Another brilliant mind left the world this week as many mourn the death of Professor Stephen Hawkins. And I assume that your social media like mine has been exploding with memories of his incredible achievements, quotes and above all his lifelong battle and astounding success with his illness and subsequent disabilities. It’s inspiring. To see perseverance in the face of such hopelessness, reminds us that we can achieve no matter who we are and what we face.
And of course Proffessor Hawkins is not the only person to have persevered despite it all. There are hundreds, if not thousands of stories in the world where people have overcome amazing difficulties, challenges and situations and persevere to create something wonderful.
From Joan of Arc, to JK Rowling, JIm Carey, Chris Gardner, Audrey Hepburn, BIll Gates, Oprah, Jackie Chan, Bruce Lee, Einstein, Edison, Walt Disney, my Great Grandma. The list is endless. But what is it that all of these people have incommon? What is it that makes their stories the hardship to success stories that we love? In min opinion it is their stubborn, bull headed, determination perseverance.
The power of perseverance is a gift for humanity and one we can all tap into. It is not some magic thing that the above mentioned have that we don’t. Perseverance is something they have learned to turn on and the great thing is we can do it too. Why? Because perseverance is actually a basic part of human biology. Which means we can tap in to the physical and mental processes that help us overcome adversity in whatever form it enters our lives.
Physically according to Neuroscience dopamine, the a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers (our internal happy drug) is the fuel that keeps people motivated to persevere. And the great news is that you have the power to increase your personal production of dopamine by changing attitude and behaviour!
Mentally perseverance is about the power of pushing yourself when you have nothing left to give. The Finish have a word for this. Sisu. Roughly translated “Sisu is the concept of taking action in the face of significant adversity or challenge. It is not so much about achievement as it is about facing your challenges with valor and determination.” Sisu is your mental strength, your tenacity that allows you to bear your responsibilities whatever they are. It is the ability to sustain your action and fight against extreme odds.
If you are feeling overloaded here are some great ways to help you persevere and overcome in the face of adversity.
Deal with the practicals
Whenever I have hit adversity in my life my first point of call is to deal with the practical side of things. No matter what is happening in your life the sun will still come up tomorrow and you will need to eat, have an income, brush your teeth. These things may seem like huge milestones. I have always found that when I have been hit hard the first thing I need to do is make a short term survival plan and focus on that. Step by step. Being able to wash up, cook food and even have a shower when the world is crumbling around is a small success. Successes create dopamine and give us a feeling of control no matter what.
Look for the meaning
If you can understand something you can do something about it or accept it. By looking for the teaching in any situation we get clarity and a ha moments. By getting clear in a bad situation you pull yourself out of your “panic” reaction to the adversity and that helps you take control of the stress and ultimately calm yourself. If you can’t find a meaning yet you have to trust that there is one and eventually it will become clear.
Failure is an event not an identity
Many people allow their failure, their trauma or their situation to become their identity. It is not. To help increase your sense of perseverance and help you engage, to keep moving forward. Did Hawkins allow his illness to become his identity. No. He then himself into his work and allowed that to become his identity. So recognise that this adversity is simply an event in your life, it is not who you are.
Keep your eyes on the prize
Persevering means sometimes you need to get a form of tunnel vision. Zoom in on the prize. It might be something as simple, it might be something huge. Whatever it is you have to achieve go for it. With determination it is possible to achieve anything. Whenever you feel unsure ir doubt your ability to overcome or succeed go and look at the stories of others that have managed. Let their stories inspire you. Persevering means overcoming our personal limiting fears. Remember that bravery is not the absence of fear it is have a fear and doing it anyway despite of your fear.
Keep your dopamine up
Through exercise, laughter, music, achieving tasks these things give you dopamine. If you are having a hard time persevering then make sure you have a focus on creating increased levels of dopamine. Your body is your engine and you can’t persevere if you don’t take care of it. So if you are feeling overwhelmed get back to basics, sleep, eating right. Get your body moving and you will find that it gets easier and easier to persevere. Make time to do things that are good for and things that you enjoy and it will lighten your load.
Find your Sisu
Sisu extends beyond perseverance. It is the final push in the face of adversity which means we carry on even when the odds are against us. Finding your Sisu means you have to dig deep. Look through your personal history and identify the times where you have used your Sisu. What is it that made you carry on and get that job, get over that break up? Whatever it was you faced and pushed through how did you do it? What was your motivation. We have all used our Sisu before. Tap into that determination use it to spur you onwards.
Persevering is one of the toughest things we have to do as humans. However as with Professor Hawkins life shows it is possible to make a powerful life no matter what the circumstances. As Julie Andrews says” Perseverance is failing 19 times and succeeding the 20th.” So keep going allow your sisu to lead you, your dopamine to motivate you and above all remember to look for the beautiful moments that make the journey from adversity to overcoming one of the most worthwhile experiences of you entire life.