Do you see yourself as a hero?
A key to bouncing back and beyond challenges is finding your inner hero. Everyone who has carried on after adversity is a hero. Today you will learn a tool for discovering your heroic acts. This powerful tool can help you rise up and over adversity and explore ways that negative experiences can build you up rather than tear you down. With small, simple practices, you can cultivate resiliency and optimism after taking a fall.
A hero is someone who faces a challenge with courage, determination, bravery, and strength. A hero rises up from the ashes even when dreams burn down in flames.
Look for heroic acts. A heroic act is a response that demonstrates resiliency or strength. Reflecting on how you or another dealt with a disappointment, heartbreak, or a dream that crashed and burned can reveal heroic acts. Heroic acts might include learning tough lessons, self-growth, or renewed determination.
As I witness the heroic acts of those facing adversity, I am awestruck.
Cancer. Recently, I was talking with my old high school friend Pam who was diagnosed with bone marrow cancer and given 30-days to live–five years ago. She asked about my friend Eric’s condition with Stage IV brain cancer (he is also heroic). I explained that he was seeking a new experimental treatment that seems promising. She interrupted me, “No, how is he today?” She stated emphatically, “If he is good today, then he is GOOD! Period.”
She is a hero in the face of adversity: She focuses on the gift of today and deals with the challenges of tomorrow, tomorrow. Despite often feeling ill from treatment side effects, she is one of the most positive, upbeat people I know.
Divorce. Another friend reveals his inner hero as he heals from a heartbreaking divorce. Instead of blaming his ex-wife for cheating on him, heroically, he is taking an honest look at how he might have had a part in co-creating the circumstances. In vowing to learn from what went wrong, he rises from the inferno and empowers himself to create a satisfying, lasting future marriage.
The other day I expressed admiration for his willingness to broach a sensitive topic. He exclaimed, “I’m not letting things go unsaid anymore. I’ve learned that hard discussions just get harder.” Breaking old habits, like not speaking up when the little voice inside whispers, takes a Herculean level of courage and determination. That is a heroic act.
Single Parenting. At age 35, a single friend of mine (I’ll call her Carla) found herself peering over the cliff of infertility. When she was diagnosed as being on the edge of infertility, instead of falling to her knees in disappointment, she considered her options. She researched the scientific literature on the mental health impact of children raised by single mothers, and after securing a male family member to commit a having a presence in her child’s life, she chose a donor from a sperm bank. Carla elected to become a single-mother-by-choice. Six months of IVF treatment with donated sperm and $30,000 later, she got pregnant.
She loves being a mother and sees herself as closer than ever to meeting the man of her dreams. She says, “Now the men I meet have to really show-up, so I see their values from the start.” Carla’s daughter is lucky to have a mom who models extraordinary heroism.
How to Identify Your Heroic Acts
How does one move from victim to victor?
This tool can empower you when you feel stuck, victimized, or helpless. When bad things happen to good people it is crucial to wholeheartedly process the grief, anger, or whatever distressing feelings that result (See my newsletter “Negative Emotions: Friend or Foe?”). Apply this technique only when you have processed emotions and feel ready to move into empowerment.
1. Identify a challenge.
Focus on one that makes you feel disempowered, pessimistic, or down on yourself.
2. Identify your heroic acts.
• How have I faced this adversity with courage and determination?
• What did I learn or develop in response to this adversity (even though you might still elect to not have had this experience)?
• How have I grown as a person?
• How have I cultivated greater fortitude, compassion, or wisdom?
3. See yourself as a hero–utterly brave, courageous, and determined to create a desirable future.
Are your negative emotions friends or foes?
These coaching tips present an option that most people never consider: Make peace not war with your negative emotions. In other words, honor them. When you see them as friends not enemies, you can move through them. Then can you use these emotions to help not hinder your happiness.
Make Peace Not War
Forge a new relationship with your emotions.
Negative emotions like sadness, frustration, disappointment, anxiety and regret can feel like enemies to happiness. We don’t want them; they are painful. Sometimes it may seem that life would be better if we could rid ourselves of them. Sure enough, many people spend their lives desperately trying to avoid negative emotions. Work, emotional eating, alcohol, and busy-ness when at an extreme can be attempts to avoid negative emotions.
Desperately trying to avoid negative emotions is a set-up for unhappiness. The path to happiness includes forging a healthy relationship with negative emotions. You might even befriend your negative emotions and use them as aides to happiness. Befriending negative emotions does not mean dwelling in them or being passive. Certainly, they can get in our way, and we must find ways to diminish them. However, to manage negative emotions, we need to process them not fight them.
3 Tips for Making Peace with Difficult Emotions
1. Identify what you feel compelled to protect.
Distressing emotions arise to compell us to protect what we love or desire. When something deeply value is threatened, we will feel compelled to protect it. Another way to think about this is that under each feeling of distress, usually there is a positive wish or unfulfilled desire.
Ask yourself, “What is my underlying positive wish or unfulfilled desire in this situation?”
Or, “What is of deep value that my being is desperately trying to protect?”
Instead of being upset that a distressing emotion is disrupting your well-being, look for the positive wish or unfulfilled desire. In a minor annoyance like being in a long check-out line, the positive wish might be that you get your errand done quickly so that you can get home to relax after a long work day. Your positive wish is to relax. The long line is interfering with your ability to facilitate that. In more important situations your positive wish might be a dream.
By validating your positive wish, you make explicit the role of the negative emotion. This can transform the emotion because it has been attended it or “heard.”
2. Thank your “inner warrior.”
Your negative emotions are trying to keep you and your dreams safe. They are like “inner warriors” or “silent guardians” that are watching out for you. Negative emotions are trying to help you. Their job is to alert and motivate you respond to trouble, imminent danger, and impending problems. They do their job with tough love. Just like a parent drawing a hard line with a wayward teenager, negative emotions remove the kid gloves and get serious. They use pain to wake us up and ensure we pay attention to their message. Paradoxically, this is an act of love.
Don’t judge the emotion as bad or unacceptable. Don’t resist, demand that they go away, or fight them. The emotion is coming from your survival instinct. It has a role and is trying “to do its job.” Honor these emotions. Appreciate that they are coming from your survival instinct. Thank your inner warrior or silent guardian.
3. Direct compassion toward yourself.
Compassion transforms. Direct warmth and kindness toward yourself like you would to a child or beloved in pain. Often we feel like we should not be having difficult time, that we should be “stronger” or “just get over it.” By having compassion rather than judgment, the intensity of the negative emotion may change. Many describe a feeling of negativity melting away when they direct compassion towards themselves in the face of difficulty.