9 Unique Traits Of People Who Overcome Life's Biggest Challenges

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Resilient woman

Life is full of twists and turns. We're thrown curve balls, thrown overboard, thrown for a loop, and thrown in the deep end. Choose your metaphor, and you get the picture and the feeling.

Individuals who have successfully overcome life's biggest challenges often exhibit certain habits and characteristics that contribute to their resilience and ability to navigate adversity. While each person's journey is unique, some habits among those who have triumphed over significant challenges exist. And the promising thing is they can be shared with and learned by others who want better outcomes.

Overcoming life's challenges is one of my most outstanding skill sets and a highlight on my resume. Why? Resilience is valuable for dealing with change, uncertainty, stress, and adversity. Now I want to share what I've learned with everyone. 

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The nine traits that make strong people unique & how to learn them

1. They practice positivity.

All Star Wars fans know the Dark Side exists, but it is about using the Force to find the Light Side. The whole premise of positive psychology is not to deny the dark side but to choose the light side of situations. Every rose has a thorn kind of thing. Which will you focus on, the thorny stem or the blossom? Both exist; it is your choice.

You do not have to have a natural positive outlook. Optimism can be learned. It is a mind shift by asking, what is the opportunity to learn and grow, or what problem needs to be solved?

2. They take time for self-reflection.

Do you know how to swim? Yes, great. But, do you know how to float? The act of being almost still, reconnecting to your breath and heartbeat, allowing yourself to rest and reflect after something challenging rather than just swimming forward to the next thing.

Those who overcome significant challenges often engage in self-reflection. They take the time to understand their strengths and weaknesses, learn from their experiences, and use this knowledge to navigate future challenges. They learn tools like journaling or meditation to help them slow down and learn.



3. They use emotional regulation.

Spiritual teacher Mooji says, "Emotions are visitors, and you are not a hotel. Let them come and let them go." No Hotel California here — emotions were never intended to check in and never leave. Visit with them; they come with a message. Feel them. Understand why you feel them. The goal is not to give them a room key to your life. They will take over your decisions and behaviors if you do not send them on their way.

Resilient people know how to experience and release emotions healthily. This, too, can be learned.

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4. They can accept change.

People who are more likely to be adaptable understand life is about change, there are seasons and reasons, change is a constant, and people who accept that change will bring challenges. The sentiment, 'you cannot adjust the wind, so adjust your sails,' kind of attitude allows people to navigate rather than fight or be overcome by change. It doesn't mean that there are no painful changes in life. It means pain is unavoidable, but suffering is optional.

5. They build a support system.

I have never spoken to anyone who overcame a significant obstacle and said they did it alone. They credit someone, a group of people, or an entity like God/the Universe, etc., for having their back or being with them in their darkest hours. Having a reliable support network is often a critical factor in overcoming challenges.

Resilient individuals surround themselves with supportive friends, family, or mentors who provide encouragement and help. Ability to Seek Help: Overcoming challenges doesn't mean doing it alone. Resilient individuals are willing to seek help when needed, whether through professional counseling, support groups, or leaning on friends and family.

6. They are future-focused.

Successful overcomers can visualize the future and set small attainable goals to move forward. No running away! Slow and steady, one step at a time. With a plan. They know it takes effort and are willing to work to pull themselves out and up. They can close their eyes and imagine being somewhere different, so they allow ideas to come to them that become part of their plan. They avoid overwhelming, balancing FOMO (fear of missing out) and JOMO (joy of missing out) as they move through the pain of their current challenge and with the hope of something better.

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7. They have an attitude of gratitude.

If resiliency had a shadow, it would be gratitude. I've yet to meet anyone who bounces back from difficult life experiences who doesn't have an attitude of gratitude. It seems inseparable from their persona. The good news is while our personalities may be set, we can adjust our attitudes. This habit can be practiced and adopted into how one shows up in life. Finding appreciation for something, anything, despite a current challenge, contributes to overall well-being. Gratitude is good for you!

8. They practice self-care.

Attention to mind, body, and spirit is crucial during challenging times. Resilient people habitually practice self-care through exercise, sleep, nutrition, mindfulness, and other methods. Self-care is about choosing where you spend your time, energy, and attention so it replenishes, nurtures, and sustains you.

What makes you laugh, smile, sweat? I call it chasing dopamine, or whatever gives you a hit of the happy hormone will keep you balanced. Zumba is my 'happy hour' — what's yours?

9. They are determined.

Lastly, I am a Capricorn, the goat of the zodiac signs. In my case, there is likely some sheer stubbornness as well. I refuse to let life sink me. Others may call this perseverance or determination, a character trait or a learned habit linked to motivation. Make it a habit to always find a motivation bigger than your pain to make you determined to overcome your challenge, like a survivor of a crime who gets through the ordeal by telling themself, 'I'm not done yet — there's more for me to accomplish.'



Not everyone has had a big life challenge yet, but everyone will someday

My first one happened at the age of 20 when my best friend betrayed me with my boyfriend. I lost myself and my way for a while. When I finally uprighted my upside-down world, I reconnected to the same habits that had helped me overcome the now seemingly smallest of challenges, like making my first failing grade or not making the high school drill team the first time I tried out. And reconnecting to those habits sure proved vital when the tsunami-sized challenges came — the death of my firstborn son, an abusive and unfaithful first marriage, a difficult divorce, and more.

There will always be more challenges in life — big and small — so do yourself a favor and create habits that will serve you well before you need them. As they say, how you practice is how you will perform.

Sure, there are character traits that aid in overcoming life's challenges, making it easier for some than others, but there are also 'habits' that anyone can learn and adopt. Patterns emerge when I connect the dots to what got me through tough times. These were not present when I connected the dots of getting lost in my pain. When we are lost, we need something to guide us back.

After all, we are just walking through this thing called life together.

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Ann Papayoti, PCC, is a relationship coach, author, speaker, and host of the podcast, Soul CPR Healing Out Loud. She helps people untangle from their past and heal their hearts.