Wednesday, 23 April 2014

It's All About You

Up to now, we've talked about the challenges of running marathons, the adversity involved in establishing a professional football club and the meaning and purpose there can be in life where there is much physical suffering. It seems to be a broad range of definitions of what adversity could possibly be. So what do we mean by adversity?

Looking the word up in the dictionary gives you a range of definitions which will probably make you go “Aha, I thought it meant that.” After all, there are no surprises in “misfortune, hardship, suffering ..” etc. etc. We know what those words mean. Don't we?

Perhaps it's not as easy as we first thought. After all, what level of misfortune are we talking about? How much hardship do we take before it becomes adversity for the purposes of this blog? Is suffering a three set to love defeat at tennis or a really painful illness? The actor, model and Paralympian athlete, Aimee Mullins, has put it much better than I ever could. She said in a TED lecture in 2009 that

There is adversity and challenge in life, and it's all very real and relative to every single person”

She was born without shin bones and has gone on to achieve much in her life, including speaking on the value of each and every human being, whether supposedly disabled or not. She is not championing her adversity in life over and above that of someone else. The point is, she's saying, is what does it feel like to you? Does your situation feel tough? Is it stressful? Would you define it as adversity?

You don't have to have been physically abused, kept prisoner against your will or be suffering from a terminal illness. If you're just fighting to get health or education provision for your child, caring for a sick relative, trying to keep your business afloat, being bullied at work or one of a thousand other challenging scenarios, then you are facing adversity in a way personal to you. As Aimee Mullins said, it's real to you.

The point of this blog is about learning about how other people have met adversity. In her TED lecture, Aimee Mullins added this

the question isn't whether or not you're going to meet adversity, but how you're going to meet it”

We can learn from each other. We can learn how other people's challenges can inform our own. Whatever other people have faced, they can pass on that learning. My adversity with M.E. is perhaps not on the same level as someone who has terminal cancer but we can both learn from each other. Your challenge with paying the mortgage is perhaps more commonplace than someone who survived a concentration camp but it doesn't stop that adversity being any more personal to you. Your adversity is real and for help you can look to people who have made a great learning experience out of divorce, establishing themselves in a foreign country or walking to the North Pole. Equally, those people can look to you and how you have met your challenges.

So, this isn't a blog about running marathons, football adversity, surviving concentration camps or physical abuse. It's about all kinds of adversity and, most importantly, it's about your adversity. If you're willing to learn and can share what you've learned, then this is a blog for you. I'll leave the last words to Aimee Mullins and as you read you can maybe better understand why this blog is called “Thrive”.

The human ability to adapt is an interesting thing because people have continually wanted to talk to me about overcoming adversity. I'm going to make an admission: this phrase never sat right with me and I always felt uneasy trying to answer people's questions about it and I think I'm starting to figure out why. Implicit in this phrase of "overcoming adversity" is the idea that success, or happiness, is about emerging on the other side of a challenging experience unscathed or unmarked by the experience, as if my successes in life have come about from an ability to sidestep or circumnavigate the presumed pitfalls of a life with prosthetics, or what other people perceive as my disability. But, in fact, we are changed. We are marked, of course, by a challenge, whether physically, emotionally or both and I'm going to suggest that this is a good thing. Adversity isn't an obstacle that we need to get around in order to resume living our life. It's part of our life.”

This year we celebrate the 200th birthday of Charles Darwin, and it was 150 years ago, when writing about evolution, that Darwin illustrated, I think, a truth about the human character. To paraphrase: it's not the strongest of the species that survives, nor is it the most intelligent that survives; it is the one that is most adaptable to change. Conflict is the genesis of creation. From Darwin's work, amongst others, we can recognize that the human ability to survive and flourish is driven by the struggle of the human spirit through conflict into transformation. So, again, transformation, adaptation, is our greatest human skill. And, perhaps, until we're tested, we don't know what we're made of. Maybe that's what adversity gives us: a sense of self, a sense of our own power. So, we can give ourselves a gift. We can re-imagine adversity as something more than just tough times. Maybe we can see it as change. Adversity is just change that we haven't adapted to yet.”

Thursday, 10 April 2014

A Why To Live For

There have been few more inspiring stories recently than that of Tina Nash, the young woman whose eyes were gouged out by her violent partner three years ago. She was physically and emotionally abused by him for months before he subjected her to a prolonged attack which resulted in the loss of her eyesight. He was subsequently jailed enabling Tina to concentrate on re-building her life with the support of her two boys. She has amazed so many people with her positive attitude to her situation and has found a purpose in her life through her suffering. She is now raising awareness of domestic violence and helping other victims through her Twitter account, her autobiography and public appearances. Additionally, she is determined to re-build her life for her children. In a BBC interview, she said, 
“I'm doing it for my kids. I want them to be proud of me”. 
Life is still not easy for Tina but one can only wonder how we would face such terrible adversity. Would we be able to face the future in the same way?

The philosopher Nietzche said, 
“He who has a why to live for can bear almost any how”. 
Tina seems to have found a why in her boys and in her desire to help other victims of domestic violence. The same experience was revealed in the story of Anka Bergman who survived the concentration camps and the death march across Europe at the end of the Second World War while having hidden her pregnancy from the camp guards. She gave birth to her daughter on the last day of the war and then fought to survive after liberation as food, warmth and shelter were difficult to find. Speaking of raising her daughter in such difficult conditions, she said in a BBC television programme, 
“It's unbelievable how much it gives you and how much you can take for someone else. It's the most potent thing in life I find. You get over everything”.
Is the finding of a purpose enough to conquer adversity? For some people, perhaps. Others may need other tools to supplement it. However, one thing is for certain, to find meaning in life and especially in those things which happen beyond our control is extremely powerful. We have already heard about Viktor Frankl in my first post. He found meaning in his existence in the concentration camps by treating it as a huge learning experience. He imagined holding lectures after his release where he could teach his students about the psychology of life in the camp. After the war, he eventually founded a new school of psychotherapy called logotherapy based on the concept that the search for meaning in life is the primary motivation of an individual. He went on to suggest that one of the three ways of finding meaning is through the attitude we take towards unavoidable suffering. In short, sometimes there is nothing we can do about what happens to us. The only thing we can change is our attitude towards our suffering.

Sometimes, this can be the most difficult thing to do. We feel so stressed through events beyond our control that it's difficult to think straight and we lack the energy to be positive. I was reminded of this recently when my younger daughter had a spell of illness. She was in mysterious pain which the doctors could not get to the bottom of. She was in and out of hospital and at times the symptoms seemed possibly neurological which was very worrying. It wore our whole family down for weeks and I was struggling to get through it as it caused me to feel ill. However, I had a great fillip when I realised that I, too, could choose my attitude to what was happening. I realised that I wasn't being as positive and upbeat as I could be. I especially realised that I wasn't being much of a role model for my daughter who needed to be positive through what was happening. I decided I could choose to be the role model that she needed and in that moment I found meaning in what was happening to my daughter and my family. It continued to be tough but I felt such release after that moment. I had made a choice and decided my attitude to this tough time was what I could change. I believe it helped me, my daughter and all our family.

We have probably all known people who have really suffered, especially those facing a terminal diagnosis. How many of them inspire us with their dignity, their positivity, their desire to make the most of every day they have left? From whom can you take inspiration to face your own adversity? And where can you find meaning in your misfortune? It's a huge challenge for all of us but one from which we can benefit and, perhaps, more importantly, use to inspire others. 

 photo credit: <a href="">tochis</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>

Fight Like Hell

As Wigan Athletic, the club I've supported for over thirty years, prepares to meet Arsenal in defence of the FA Cup it won so wonderfully in 2013, I decided to reflect on the Lancashire club's journey through adversity and what we can all learn from it.

Long columns were written in newspapers about Wigan's rise through the leagues when they won the Cup last May. Everyone now knows of their former history as a non-league club and that they were plying their trade in the fourth tier of English football as recently as 1997. 

Failed 34 Times

It's less well-known that Wigan Athletic was formed from the ashes of a failed professional football club called Wigan Borough in 1932. It was the fifth attempt at establishing a viable professional club in Wigan and perhaps because of the troubled history of football in Wigan, the Football League rejected the new club's plea to join their ranks. The League carried on rejecting the Latics' applications another 34 times between 1932 and 1978.

This is the moment where I pause for thought. 

Humilitation and Rejection

Firstly, Wigan Athletic was the fifth attempt to form a professional football club in the town. 

Secondly, it went on to humiliate itself nearly three dozen times by risking rejection before finally being accepted by the other clubs which made up the Football League in 1978

Didn't these football fans know when to throw in the towel? What kind of bloody-minded, stubborn people do they make in that town, that they were prepared to go through that ritual so many times over the space of more than forty years? The people of Wigan had shown they didn't want football hadn't they? Why go on?


The only conclusion that I've ever been able to come to is that determination is in the DNA of the people there. It's a refusal to give up no matter what the odds. 

Dave Whelan, the club's present-day owner and steward of all that history, has often been quoted as saying his team have to “fight like hell” to achieve their aims.  

He grew up having to fight to just keep warm at times and his early experiences are shared by many in the “ancient and loyal” Borough of Wigan. He knew that against established clubs and the new power blocs in the game, there is only one way to compete and that is through determination and a will to succeed.


A close ally of determination is a belief in one's ability to succeed (and it's no coincidence that Wigan Athletic's unofficial motto is now “Believe”). 

In my role as a qualified personal performance coach, I see many clients whose only stumbling block to achieving their aims is self-belief. They feel that their goal is too big or that their past achievements somehow are too small. 

I work with them to see what tools they have at their disposal to move forward. I ask them questions about their experiences, their skills (their obvious ones and ones they may have forgotten about) and their relationships and help them see that they have a strategy already in place for success. We all do. 

Our strategy is what we're comfortable with because it draws on our real talents and skills and we've used it time and time again. I just help people realise it. 

It's the same process for over-coming adversity.


Just like Wigan Athletic, we've all succeeded against the odds many more times than we think. We've all had challenges of one kind or another and probably you've used a similar process to win those battles over and over. 

In my case, I know that such things as relentless positivity; concentrating on things within my control; looking for opportunities rather than threats; and reframing the situation are things I've successfully used time after time.
What steps have you taken to achieve goals and meet challenges in the past? 

Consider carefully these following questions and you'll begin to realise that you can succeed in adversity just as you have done in the past. 

With that realisation will come a belief in your ability always to rise to whatever challenges life throws at you and just like little Wigan Athletic, on the 11th May 2013 at Wembley Stadium, you can show the world how far determination and belief can get you.

Questions For You
When faced with a significant, previous challenge in your life

1. How successful were you? (Be specific.)


2. What exactly did you do to reach that point?

3. What worked well?


4. What didn’t work?


5. What have you learnt to use to help you move forward?

6. What would have made a difference to your success?

7. So, what components are there to your strategy for your next challenge?

photo credit: <a href="">Inmediahk</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>

photo credit: <a href="">illarterate</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>

Friday, 4 April 2014

Are You Up For A Challenge?

With the London Marathon coming up I wondered, “Are you up for a challenge?” Are you someone who likes to test their body with marathons or mountains? Do you like to challenge your mental abilities with complex puzzles? Or maybe you want a new job to test your capabilities in the professional sphere? In short, are you a bring-it-on type of person?

All those things we see as healthy, positive challenges. We seek them out and to a large extent we enjoy them. Our attitude to them is good, positive. We see how we develop and grow and have fun by having moved out of the legendary comfort zone. Therefore challenging yourself is good, right?

So what is so different about the huge opportunities we have to challenge ourselves in our everyday life? Do you know the kind of thing I mean? Can’t we see our relationship with our boss, or the fact that we’re being made redundant, or that things aren’t great at home, or that we can’t communicate with our teenage son as challenges in the same way as we would if we were climbing a new mountain?

The truth is that we see the everyday life challenges as stuff that gets done to us. Let’s face it, we’d rather not deal with it. We wish our spouse, our boss, the government, our children, our company, our customers would just stop doing stuff to us. But these are first order challenges. They might be stuff but they are the stuff of life. How we respond to them defines our lives.

When stuff happens to us, we very often feel that the situation is out of our control because it’s the other person or the economy or the company which has control over what’s happening to us. But (make sure no-one’s reading this because it’s one of the world’s best kept secrets) what would happen if you could take back control over whatever is happening to you? Of course, you can’t control whether you lose your job but what about it can you control?

I had the good fortune to make this discovery for myself. I have bouts of an illness called M.E. or Chronic Fatigue. The worst one I went through lasted four years. For a time I was bed-bound and had only the energy to watch the clouds go by. It was a tough time. One day in the depths of despair I cried buckets at my desperate situation. However, fed up of feeling sorry for myself, I pulled myself out of it and asked myself probably the most important question of my life - “What can I do about it?” I reached for a pen and paper to make a list of things I could do to improve my situation. There was an immediate transformation in my mood. I felt energized and empowered. I had ideas for ways I could improve my quality of life. From that day forward I was in control of my illness.

Taking some measure of control works even in the most unimaginably awful situations. Viktor Frankl describes how, in the midst of the horrors of the concentrations camps, he learned that there was one thing he could control - his attitude to what was happening all around him. 

  “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Viktor E. Frankl,
Man's Search for Meaning 

If he could do that in those circumstances, what could we do in ours?

So, whether London Marathon or not, what is there about what’s happening to you that you can take control of? Ask yourself “what can I do about it?” and feel the power return. Enjoy the challenge.

 photo credit: <a href="">Kris Krug</a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>
 photo credit: <a href=""></a> via <a href="">photopin</a> <a href="">cc</a>

Thursday, 3 April 2014

Welcome To Thrive

With conflict in Ukraine and Syria, floods in Southern England, public services under threat, companies going to the wall and people suffering from a reduction in living standards all over the western world, we can see yet again that adversity seems to be an unavoidable part of life.

For many of us, we never know when it will strike. It may be a short, sharp shock, acute in intensity, while for others it may be something that they have to live with all their lives. Grief, disability, poverty, illness, crime, stress, pressure, conflict, relationship breakdown, homelessness, imprisonment, abuse – when were these never a part of human history?

However, we can survive adversity. In fact, we can do more than that. We can thrive in adversity, either despite it or even because of it. We have centuries of experience of successfully overcoming adversity from which to learn. If it sounds unlikely that people can improve their lives because of extreme situations, then you will be surprised and even inspired by the stories you will be able to read in this blog.

Of course, no-one should ever pretend that hell doesn't exist. For many people in war zones or even in their own homes, those fires burn on a daily basis. Neither should anyone ever accept crime, abuse, violence or injustice being visited on them. However, some people in these situations continue to rise above the oppression they feel and change their own lives and often those of other people, for the better. How they do it is the theme of this blog.

Adversity is an unavoidable part of life. To avoid it is pointless because it will always seek you out. Quite possibly it is a necessary part of our lives. “What doesn't kill us makes us stronger” is borne out by a lot of anecdotal evidence. Some people even believe so strongly in the role of adversity in our development that they actively seek it out in order to learn, grow and develop.
You have huge potential to thrive in tough times. You can learn so much from the countless people who have not only come through the other side of adversity but have emerged as better people. The same is true of organizations, companies, towns and whole countries. Scientific research even backs up some of the case studies.

Wishful thinking, however, is not a part of this blog. There are so many real-life examples of people who have won the game with the bad hand they were dealt, that we don't need to resort to just hoping or dreaming. We can deal in reality and since there is nothing like getting a little personal in a blog, I'll be sharing some of my own experiences of adverse situations and life-events.

The point of all this writing? To help, to inspire and to build a community of people dedicated to assisting each other through tough times. As the character Fergus Wilks in the film “Greenfingers” says, we will “make a friend out of misfortune and an ally out of adversity”.

So a big “Hi and welcome!” to this blog. My name's Pete Reece and you'll learn a bit more about me as the weeks go on and, through your comments and contributions, I hope we'll learn something about you too. In the meantime, I wish you the very best that life can offer.