Two Virtues that Will Help You Thrive in Seriously Hard Times—My Take

By Ariel Bollant, Client Service Manager

Some people point disparagingly to those who have succeeded in life, claiming that their success was largely due to good fortune and good genes. I’m not here to argue that these don’t help. But neuroscientific researchers are showing that perception and focus, what ultimately drive behavior, arguably do more to paint our reality than any external force—whether nature or nurture.

In the face of overwhelming adversity, where many choose to give up, some unconquerable souls find a way through. The Louis Zamperinis and Corrie ten Booms of the world—truly exceptional human beings—are still made of flesh and blood. What separates them from most others is the decisions they make.

How we perceive the world is critical

Thanks to the neuroplasticity of the human brain, human beings can build the mindset that fuels the behaviors necessary to flourish. It begins with focus. The body sends over 10 million bits of information per second to the brain, but we are conscious of no more than 50. What we focus on drastically affects our perception of events around us.

When we’re confronted with great adversity, three responses are common: focusing on the problem, ignoring the problem, and focusing on the solution. While focusing all our attention on the problem may send us into a malaise, ignoring it can quite literally kill us. Neither one is particularly helpful in building a flourishing life. In contrast, acknowledging the problem and focusing on creating a solution can lead to magnificent results.

As Bill Burnett and Dave Evans note in Designing Your Life, “Problems are why you have running water and insulation in your home. Plumbing was created because of a problem…Chairs were created because someone, somewhere, wanted to solve a big problem: sitting on rocks causes sore bottoms.” They argue that focusing on designing solutions to life’s difficulties is more likely to result in the flourishing life we all desire.

Focusing on the solution is the right way to go. I believe the two time-honored principles that follow deserve reflection. You might think of them as tools in helping to forge a path toward any major solution.

Discipline makes all the difference

For me, discipline is about bettering oneself to gain deeper enjoyment and satisfaction in life. To watch Lebron James play basketball or listen to Yo-Yo Ma play the cello is to witness great beauty that inspires a longing—and maybe a tad bit of jealousy. The ability to captivate audiences requires great discipline and sacrifice.

Strict adherence to a healthy regimen that leads to productive growth will almost inevitably lead to a better life. How many who have spent years in disciplined practice will tell you that the “sacrifice” they made was actually a gift to themselves?

If we identify what’s important to us, and what needs to be done to get there, we can start walking it one step at a time. For me, it’s been useful to take the time daily to imagine myself having achieved what I aim for, reflecting on all the joy, satisfaction, and pride that will come with it. Research shows that those who imagine themselves having a certain experience release the same kinds of neurochemicals that actually having that experience does.

A persevering commitment to healthy growing

Life is constantly changing, and we’re all growing. Maybe it’s my Masters degree in Philosophy speaking—but I think it makes beautiful sense to commit to grow in a positive, life-giving direction, no matter how difficult the challenges. Just as lifting greater weight can lead to greater muscle growth, so adversity can lead to great strength of character. The goals might change along the way, but persevering toward healthy growth will make each of them more accessible.

At Halbert Hargrove, we’re fierce advocates of fearlessly pursuing well-lived todays and tomorrows—we know this attitude has made a key difference in each of our lives. Of course difficult times are an inescapable part of life! Yet I continue to believe, now more than ever, that hard work, discipline, and good advice still pay off: Avidly and consistently pursuing the virtues that build a good life will give all of us the best odds for securing good outcomes, bright futures, and happiness.

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