The Obstacle is the Way: When Challenge Becomes Inspiration

by Cheryl Brewster

Feeling discouraged or overwhelmed with life’s challenges? Try this… it works! Amor Fati  is a term from Stoic philosophy that is an absolute lifesaver. It means to embrace your fate… to make the best out of anything that happens, treating each and every moment—no matter how challenging—as something to be embraced, not avoided. To not only be okay with it, but love it and be better for it, so that like oxygen to a fire, obstacles and adversity become fuel for our potential.

The whole idea of Stoic philosophy is based on the word virtue, which is another word for strength, by living in alignment with nature.  In my experience, a critical prerequisite that makes the idea of amor fati even remotely possible, is self-compassion. If you are highly intuitive, empathic, a caregiver, emotionally sensitive, have experienced trauma or have a  tendency to avoid conflict, (sounds like all of us), this is especially important. When faced with challenge, our biology can take over and the amygdala part of our brain takes us straight into fight, flight or freeze. We lose the ability to intuit or think clearly. We put ourselves at risk for losing rational thought by either going numb and shutting down, or blowing up and blowing things out of proportion.  It’s pretty hard to practice amor fati, when all this is going on! It’s called an “amygdala hijack.”

Science defines this hijack of our limbic system,  as an immediate, overwhelming emotional response that comes with a later realization: that the response was inappropriately strong given the trigger. Compassion for self helps to create a pattern interrupt in this biological, chemical explosion… it says, wait a minute, you’re getting upset, what’s going on here, what unmet needs are asking for attention right now, what do you need? This is a form of amor fati… redirecting overwhelm into something more constructive.

Stop the Amygdala Hijack in its Tracks!
  1. Know the signs: Get familiar with the the body sensations that indicate something’s coming up (like a racing heart, sweaty palms, that sinking feeling in the pit of your stomach, dizziness, etc.)
  2. Take 3 relaxed breaths to chill – it takes approximately six seconds for the chemicals spewing out from the amygdala to dissipate
  3. Your hand on your heart prompts the release of the oxytocyn, an anti-stress hormone that lowers, blood pressure and cortisol levels
  4. Re-frame uncomfortable feelings by seeing them as chemical reactions taking place in the body; don’t judge! Part of what gets us into trouble, keeping us stuck in these emotional vortexes is self-blame. Of course you have emotional triggers… they are a part of your biology. Use compassion to give them a safe place to land. They’re allowed to be here, even if (especially if) you don’t like them. With kindness rather than judgement, the tidal wave of emotion begins to  dissipate, the overcharged amygdala calms down, so sound reasoning and intuition can be accessed once again. It takes time, but it works. Besides, nothing is more rewarding than transforming chronic worry, anxiety or irrational guilt and thinking distortions.
  5. Create some time for evaluation: sit down and engage your logic with writing – the logical brain wants to help sort through the situation – make a list of what you’ve learned about yourself, and how you can apply insights for future application
  6. Keep practicing being okay with what is, without wanting it to be any different. When we adopt the duo of self-compassion and amor fati as a lifestyle change, we stay more present, enjoying life, and being empowered by it, even when it’s difficult. We work with what we can control, rather than exhausting ourselves with what we can’t. We reverse energy drains to energy gains, and that’s hugely important, to stay on the pathway of living our potential no matter what the circumstances.

This is a game-changer; What a way to live and work… when challenge becomes inspiration and stays that way! Empowerment is strength, the outcome of living in alignment with nature, sound reasoning and your intuition. Contact me if this blog has stirred questions or insights for you or your work teams. By converting challenge to inspiration, we empower individuals and workplaces with resiliency, vision and team work.

“Disempowerment is the nemesis of intuition because it allows the subconscious to protect you from the truths you need to be listening for. Alternatively, when you practice empowerment, your intuitive information will follow in abundance.” – Laura Day