According to the book “The Happiness Advantage”, written by Shawn Achor, as soldiers are sent off to war they are informed by doctors that they will return in one of two states – the same as they were before leaving or suffering from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
In recent years, however, studies were done that found this not to be entirely true. The reason being that there were some soldiers who returned without PTSD, but were also clearly not the same as they used to be.
They came back stronger, more resilient to adversity. Despite going through an undeniably negative experience, these soldiers we in many ways better equipped to handle life than they were before.
Those running the study came to refer to this group as experiencing PTG – Post Traumatic Growth (also known as adversarial growth). These soldiers became capable of realizing that when circumstances become difficult that they were not automatically doomed to failure.
In yet another example of our soldiers leading the way for the greater good, this incredible group of men and women experienced some of the most chilling situations humans can ever experience. And it ultimately created good in them.
What the researchers concluded was that it was not the negative situation itself that determined whether someone would experience either PTSD or PTG, but rather their perception of it.
“If we are able to conceive of failure as an opportunity for growth, then we are far more likely to experience that growth. However, if we perceive a fall as the worst thing in the world, it becomes just that.”
– Shawn Achor
And really, any challenge we face in life can lead us to one of three future outcomes:
- We allow the challenge to beat us down.
- We roll with it using a ‘That’s Life’ mentality
- We use the challenge as fuel to lead us to a higher level in the future.
There’s a pretty powerful lesson in there for our kids in the ultra-competitive world of youth sports.
Challenges and setbacks are not a judgment on your self-worth.
You may not make a certain team.
You might not get as much playing time as you think you deserve.
You may fail in a key moment, costing your team a chance at victory.
None of this means you are a failure, in fact it doesn’t make you any different than everyone else. But how you choose to handle will make all the difference in the world.
Don’t believe me? Here are just a few examples of athletes who took the PSG approach:
Herschel Walker was bullied relentlessly as a young child for being overweight and stuttering, but channeled that into a football career that saw him with the Heisman Trophy and spend a decade as a top pro running back.
Simone Biles was born to a mother who was riddled with substance abuse issues, but used that as fuel to make herself a decorated Olympic champion gymnast.
Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, but came back the next year not only to make that team, but to go on and become arguably the greatest basketball player of all time.
Baseball players like Mike Lowell, Andres Galarraga and Jon Lester were all diagnosed with cancer and had to go through grueling treatment, but each returned to play at all star levels.
It’s so easy in youth sports to focus on winning, using that as a leading indicator of future success. Today’s youth sports world inexplicably ranks teams nationally at levels as low as U10, pushing to crazy levels the belief that you have to win now to be a star in the future.
But the reality is that it’s the losses and the failures that will ultimately determine tomorrow’s top players, because the ones who adopt the PSG mindset will courageously face the truth and fight to become better in the future.
So if you lose a big game…
or get injured…
or don’t make the team this season…
or get benched for reasons you think are unfair…
or have to overcome adversity in any other form, remember that this is your big moment.
It is the moment that will define you, because you’re almost certainly never going to be the same.
You’re either going to start falling behind, or you’re going to use this as fuel to reach greater heights in the future.
I am hopeful you’ll choose the latter.
The most successful people see adversity not as a stumbling block but as a stepping stone to greatness.