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Why finding fun in adversity changes everything

Finding the joy among life's challenges

Written by Vanessa Vershaw FAIM
4 minute read
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Treating adversity as a game and playing to win is one of the least utilised and most powerful mind hacks for leaders to hang in there even when the going gets tough.

It may feel counterintuitive, but being able to find fun in adversity is a key trait that differentiates leaders who thrive when tested and those that crumble into a heap.

Neuroscientists have been studying the mindsets of people who have survived to thrive to discover that even when life may seem bleak, being able to take joy even from the smallest wins, is an important step in creating ongoing feelings of motivation and preventing the descent into hopelessness.

People who chose to view the world from the brighter side of life more often feel like they are making progress despite the huge challenges that may confront them.

A great example of joy in adversity is the story of Joe Simpson.

He wrote about his experience surviving an almost fatal mountaineering incident in his book “Touching the Void”.

Joe had just reached the peak of a 21,000-foot mountain in the Andes and fell into a deep crevasse shattering his leg and foot “like marbles in his sock”.

He survived the fall - extricating himself from the crevasse and hopping on one leg all the way down the mountain “as if it were a dance”.

What’s interesting is Joe’s decision to turn his extreme adversity into a game. In choosing this response, he tapped into the same mental reward centre as cocaine, often associated with playing games.

Being able to turn a stressful situation into a game with stakes, challenges and little rewards tricks the psyche into a more positive state of mind and in some cases makes miracles happen, like with Joe.

But we are not all faced with life-or-death survival situations.

What can you do to cultivate this mindset and make it your go-to response when confronting different kinds of life and work challenges?

Set yourself challenges and targets

Think of a leader looking for a new job after they’ve been laid off. Encouraging them to challenge themselves through questions like - how many resumes can you send out today? Can you beat yesterday’s number?- helps to lift performance in an instant.

Such a simple reframe speeds up their success of landing a new role way faster and with a far more positive frame of mind.

Be a prankster

Not taking yourself too seriously is the go-to for Perth local Dr. Jody Forlonge.

A well-known GP, she spent twenty years in the Australian Defence Force as an army major, flying Black Hawk helicopters in areas of conflict and war.

This was her path before calling it quits and jumping into medicine a couple of decades later.

Just like Joe Simpson, she uses humour to keep her sanity in check and maintain high performance and mental sharpness even during heightened stress environments.

She shares the story of when she was in the army – “When we were about to deploy into war-torn countries, doing practical jokes helped me deal with high-pressure situations. I remember this one time I was having my period so I set up a bear trap outside my room to warn people that I was not feeling all that sociable and they should enter at their own risk. You know because bears are attracted to blood!”

As inappropriate as it may sound, allowing yourself to be a prankster is a well-documented technique to relieve stress, put yourself quickly into a great state of mind and strengthen your relationships.

Not to mention create lasting moments of joy even during difficult circumstances.

Tap into your inner child

Vast amounts of psychological research prove that the benefits of play are not just limited to children and demonstrate the important role fun and play have in the workplace to offset the impact of prolonged stress for all of us.

It’s also been identified as a critical accelerator of creativity and lateral thinking, enabling us to elevate cognitive functioning and solve wicked, complex problems faster.

So next you’re feeling under the pump try tapping into the benefits that unleashing your inner child can bring.

Create the space in your workplace for playing and having fun

In the serious world of business, make it a priority for people to play and have fun, particularly in the wake of ongoing disruption and economic upheaval.

It’s a powerful tool for sustainable leadership success, no matter the weather conditions.

Finally, the reality is that if you want to last the distance in the current volatile business environment, leaders need to really work on not taking themselves too seriously and be more intentional about actively pursuing fun as a top priority in the world of work (even when it feels like the last thing you want to be doing).

Make a commitment to creating sunshine on the inside. Finding the fun in adversity changes everything.