Overcome Adversity And Thriving On Challenge

Dr Thanh-Tam Pham - 18/7/2020


Life is not going to be easy. Adversity can strike anytime to anyone young or old, rich or poor. It could be an accident, a loss of loved ones, a breakdown of relationship, a serious illness, a loss of job, a business failure, a bankruptcy….

However the response to adversity differs from one person to another. Some people can thrive through adversity while others struggle to barely survive or others may sink into deep depression that may lead to giving up this life altogether.

As a general practitioner, I learned a lot from my patients. One of my patients has quadriplegia from a cervical spinal fracture in his twenties from a motorbike accident but he still manage to live independently by himself with some help from a carer visiting once or twice a day. He is now in his seventies and he also witnessed one of his son dying from hanging himself and another son lost his leg from throwing himself in front of a train. Yet he always looks peaceful and cheerful, and his acceptance and strong mentality allow him to live by himself at home rather than being in an institution. 

Adversity of any kind is difficult to overcome and nobody wants to experience hardship in life.

Adversity came to me 13 years ago when my husband was diagnosed with lung cancer even though he never smoked and he was always the strong one to support the family. I used to live comfortably in his shadow but suddenly I found myself in charge of everything from looking after my husband, my 3 children, my parents and the 2 clinics and to pay all the mortgages he left for me.

I believe that everything in life happens for a reason and the negative experiences are designed to serve a purpose to help us develop and find our “higher self”.  Everything that I have gone through in my life has made me the person I am today, a stronger and a more compassionate one so I can understand other people and share my own experience to others.

Sometimes adversity forces you to hit rock bottom so that you can reflect on your life and grow through the experience. You think you lose everything but the one thing that can never be taken away from you is what you have learned and who you have become in the process.


How to overcome adversity:

You cannot choose what happens to you but you can always choose how you will respond.


1-   Acceptance: understand that everything in this life is impermanent and it can change to the worse before it can get better.

Life can be like a rollercoaster with the ups and downs.

Accept the situation and let go of the desire to get things back to the way they were and instead find a way to move forward.

Do not ask why it happens to me but always ask “why not me?”


2-   Believing in yourself:


-      Acknowledging your negative thoughts, admit that you are anxious, sad, angry or frustrated so you can release these emotions before you can move forward.

-      Stop making excuses or telling yourself it is too hard or you are not strong enough. Your thought will become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

-      Constantly strive to give your best effort and eventually you will overcome your immediate problems.

-      Have faith that things will change for the better if you are determined to move forward.

-      You must develop endurance and resilience: you must persist despite the odds and have the stamina to stand through any storm that life brings your way.

-      Do not take “No” for an answer

-      With every small success, you are strengthened and empowered.

-      Every adversity presents an opportunity for growth. Believing in your strength and you are capable of doing anything.



3-   Practice compassion and mindfulness:

Practice compassion to yourself and not over criticise you for past mistakes or past failure.

Acknowledge that suffering and personal failure is common to all humanity. It is a universal experience.

Practice Mindfulness:

 -aware and observe your negative emotions without focussing on them or suppressing them.

- focus on the present moment to take stock of the situation and to single-mindedly achieve what you have to do without any regret for the past or worry for the future.

- Stay in the present moment:

Adversity can leave emotional scars that are hard to erase.

The more you are obsessed with what happened, by reliving the experience over and over in your mind, the more you fear that same thing will happen again in the future. Every time you feel your mind slipping back into the past, replaying what happened, bring it back to the here and now. This will help you to focus to the present moment, the only point in time you have the control to change. The past is gone and the future exists only in your imagination.


4-   Ask for help;

When adversity is more than you can cope, do not be afraid to ask for help from loved ones, friends, colleagues or professionals. The fear of looking stupid or weak stops many people from reaching out for help.

People in depressed states are more likely to ruminate on their troubles and are unable to get out of the thought circles.



Thriving on challenge.

From the moment you are born, you have been successfully dealing with challenges from staying alive and thriving from childhood to adulthood and to old age…

 Life cannot be static with no changes as everything is impermanent and if there is no change there is no life. You can see that the body is constantly changing from a baby to grow into a teenager and into an adult. Your body is constantly challenged by illnesses, by adverse environmental factors…

Imagine what it would be like to have no challenge at all in life. There would be no decisions to be made, no satisfaction for achievements, no means for you to develop and get stronger.

 Challenge gives perseverance, resilience and strength.

You cannot hope to have a peaceful life devoid of challenge. Making progress is to constantly moving toward more and more meaningful and valuable challenges.

Sometimes, you will be facing with challenges that you have chosen such as a career path, a relationship to build…This is a straightforward situation.

Other times, undesired challenges will be thrust upon you and this can be frustrating but you have to convert that frustration into a powerful motivation to overcome the difficulties ahead.

The more challenges you have, the more you learn and the more you grow. It gives you confidence to achieve great things and can inspire you into more successful innovation.

So every time you are faced with a new challenge, practice gratitude and value the challenge as it will help you to become wiser and stronger. Practice gratitude can increase your level of joy in life. It is hard to feel gratitude when you are under a difficult situation but in hindsight you can appreciate the opportunity given for you to develop through a life challenge.

Do not feel overwhelmed by the sheer number of things that you have to do. It can indicate that you are leading a life full of meaning and purpose.

Life can get you down, but you can pick yourself up and thriving for a better “you”.