The word ‘resilient’ is often used to describe individuals who overcome tough situations with surprising grace. When applied to competitive fitness, we often think of elite athletes who bounce back from defeat or setback even stronger than they were before. However, the concept of how to become resilient is still widely misunderstood. Many believe it to be the byproduct of conscious decision making in the moment rather than a product of adherence to a specific lifestyle. In actuality, Those that we describe as ‘resilient’ become that way because their lifestyle and habits influence the way they manage stress and perceive the world around them.
Merriam-Webster defines it as an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change. Being resilient means you are able to manage stress through preventive rather than reactive action. Resilient people tend to maintain a more positive outlook and cope with biological stress more effectively. It is in essence, a mindset strategy.
(Related: Mindset Strategies for Competitive Athletes)
In relation to fitness, resilience teaches athletes how to overcome adversity, both of the mind and physically. Resiliency is often something we discuss with clients because of its importance to not only health and fitness but also competition.
Resilience and general adaptation theories have been intensely studied for years by scientists like Dr. Hans Selye who stated,
“Anything that causes stress endangers life, unless it is met by adequate adaptive responses; conversely, anything that endangers life causes stress and adaptive responses. Adaptability and resistance to stress are fundamental prerequisites for life, and every vital organ and function participates in them.”
Dr. Hans was one of the first scientists who theorized the existence of biological stress and its effects on the human body. He essentially theorized that humans will adapt to ongoing stress, albeit with negative consequences such as emotional stress, lack of judgement, and a poor lifestyle. Stress that goes unchecked will cause even the strongest creatures to lose resiliency.
One particular interesting study on resiliency was published by Emmy Werner in 1982. Over the course of three decades, she followed 692 children from birth until the third decade of their life. Along the way, she’d monitored them for any exposure to stress and how the dealt or overcame it.
She soon discovered that not all of the at-risk children reacted to stress in the same way. Only ⅓ of the participants had attained academic, domestic, and social success. Most importantly, Werner discovered that resilience could change positively or negatively over time.
This means that one’s current state of resilience is not set in stone and can be influenced or changed. Here’s ten things you can do today to improve your resilience according to verwellmind.com:
In the face of crisis or tragedy, finding a sense of purpose can play an important role in your recovery. This might mean becoming involved in your community, cultivating your spirituality, or participating in activities that are meaningful to you.
Research has demonstrated that your self-esteem plays an important role in coping with stress and recovering from difficult events. Remind yourself of your strengths and accomplishments. When you hear negative comments in your head, practice immediately replacing them with positive ones, such as, “I can do this,” “I’m a great friend/mother/partner,” or “I’m good at my job.” Becoming more confident in your own abilities, including your ability to respond to and deal with a crisis, is a great way to build resilience for the future.
It’s important to have people you can confide in. Having to care, supportive people around you act as a protective factor during times of crisis. While simply talking about a situation with a friend or loved one won’t make your troubles go away, it allows you to share your feelings, get support, receive positive feedback, and come up with possible solutions to your problems.
Flexibility is an essential part of resilience. By learning how to be more adaptable, you’ll be better equipped to respond when faced with a life crisis. Resilient people often utilize these events as an opportunity to branch out in new directions. While some people may be crushed by abrupt changes, highly resilient individuals are able to adapt and thrive.
Staying optimistic during dark periods can be difficult, but maintaining a hopeful outlook is an important part of resiliency. Positive thinking does not mean ignoring the problem in order to focus on positive outcomes. It means understanding that setbacks are temporary and that you have the skills and abilities to combat the challenges you face. What you are dealing with may be difficult, but it’s important to remain hopeful and positive about a brighter future.
When you’re stressed, it can be all too easy to neglect your own needs. Losing your appetite, ignoring exercise, and not getting enough sleep are all common reactions to a crisis situation. Focus on building your self-nurturance skills, even when you’re troubled. Make time for activities that you enjoy. By taking care of your own needs, you can boost your overall health and resilience and be fully ready to face life’s challenges.
Research suggests that people who are able to come up with solutions to a problem are better able to cope with problems than those who cannot. Whenever you encounter a new challenge, make a quick list of some of the potential ways you could solve the problem. Experiment with different strategies and focus on developing a logical way to work through common problems. By practicing your problem-solving skills on a regular basis, you will be better prepared to cope when a serious challenge emerges.
Crisis situations are daunting. They may even seem insurmountable. Resilient people are able to view these situations in a realistic way and then set reasonable goals to deal with the problem. When you find yourself becoming overwhelmed by a situation, take a step back to simply assess what is before you. Brainstorm possible solutions, and then break them down into manageable steps.
Simply waiting for a problem to go away on its own only prolongs the crisis. Instead, start working on resolving the issue immediately. While there may not be any fast or simple solution, you can take steps toward making your situation better and less stressful. Focus on the progress that you have made thus far and planning your next steps, rather than becoming discouraged by the amount of work that still needs to be accomplished. Being active in working on solutions will also help you feel more in control, rather than sitting back and letting life happen to you.
Resilience may take time to build, so don’t get discouraged if you still struggle to cope with problematic events. Everyone can learn to be resilient and it doesn’t involve any specific set of behaviors or actions. Resilience can vary dramatically from one person to the next. Focus on practicing these skills, as well as the common characteristics of resilient people, but also remember to build on your existing strengths.
Don’t underestimate the importance of mastering the basics of self care should you wish to pursue elite athletic performance. It’s only through strict adherence to the above steps that will allow you to truly discover what your body is capable of in competition. Stress must be managed, especially if you are an athlete. Unmanaged stress can cripple your athletic performance and drive.
While you begin to utilize and practice the above steps, you should also learn about what archetype you are and how you naturally respond to stressful situations. Knowing yourself is critical to elite performance.
Henk Kraaijenhof Classifies Resilience and Reactions Toward Stress in THREE ARCHETYPES:
Are you a…….
If you are a breaker archetype you may fear competition because of failure or success. The first step is to recognize why. After you understand why you behave this way, you can make the appropriate perspective changes to correct your attitude.