Responding To Adversity: Are You Stoic, Elon Musk or A Buddha?
When life hits you hard, the only important question is „How do you respond“?
In the eye of the storm, however, human beings have an unfortunate weakness. We overcomplicate things.
And indeed, if you browse the internet for advice, you will find detailed action-plans and complex tactics on how to respond to adversity. But do you have the energy for all of this?
Probably not. Things should be kept simple, especially in hard times.
That’s why we should take a step back, breathe deeply, and remember this:
While adversity may come in many different forms like financial struggles, emotional problems, family issues, or even loss of loved ones, the fundamental solutions are only a few.
The astonishing thing is that the best solutions to adversity aren’t new at all. Matter of fact, this knowledge has been well-known throughout human history.
Although we like to think we are the only ones who suffer from our very own problem, thousands or even millions of people have faced the same challenge you are facing right now – be it a simple farmer, a nobleman or an Indian shaman.
So why not relying on this well-tried knowledge when facing your own problems?
To achieve this, I have identified 3 of the best ways for responding to adversity since the beginning of human mankind.
Here are 3 historical figures, 3 eras, 3 ways of overcoming adversity. Enjoy.
„Choose your battles wisely “ – C. JoyBell C.
This world may be a huge battlefield, but not every fight is yours. This is quite a statement to think about.
Once you learn to pick the right battles, you can avoid a lot of adversity in your life.
This simple idea has laid the groundwork for the Greek philosopher Zeno of Citium to found his philosophy of Stoicism. Hundred of years later, Stoicism has been further developed by Roman philosopher Seneca and applied by historical figures like Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius and American president George Washington.
In a nutshell, stoicism teaches that we can’t control external events, but our reactions to them. Therefore, rather than dreaming about the perfect life, the Stoic focuses on the world as it is while working on 4 cardinal virtues: wisdom, temperance, justice, and courage. 1
Why You Should Ignore Everyone & Everything
If you want to apply stoicism in your own life, you need to master the method of refocusing. Just follow these two steps:
1. Ignore the stuff that can’t be controlled
2. Focus on the stuff you can control: Your attitude, your thoughts and especially your day-to-day actions.
Refocusing (and especially the first step, ignoring) may sound weak, but don’t confuse them with procrastination or even ignorance. Ignorance means lack of knowledge while ignoring is a deliberate action.
It requires a lot of strength to accept our limitations as human beings. As a matter of fact, refocusing (and ignoring) should be our primary coping strategy in a globalized and digitalized world where human tragedy is just one click away.
You should, therefore, take your ignoring-skills to the next level: Ignore the news, ignore the naysayers, and ignore your nerve-wracking colleague who is constantly talking about his cocky kids.
With refocusing, you avoid getting overwhelmed. Instead of looking at the whole mountain on the horizon, you rather concentrate on the steps in front you – one step at a time, until you reach the mountaintop.
So instead of focusing on the recession, remind yourself that the economy always runs in cycles. On a practical level, reduce your daily spending and find safe investment opportunities.
Instead of focusing on your family issues, work on your patience, surround yourself with positive people and complete your daily To-Do list.
In essence, a Stoic doesn’t care too much about the world around him. He avoids negative influences as far as possible and rather focuses on his mindset and his actions.
„How much can you know about yourself if you’ve never been in a fight? “ – Chuck Palahniuk
Eventually, adversity will knock on your door, and you are forced to open it. At that moment, you know exactly what you have to do: it’s time to fight the monster.
Not enough money? Go out, get a (better) job and make (more) money.
Health problems? Get help, reduce stress, and improve your diet.
Relationship Problems? Make compromises, create a new vision, or try couple therapy.
The act of fighting follows a simple pattern. You try to fix problems on the same layer they have been created. In fact, most real-world problems are based on this pattern:
No money? Make more money!
Not enough love? I want more love!
Too much stress? Less stress, please!
Bad health? Improve your health!
How To Fight Properly
While you are in the midst of a fight, don’t be too hard on yourself. You can make your fight a lot easier by seeking out help. From a high-level perspective, you should focus on these 3 components:
Knowledge: How to do it?
People: Who can help me?
Technology: What can help me?
And he is using knowledge, people, and technology to win his battles.
To be honest – there’s little left to say about the art of fighting. You can’t read about it, and it can’t be conceptualized.
Go out, and find your own fighting style.
„You need chaos in your soul to give birth to a dancing star “ – Friedrich Nietzsche
After some time, constant fighting will wear you down. You will get more and more tired until the burden of war will be too much to bear.
In this case, you are forced to reinvent yourself. You must look beyond the surface to find deeper insights. Otherwise, pain and suffering will never end.
So what’s the ultimate solution?
Prince Siddhartha Gautama, born in 563 B.C., has been raised as a prince who lived a luxurious life in his large palace. However, deep down, he felt empty. He intuitively knew something profound was missing in his life. Fueled by the desire to find his inner truth, he set out into the world and became a wandering monk. During his travels, he suffered from sickness, loneliness, hunger, and existential grief. But one day, on a full-moon day in May, he meditated under a Bodhi tree to end his suffering once and for all. In a glimpse of a moment, he reached the state of enlightenment. He transcended the love for this world, became the Buddha and founded Buddhism. 2
Transcension sounds like a vague term caused by its spiritual connotation. However, the dictionary defines transcend simply as „going beyond the range of limits“.
Transcension Is Mystical
The truth is, nobody can tell you how to achieve transcension. As the definition already implies, you need to look beyond the range of limits – beyond the rules of culture and beyond answers society has to offer.
The objective of transcension, however, is clearer. It’s about gaining deeper insights about yourself and the world, inspired by wisdom and truth.
Concrete examples may look as follows:
- If you suffer from poverty, you learn that richness is mostly an inner, not an outer state.
- In case of sickness, you accept the state of suffering to transform your being.
- In the case of loneliness, you find that you’re your best friend.
Achieving transcension doesn’t seem to happen overnight. It is proceeded by intense phases of adversity.
In contrast to the latter two methods (refocusing and fighting), there’s no practical advice to achieve transcension – let alone a manual.
However, transcension only can happen when you look into yourself.
Start to trust your subjective reality – question your beliefs, look beyond your fears and listen to your intuition.
By doing that, you don’t play the game of society anymore. On the contrary, you take the game to another level.
Think of Gandhi. He didn’t respond to the British Empire’s violence with more violence. He rather defeated British imperialism through nonviolent resistance.
At first sight, Stoicism and transcension can be easily confused. There is, however, one crucial difference. A Stoic blocks out the negativity of the world by using willpower and discipline. He sets clear boundaries between him and the world. In contrast, transcension welcomes the chaos of this world and uses it as a catalysator to gain new insights. Or put more simply, it finds order in chaos.
Needless to say, transcension is the hardest and riskiest way of overcoming adversity. However, it’s by far the most rewarding.
In case you achieved it, please let us know!
How to Become Your Own Hero
It should also be noted that these 3 approaches have a common foundation. They are based on discipline and constant action.
Thus, refocusing, fighting and transcending can’t be (and shouldn’t) be used exclusively. It’s no „either-or-decision“. Rather, they naturally merge into one another.
It’s your job to mix them up, according to your goals, character traits, and surroundings.
Oftentimes, you refocus until you are forced to fight. And eventually, you need to find a deeper meaning with the help of transcension.
But that’s just my suggestion. Because, ultimately, you need to decide: Do you want to be Stoic, Elon Musk or a Buddha?