about to get a shot in the arm. You will meet people, work for hours and do other crazy things to make it come to life. In the process, you will grow mentally.
4. One Day to Live
Steve Jobs told us that the most profound thing you can ever do is to live your life as if there is no tomorrow. What if indeed you knew that you do not have time on earth? All of a sudden you are a human being operating with utmost urgency. Robert Kiyosaki said,
“The size of your success is measured by the strength of your desire; the size of your dream and the way you handle disappointment along the way”
Disappointment, challenges and adversity are a part of life. The more we face them and come out stronger, the more we develop our mental toughness. So let’s not look at them as if they are something bad. Let’s look at them like they are a refiner’s fire.