“A gem cannot be polished without friction, nor a man perfected without trials”, this was stated by the philosopher Seneca 2000 years ago, and it is still true today.
Throughout history, life has never been easy. We will all battle against adversity and life problems. Some more than others. Life has a way of grounding us and then kicking us when we are down. The challenge is to be resilient against the battles of life.
I left home at 17 and joined the military because it was the only way that I could see to escape an unhappy childhood that left me very angry (my father still does not care to have a picture of me up at his home). At 18 I was living in a foreign country that I did not speak the language. From there I deployed to other countries for the better part of 3 years before returning to the US to a small, isolated base. After the military there was a lot of moving around, failed relationships, failed business, and homeless for a short time, not to mention health and financial problems.
Many of these were not separate events, they overlapped causing times of high stress that made me question what my future would be. Exercise has always been my primary source of destressing from these situations. I believe that exercise has made me more resilient to the challenges of life and it has shown me that I have control over myself in times of doubt.
What is Resilience?
How people react to extreme adversity is normally distributed. On one end are the people who battle against Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), depression, and even suicide. In the middle are most people, who at first react with symptoms of depression and anxiety but within a month or so are, by physical and psychological measures, back where they were before the trauma. This is the definition of resilience. On the other end are people who show post-traumatic growth. They, too, first experience depression and anxiety, sometimes exhibiting full-blown PTSD, but within a year they are better off than they were before the trauma. These are the people of whom Friedrich Nietzsche said, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”
The key to getting over the challenges in your life is to build your inner reserves well before you’re in a failure situation. Knowing that failure will happen, no matter how hard you try to prevent it, will give you a better perspective on understanding your mistakes without letting them devastate you. A mistake can be unpleasant, embarrassing, and even costly, but the resilience you develop to prepare you for those inevitable times will allow you to draw even more fulfillment from when you succeed.
Resilience is the process of adapting in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress — such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences.
Research has shown that resilience is ordinary, not extraordinary. People commonly demonstrate resilience. Examples of this response are the many people affected by the September 11th terrorist attacks and Boston Bombings and the individuals’ efforts to rebuild their lives.
Being resilient does not mean that a person doesn’t experience difficulty or distress. Emotional pain and sadness are common in people who have suffered major adversity or trauma in their lives. The road to resilience involves considerable emotional distress.
Resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. It involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed.
Resilience does not mean that you will never have doubts about yourself. Resilience does not mean that you will never be depressed. Resilience does not mean that you will not have fear or apprehension.
Resilience means that you will not give up on you. Resilience means that you will keep trying to work through the problems (some days more than others). Resilience means that things don’t always work out as we hope and plan, but that can also lead us to new opportunities and new happiness.
Military Bootcamp is a series of stressful situations that are meant to transition you from civilian to military life in a quick and efficient manner, while building resilience that you will need on the job. We have many sayings for adversity in the military, “The only easy day was yesterday,” is common in the US Navy SEAL Teams. Yesterday is considered an easy day because it is over, you have survived the challenges to move on. In times of hardship, you have to focus on living day to day (or even hour by hour). Getting through the day can be a major accomplishment. We also say, “Embrace the suck”. The challenges are what make us better. Face it, put on your game face and rise to the challenge instead of allowing the challenge to defeat you.
While resiliency is normally built over time, it’s not too late to develop it now. Everyone has some kind of resiliency built within, but with varying degrees of strength. To say that an individual has great coping skills is one thing, but to say that an individual is resilient takes it to an entirely different plateau.
How do we build resilience?
Make connections with other people. Good relationships with close family members, friends or others are important. Accepting help and support from those who care about you and will listen to you strengthens resilience (it is NOT a sign of weakness to accept help, it is part of the path to resolve the problem). Some people find that being active in civic groups, faith-based organizations, or other local groups provides social support and can help with reclaiming hope. Assisting others in their time of need also can benefit the helper.
You can’t change the fact that highly stressful events happen, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events. Avoid seeing predicaments as insurmountable problems. Try looking beyond the present to how future circumstances may be a little better. Note any subtle ways in which you might already feel somewhat better as you deal with difficult situations.
Accept that change is a part of living. Certain goals may no longer be attainable as a result of adverse situations. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter.
Move toward your goals. Do something regularly, even if it seems like a small accomplishment, which enables you to move toward your goals. Instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, determine what is one thing I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?
Take decisive actions. Act on adverse situations as much as you can. Take decisive actions, rather than detaching completely from problems and stresses and wishing they would just go away.
Look for opportunities for self-discovery. People often learn something about themselves and may find that they have grown in some respect as a result of their struggle with loss. Many people who have experienced tragedies and hardship have reported better relationships, greater sense of strength even while feeling vulnerable, increased sense of self-worth, a more developed spirituality and heightened appreciation for life.
Nurture a positive view of yourself. Developing confidence in your ability to solve problems and trusting your instincts helps build resilience.
Keep things in perspective. Even when facing very painful events, try to consider the stressful situation in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective. Avoid blowing the event out of proportion.
Maintain a hopeful outlook. An optimistic outlook enables you to expect that good things will happen in your life. Try visualizing what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear.
How the Exercise helps develop Resilience.
“It is a rough road that leads to the heights of greatness,” Seneca.
Weight lifting is the perfect metaphor for building resilience. We say that the body adapts to the loads or challenges placed against it. Your body adapts to the way you train it. The success of setting goals to lift more weight and then accomplishing the task translates to the ability to overcome challenges in other areas.
In the gym, you must continually challenge yourself with progressing difficulty to get better and grow. Your muscles respond to new challenges by gaining strength. Same with your mindset. With each new challenge there’s growth, and this incremental growth begins to snowball like compound interest.
Elite military schools have 70%, 80%, and at times even 90% drop out rate. Some people may argue that the standards are too high and we need to reduce them to have more trained special operations forces. But they would be incorrect. These troops are pushed beyond what they believe their breaking point is, for a reason. Decades of combat have shown that these individuals need to have the resilience to face the challenges placed before them. How do you develop this level of resilience? By facing adversity. There is no easy way. But, most people simply won’t do it. They’ve never trained to have a resilient mindset. These schools have developed over decades to provide our troops with the mental and physical resilience to face overwhelming challenges.
In day to day life, all you have to do is be a little less hesitant, a little less fearful of challenges and change, and a little more willing to question assumptions and your abilities. You can achieve amazing things. And exercise can be your proving ground. When you achieve a new personal best in the gym, it helps prepare for new fear trials in life.
Your brain is always watching you and judging the type of person you are. When it sees you attacking the gym consistently day after day, month after month, it’s more likely to believe you and support you when you attack something new in life.
“Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t, you’re probably right,” was famously stated by Henry Ford. It highlights how important self-belief is to accomplishment.
In athletics we teach that visualization and self-talk are valuable tools to help you achieve your goals. What you tell yourself can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. So show and tell yourself a story of success and accomplishment.
When you repeatedly imagine performing a task, you also condition your brain so that the action feels familiar when you go to perform it; it’s as if you’re carving a groove in your nervous system. Envisioning success can enhance motivation and confidence.
Imagery can be a great tool the next time you have set your sights on a goal. Here is how to put it into effect.
Use all your senses. Mental imagery is often referred to as visualization, but it’s not limited to the visual. What are you smelling, hearing, and feeling? You should be so immersed in a mental image that it seems as if it is actually happening.
Be the star, not the audience. Imagine performing the activity from your own perspective, don’t watch yourself as if you’re viewing a movie.
Focus on the positive. Think of reaching for an apple instead of visualizing passing up the peanut butter cups. Researchers suspect that this tack may be more effective because it’s easier to see how close you are to a new goal than to gauge how far you are from old habits.
Imagine every step. A 2011 study by scientists at McGill University, in Montreal, found that when told to eat more fruit, people who envisioned every step of the process (reaching for it, biting into it, enjoying it) were more successful than those who only generally thought about eating more fruit.
Often, the pattern of self-talk we develope is negative. We remember the negative things we were told as children by our parents, siblings, or teachers. We remember the negative reactions from others that diminished how we felt about ourselves. Throughout the years, these messages have played over and over in our minds, fueling our feelings of anger, fear, guilt, and hopelessness.
Positive self-talk is not self-deception. It is not mentally looking at circumstances with eyes that see only what you want to see. Positive self-talk is about recognizing the truth, in situations and in yourself. One of the fundamental truths is that you will make mistakes. Expecting perfection in yourself or anyone else is unrealistic. To expect no difficulties in life, whether through your own actions or sheer circumstances, is also unrealistic.
When negative events or mistakes happen, positive self-talk seeks to bring the positive out of the negative to help you do better, go further, or just keep moving forward. The practice of positive self-talk is often the process that allows you to discover the obscured optimism, hope, and joy in any given situation.
“The bravest sight in the world is to see a great man struggling against adversity”, Seneca.
Underdog stories have been popular throughout time. The story of David and Goliath always comes to mind. Rising up against a significant challenge and emerging on the other side victorious. Blockbuster movies that show the hero facing an impossible enemy, or normal people breaking the cycle of actions that have taken them to their limits always evoke an emotional response because we can relate to the feelings. If the movie showed someone with an easy life that never struggled, it would fail at the box office because we would not respect that individual nor feel anything for them.
The American Psychological Association gives this analogy of facing life’s challenges:
Think of resilience as similar to taking a raft trip down a river.
On a river, you may encounter rapids, turns, slow water and shallows. As in life, the changes you experience affect you differently along the way.
In traveling the river, it helps to have knowledge about it and past experience in dealing with it. Your journey should be guided by a plan, a strategy that you consider likely to work well for you.
Perseverance and trust in your ability to work your way around boulders and other obstacles are important. You can gain courage and insight by successfully navigating your way through rough waters. Trusted companions who accompany you on the journey can be especially helpful for dealing with rapids, upstream currents and other difficult stretches of the river.
You can climb out to rest alongside the river. But to get to the end of your journey, you need to get back in the raft and continue along your path.
Take care of yourself. Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly. Taking care of yourself helps to keep your mind and body primed to deal with situations that require resilience.
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