3 Simple Strategies to Face Difficult Situations
What can the tundra teach you about thriving in harsh environments?
We tend to believe that facing difficult situations is all about having thick skin. But is it? Could we face difficult situations better? The tundra hides an important lesson: there is always a way to face challenges in a more affirmative manner. In the most adverse weather, the tundra’s flora and fauna learns when to expand and when to contract. To grow as a human being requires adversity to a certain extent. To celebrate requires effort first. You must learn how to plant the seeds now that you want to harvest later. These 3 simple strategies to face difficult situations will show you how life thrives even in one of the harshest climates of the world and what you can learn from it.
The first strategy is about attitude. We all know attitude is a way of thinking or feeling that influences your actions. But if we know this simple truth for certain, why don’t we choose to improve it more often? Why not choose to think and feel in a way that helps us out? If you improve your attitude, you improve the quality of your actions. After spending 2 years in open sea, the King salmon begins its journey back through the tundra waters to where it was born to spawn. Their journey is rocky, shallow, and upstream, but they don’t hesitate to go back. That’s why wild salmon have a very important lesson to teach us: Attitude is a choice. Whether or not you’re going upstream, you can choose to have a better attitude as you face difficult situations.
What does it take to want to approach a difficult situation with an optimistic attitude? I think it takes a dynamic approach. You need to look inward to gain clarity on the things that matter to you. For instance, the things you truly care about could be to have fun, to want to learn something, or to help others. But it also takes a look outward. What would you like to accomplish? What results do you want to see happen? Can you imagine a future that you would like to create? It also helps to decide early that if something goes wrong, you’ll try again or learn from the experience. Think about how you can choose to improve your attitude especially when you can’t control the outcomes. Could you take ownership of an empowering attitude? Can you begin your journey upstream?
The second strategy is about fortitude. Difficult situations require effort and discipline to overcome. Fortitude is your ability to learn what you need to face ongoing challenges with ongoing effort. Recognize that all skills and abilities are undeveloped potential. True learning requires personal risk taking. To grow professionally, you need to be willing to feel embarrassed, dumb, under qualified, etc. It’s about accepting that these feelings happen, but they are part of the process. You choose to have a great attitude, but you accept that going out of your comfort zone, is after all, uncomfortable. Strangely, as soon as you accept this, you’re more likely to actually step into your learning zone.
The Black spruce is a tree in the pine family native to North America that grows in Arctic territories. It also makes up most of the biome of boreal forests or taiga. Alaska has vast boreal forests that extend into the horizon. In contrast to other forests, this forest is made up of very short black spruce trees. They look twisted and burned by frost. In certain regions, a black spruce tree could be a few feet tall and be dozens of years old. In some cases, hundreds of years old. But they still thrive! They grow very slowly because of such adverse conditions. When I think of fortitude, I don’t think about the massive Giant Sequoias, I think about the Black spruce trees. A local Alaskan told us that because of the permafrost, the soil gets really muddy and the black spruce trees sink, bend, and “look drunk”. And yet, they manage to thrive. They spend most of their energy not growing tall, but in standing strong.
In Mastery: The Keys to Success and Long-term Fulfillment, George Leonard says: “The courage of a master is measured by his or her willingness to surrender. This means surrendering to your teacher and to the demands of your discipline. It also means surrendering your own hard-won proficiency from time to time in order to reach a higher or different level of proficiency.” He continues, “The early stages of any significant new learning invoke the spirit of the fool. It’s almost inevitable that you’ll feel clumsy, that you’ll take literal or figurative pitfalls. There’s no way around it. The beginner who stands on his or her dignity becomes rigid, armored; the learning can’t get through.” Fortitude is not an overnight tactic, but a long-term strategy. There is no doubt the black spruce surrendered to the harshness of the tundra. And yet, they evolved to thrive in it.
The third strategy is about achieving altitude. The Alaska harebell grows in the harshest alpine conditions of rocky slopes and thin layers of soil, often in crevices of rocks. What do you think is the most interesting aspect about the Alaska harebell? It certainly manages to grow in one of the harshest climates. But what’s most fascinating is that it flowers! Altitude is being able to be grateful when things are hard. Altitude is taking a step back to see past obstacles. Mostly, altitude is about enthusiasm, bouncing back from setbacks, and being hopeful and optimistic backed by consistent effort. Altitude = attitude + resilience.
When I worked at a corporation, I smiled often. But smiling is not quite the corporate strength. I took my tasks seriously, but I smiled to try to enjoy them more. In fact, I actually didn’t think about smiling. I smile when things are going great or when I want them to. Smiling and being upbeat may be one of the ways to be more resilient. However, some work cultures think that as long as you look stressed or busy, you must be trying hard. That’s nonsense. Instead, how can you focus on team engagement, idea generation and execution, honest feedback and support, or camaraderie? A true sense of belonging, teamwork, and ownership are all overlooked and underrated corporate values. Altitude is achieved when despite difficulty you’re able to smile, motivate, and energize yourself and others by keeping a positive outlook.
Sow how do you do it? To attain altitude you need both mind and body. Listen to your body. What does it need? I have been fascinated about how much we neglect our body. There’s little I can do when I don’t have enough sleep, or interrupted sleep. Or if I have a poor diet full of junk food. What about water? I’ve had countless headaches due to being dehydrated. Think about how you can improve exercise, rest, and nutrition. Also think about other less obvious factors like hygiene, even having enough sunshine and fresh air. What does your mind need more of? Perhaps more reading, more laughter, and more or better company. What does it need less of? I think watching less or no “news,” less binge watching, less gossip. What do you think your mind could use less of?
Even in one of the harshest environments in the world, the alpine plants bloom. They don’t flower because they have to, or because they can. They just do. To bloom, first they overcome autumn, winter, and often part of the spring. Life isn’t about dwelling in the harsh moments, but realizing that it’s the hard moments that make the blooming moments possible! All you need is to be mindful of the kind of attitude you’d like to choose going into any kind of situation. Then, make it a point to practice fortitude by recognizing the need to be in development at all times. And finally, embrace altitude and fill yourself and surroundings with the kind of positive energy that will keep you trying hard, growing, and confronting the inevitable obstacles that we all face in life.
Juan F. Diaz
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