According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is defined as the process
and outcome of successfully adapting to difficult or challenging life experiences, especially
through mental, emotional, and behavioural flexibility and adjustment to external and
internal demands. In other words, ‘adapt or die’ as the cheerful saying goes. On a large
scale, we can see the positive outcomes of adaptive behaviours most clearly through
evolution in the natural world. But why is this still relevant to our modern lives today?
Why is resilience important?
Having high resilience can help protect from mental health conditions such as depression
and anxiety as well as enabling us to thrive in adverse conditions, and manage stress.
Whilst having constant habits and behaviours can be a very good thing, becoming too rigid
and set in our behaviours, thoughts and beliefs can have the opposite effect. When it
comes to strength training, we can see how this plays out in our physical bodies. Repeating
one movement in a certain way will certainly make you strong in that movement pattern,
but you might be weak in others if you’ve never tried them. So how do we cultivate
flexibility and adaptiveness in our lives and within our bodies to increase our resilience?
How to develop resilience
To develop resilience, we need to go to the places we’ve not been before and let ourselves
be challenged and changed internally by external experiences. Resilience is not resistance.
It’s a mindful release of control. This might sound daunting, especially if you’re used to
being the one who is responsible for keeping everything and everyone under control. So
here are some steps that can help. We will focus on building physical resilience, but these
principles can easily be applied to our mental and emotional lives too:
1. Find the right environment
Being able to expose yourself to a new task in an environment that feels safe and with
connect with and trust them to guide you through the movements. We start small and build
on movements over time by scaling them up in many ways to suit your abilities and goals.
You’ll also speak with like-minded people in these sessions and find that the challenges you
thought unique to you are universal. Members who are further along their journey can also
be used to role model what you want to achieve. Seeing someone else display behaviours
you want to perform for yourself is one of the proven ways to elicit behaviour change. This
kind of social support in connecting with other compassionate people who understand what
you’re going through is key to supporting the skill of resilience.
2. Embrace imperfection
Expecting to be perfect is a form of self-sabotage as you’ll inevitably fail, be annoyed with
yourself, and have no desire to attempt it again – robbing yourself of the experience and
opportunity to develop a new skill. In the unlikely event you do manage to do something
perfectly first time, you wouldn’t have a clue how or why you got there, making it a
meaningless experience. Accepting and even looking forward to making mistakes will allow
you to learn and eventually develop competency and confidence. One trick is to tell yourself
before you start; ‘I’m going to try and do this as badly as I can’. This takes off the pressure
and at least gets you started. Like this article for example, I wouldn’t have started it unless
I’d said it was going to be the worst thing I’ve ever written. And now look at it. Pulitzer Prize
3. Keep Going
Consistency of exposure to new things provides a positive feedback loop. The more you
expose yourself to new tasks, the better you become at adapting to them, and the better
you cope with new tasks, the more you seek them out - leading to an expansion of your
experiences and capabilities. Showing up week on week also allows you to see the bigger
picture. It might be a few years before you get to grips with the ebbs and flows of training.
Making mistakes, encountering setbacks, injuries and stalling in your improvement is a
normal part of the progress. It’s never linear but over time you will get the privilege to step
back and see the overall trajectory was going up all along, even when it felt like it wasn’t.
4. Challenge your thinking
It’s easy to get stuck in our limiting self-beliefs and convince ourselves the stories that hold
us back are true. But we can just as easily believe a new and better story. Next time you
think something isn’t for you, whether that’s a handstand, pull-up or a piece of clothing, ask
yourself why, and see if you can identify where that belief originated from. It probably
wasn’t from you. But if it was, think about the first time you came to that conclusion. Was it
from one bad experience? Why do you think that would happen again? What’s different this
time? What have you learnt since? What are you sacrificing by continuing to avoid this
challenge? What could you gain by giving it a try?
5. Big yourself up
Be bold in your goals and imagine doing the hard thing. Think of all the other hard things
you’ve done in your life. Are they that much harder than this new thing? Reflecting on how
far you’ve come and how much progress you’ve made will build your confidence. It can also
help from a practical perspective: remembering something you previously achieved which
was like the new thing you’re trying to do can help with this. For example, if you did a squat
with 10kg for 15 reps, you can likely do 5 reps with at least 15kg.
Here are some take home tips you can apply to your training here at the Hub that will
contribute to building that resilience: Keep a log of the following:
How many sessions you’ve done each month (this will provide accountability to stay consistent).
Recording your weights, sets and reps of certain lifts, and how easy you felt it was (Progress might be lifting the same weight but it feeling better).
Making note of what helped your progress with learning something new (was it a particular cue, the way something felt, watching someone else do it, or just repetition?)
Memorable moments where you felt great after a session or started to look forward to something you previously dreaded (this will build your confidence and self-belief, making it easier to tackle the next challenge).