Interesting Thought: Resilience is Not About Bouncing Back
I've been thinking about resilience a lot lately.
When we speak about resilience, we often think of "bouncing back," which implies rebounding to how things were prior to experiencing adversity. While this definition is fine for minor challenges, it's unproductive for more serious ones.
First off, it sets a pretty high expectation. If we don't meet it, were likely to be disappointed. Sometimes you physically can't bounce back, like in the case of chronic illness or the death of a loved one. If you lose a limb—literally or metaphorically—you won't ever be the same as before. Trying to will only leave you upset.
Second off, bouncing back is limiting. It inherently says there is a "back" to which we should bounce, some ideal, perhaps more comfortable, place. But this fails to acknowledge the significance of the adversity itself. It's as if you are trying to delete it from your life. In my own experience, this doesn't work. Yes, it's highly distressing to carry with you fear, pain, and uncertainty But it's even more distressing trying to repress or forget those feelings when they've been seared into you by situations that are unforgettable.
Following true adversity—the gut-wrenching, hole in your heart, sleepless nights kind—there is no bouncing back. There's only moving forward. And, though it can royally suck at times, you've got no choice but to carry your experience with you along the way. This won't make you an immediately happier person, but it will make you a fuller and more compassionate one.
And yet...and yet...
Holding fear, pain, and uncertainty is hard, which is why it's so important to dispel yet another falsehood about resilience. Although resilience is about inner strength, it's not about keeping a stoic profile and going at it alone. Inner strength and seeking support are not exclusive; if anything, they go hand-in-hand. Being vulnerable and reaching out for help when you need it demands inner-strength, and inner strength grows when it's supported by help. "It is a myth that resilient people don’t need help," writes Meg Jay, a clinical psychologist at the University of Virginia. "Seeking support is what resilient people do."
In the aftermath of adversity don't try to bounce back. Instead, do your best to move forward. And let others help you along the way.
Coaching Corner: The Importance of Leaving Things Out
When we wrote Peak Performance our problem wasn’t finding interesting research studies or subjects with whom to speak; it was deciding what to keep in the book. For example, in the chapter on priming, we debated whether or not to include a discussion on how elite athletes were using warm-ups, videos, and speeches to get a natural boost of testosterone to improve their performance. Ultimately, as some of you know, we decided to include it in the book. As it turns out, it's become not only one of my favorite sections, but many readers' favorite sections too.
Running is similar to writing. You make a decision to exclude a tempo run in favor of the speed workout one week or eschew plyometrics in favor of traditional strength training during another. Or perhaps you slim down the warm-up so that you can tack on an extra mile to the run.
Writing and coaching are both skills that rely on subtraction. There’s always more that could be put into the training program or the next article. But what we leave out is often more important than what we keep in. Subtraction can be the difference between being well trained and over-trained. Between having informative and tight prose and an article jam-packed with information, but no coherent thread to hold the narrative together.
Yet we seldom practice subtraction. In his book Draft No. 4, renowned writer John McPhee details his experience of subtraction in writing. When he worked for certain magazines, he would have to chop lines off of his finished piece to ensure that it actually fit in the magazine. This process was called greening, which, as McPhee describes, “was a craft in itself—studying your completed and approved product, your “finished” piece, to see what could be left out.”
By cultivating the ability to subtract, we are forced to figure out what truly matters, the indispensable. We also have to realize that just because the words are on paper or the workout is written in our log-book, that doesn’t mean that it’s set in stone. No matter how precise, there is always fluff. Challenging yourself to meticulously work through your craft, ensuring that each word or workout actually belongs, will make you better at whatever you do. Whether it is in writing, running, or any other craft, force yourself to trim the unnecessary.
Maybe it means cutting your workout routine from six exercises to four. Whatever the case, in a world where we always try to do more, more, more, challenge yourself to see what it is you don’t need. What will be left is what actually matters.
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