Resilience: Learning to Bounce Back

Image: bouncing soccer ball. credit:  Bouncing Back Blog at Psych Central. http://blogs.psychcentral.com/bounce-back/2011/12/resiliency-bouncing-back-from-adversity/
Image: bouncing soccer ball. credit: Bouncing Back Blog at Psych Central. http://blogs.psychcentral.com/bounce-back/2011/12/resiliency-bouncing-back-from-adversity/

The OED has two definitions of resilience.

1. The ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity.

2. The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.

I’ve been thinking about resiliency lately because I’m going through one of those times where it feels as if life is constantly challenging me.  I won’t get into the life stuff much here, but I also need to call up my resilience when it comes to my athletic pursuits lately.

The most recent setback was more emotional than anything else. I was all stoked (and still am!) for the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon. There were a whole bunch of us making the trip.

Then various realities got in other people’s way. Natalie can’t exert herself right now. Sam has had to take a time out from running. Her sister-in-law, who was also going to do it, has come down with something that’s zapping her energy. Renald, who was going to come along as my cheering crew and photographer, has to work. Tara ended up on the waiting list and by the time they got to her name, she had another commitment!

So it looked like I was going to go to this exciting race by myself. Not my first choice. I hadn’t quite realized just how much the camaraderie of having people I know in the race meant to me!

I knew I wasn’t going to bail, but at one point I thought to myself, “this just isn’t going to be any fun anymore!” What a shitty attitude to take into an exciting and supportive race!

So two things happened. The first was that Natalie, wonderful soul, decided that if she couldn’t participate, she’d volunteer.  Her decision demonstrates awesome resilience. See her post about it here.

The second was that I tapped into my resilience. The race is for me. I can’t expect everyone to be as into it as I am. And in the end, everyone races their own race at their own pace. For all the races I’ve done “with” people, I’ve never done one alongside anyone.  What a great opportunity to stay focused and just go there and do my thing.

I bounced back from a setback.  We need resilience in all sorts of ways when we embark on athletic adventures and fitness programs.  It’s never just a straight trajectory of consistent wins.

I’ve read a few posts on resiliency in various places lately, including this one on the Bounce Back blog, where the author, Bobbi Emel, talks about some of the key elements of resiliency:

Bouncing back comes in all shapes, sizes, and experiences. We’ll be exploring them here on this blog with topics that include:

  • Acceptance – the art of being realistic about what is happening in your world – both good and bad.
  • Social support – generating and accepting help and emotional support from others.
  • Gaining perspective – learning to look at life and adversity from a variety of angles.
  • Finding gifts – the sand that irritates the oyster often becomes a pearl.
  • Learning lessons – the best lessons for growth often come from life’s rough spots.

Some of the circles I move in talk about learning to live “life on life’s terms.”  That means dealing with whatever adversity the world will dish out–the good and the not as good.

In athletic pursuits, it means handling things like injuries and illness, setbacks, the reality of our own limitations, not always performing at our best, or our home or work life encroaching on our training.  It can even mean dealing with the disappointment, as in my case, of people not being quite as excited about our passions as we are.

I like the “bounce back” list because I actually do find I’m most resilient when I can accept rather than resist what’s happening.  Then, I can always call a friend and chat about what’s happening and how I feel about it. That’s the social support that helps keep me afloat. Talking it out also gives me perspective.

I quickly went from feeling abandoned to feeling kind of liberated about this weekend’s race. I haven’t even arrived in Kincardine yet and already I feel like I’ll be running my own race on my own terms. It’s not that I wouldn’t have before, but now I don’t need to worry about anyone else in the morning but myself.

And of course though it’s easy to go to the negative, what a bonus that Natalie is going to be volunteering on race day!  Seeing familiar faces among race volunteers is one of those gifts.  If things work out timing-wise we’ll be meeting for dinner the night before.

As for learning lessons, okay, I admit that this isn’t a huge set-back or anything that many of the people I’d thought were coming to Kincardine aren’t. But I’ve learned from my experience of disappointment that in the end, it’s not about other people. These are my goals. It’s not as if everyone in my life has to drop everything to keep me company and cheer me on whenever I have an event!

It’s also made me grateful that I’ve just recently joined a triathlon club. A few club members are actually attending the race. I know one of them from swim training. And next year I will organize my race schedule to be more in line with the races the club decides to focus on. That will enable me to have the moral support and camaraderie that I have learned I value, even if there is an upside to being independent.

On the American Psychological Association website, there is a piece called “The Road to Resilience.” There, they talk about strong and supportive relationships as a key factor, and say too that:

Relationships that create love and trust, provide role models and offer encouragement and reassurance help bolster a person’s resilience.

Several additional factors are associated with resilience, including:

  • The capacity to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out.
  • A positive view of yourself and confidence in your strengths and abilities.
  • Skills in communication and problem solving.
  • The capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses.

All of these are factors that people can develop in themselves.

The article goes on to suggest ten ways to develop this quality. Here they are:

10 ways to build resilience

Make connections. 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. 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.

Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems. You can’t change the fact that highly stressful events happen, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events. 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. Develop some realistic goals. Do something regularly — even if it seems like a small accomplishment — that enables you to move toward your goals. Instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, ask yourself, “What’s one thing I know 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.

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.

Additional ways of strengthening resilience may be helpful. For example, some people write about their deepest thoughts and feelings related to trauma or other stressful events in their life. Meditation and spiritual practices help some people build connections and restore hope.

The key is to identify ways that are likely to work well for you as part of your own personal strategy for fostering resilience.

It’s a great article and I recommend reading the whole thing. Resilience is a great quality in athletics and in life.  For me, it’s about taking a mature attitude towards life’s challenges, disappointments, set-backs, and struggles.  Instead of taking them personally, I’m learning to roll with them and even sometimes to turn the around.

On that note, I have to say that I’m super excited about the Kincardine Women’s Triathlon, hoping that the water is warm enough that the swim doesn’t get cancelled this year! And if it does, I’ll deal with that too.

9 thoughts on “Resilience: Learning to Bounce Back

  1. Off to physio again today. Still no running for me. But on the bright side, stairs are feeling better! Hard sitting out a season. I’m missing soccer especially.

    Kincardine is a great community event. I’ve done it with friends and family and alone and really, the community spirit and support is so high there, it’s a fine event to do alone.

    Looking forward to hearing how it all goes and I’ll cheering you on from London!

  2. I’m cheering for you too Tracy! I lived in Kincardine as a child and have such good memories of its gorgeous beaches and sunsets. Enjoy!

  3. I’ll be rooting for you from far away. Have a great run!madeline

  4. Reblogged this on FIT IS A FEMINIST ISSUE and commented:

    Is it just me, or are a lot of people feeling beleaguered and stretched to their limits lately? Between the political times, the heat, daily pressures, and unexpected life events that you can’t plan for (I don’t have any of these right now but I know people who do), it just feels like a lot. Which brings me to the topic of resilience — and guess what? I posted about it around this time four years ago. Obviously I needed it then. And for different reasons I can use the reminder today (on a side note: the Kincardine swim did NOT get cancelled that year and in the end I had an amazing time at the event).

  5. Rooting for you from here — where I’m doing a yard sale for our charity all weekend. A different kind of resilience 😉

    1. Thanks! The event was four years ago! Good luck with the yard sale. Thankfully the weather is easing off.

  6. What a great post! Yes, we can all use some advice and support around developing and fostering resilience in ourselves. I found it useful and heartening.

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