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The Resilience Ultramarathon and How To Train For It

Updated: Dec 10, 2020

The pandemic has taught businesses many things. In addition to obtaining survival skills (let’s face it, any company still standing must have acquired some), they’ve been reminded how important it is to have the right people in key roles.

More specifically, resilience has emerged as a key “skill” for employers to consider and look for, when seeking talent to add to their top teams.

The benefit of being resilient has become particularly clear to leaders within the quickly evolving fit-tech, health-tech and well-tech industries – the new frontiers of innovation. Even prior to COVID-19, these sectors were clipping along. The pandemic – and the subsequent rush to provide digital, virtual and online wellness/fitness solutions – has shifted gears to break-neck-speed.

Just look at the figures. The amount of capital invested in the fit-tech sector across Europe was estimated at around €363.9m in 2018. That’s big – but since then, the figure has grown exponentially, bolstered by giants such as Google, Amazon and Apple realizing the sector’s potential and throwing their considerable hats in the ring. Now, the global wearables market alone is forecasted to be worth US$67bn globally by 2024.

To ensure their share of that pie, the fit-tech sector is constantly innovating, in order to develop new solutions and services. In the past 24 months alone we’ve seen huge steps forward in the way artificial intelligence, augmented reality and large-screen technology is being used to deliver fitness experiences.

It’s easy to see how less resilient people might struggle in such a fast-paced, progressive and pressurised environment. A sector in which changing the landscape and coming up with the next big thing is the goal – rather than the exception, like it is in more “sedentary” sectors. Take accounting, where you’ll probably do just fine by merely staying awake long enough to complete your calculations.

Being resilient and dealing with pressure, while staying motivated and focused, is a hugely important skill. Without resilience, you’re toast. Finished. On the floor. Out the door. Gonzo.

But what exactly is resilience? Is it something innate, something afforded to certain individuals through nature? Or is it something we can learn, something we can nurture?

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What’s in a word – the meaning of resilience

The dictionary offers a few descriptions for resilience. Given the epic proportions of our current challenges, we thought it apt to augment the meaning

1. the human quality of “being able to recover quickly or easily from, or resist being affected by, a misfortune or shock”

– with its worthy derivatives

2. The act of rebounding or springing back, to rebound

3. Elasticity – the power of resuming an original shape or position after compression (including bending).

Let’s dig in to examine the broader meanings of resilience and how on earth they can serve us today. Bend and snap.

Take rebounding, or springing back. Resilience doesn’t simply mean rigid resistance – the capacity to stand tall and flip the world the bird, no matter what. This is because we are experiencing periods of time – whether through debilitating circumstances or decisions made by others – that will have a deep fetal-rocking impact on us. In these times, being resilient can be about allowing yourself to be affected, accessing your resourceful self, and then springing back.

“Do not judge me by my success, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.” ― Nelson Mandela

Similarly, elasticity and the power of “resuming an original shape” (or bending), can be useful. There will be occasions when external factors mean that we need to alter the way we approach something, to give way, to bend. And then bend right back. Perhaps it means momentarily placing our own interests on hold in lieu of the common good or company directive.

And there are times we must simply absorb negative energy and strain and embrace the adage “it is what it is.” Whether we are the cause or not; to accept the situation, think clearly and to react positively and constructively, is a highly useful aspect of resilience.


Recognizing resilience – the “three Cs”

Psychologist and author, Dr. Suzanne Kobasa, is a pioneer in researching human resilience. Together with a colleague, Salvatore Maddi, Kobasa came up with the term “stress hardiness”.

According to Kobasa, there are three crucial elements to stress hardiness. She describes them as the “Three Cs” – commitment, control, and challenge.

Commitment refers to a resolution to commit to a course of action. And then follow it through hell or highwater – or any other obstacles that may arise.

“I tried and failed. I tried again and again and succeeded.”

― Gail Borden

Control, meanwhile, is all about doing your utmost to positively influence an outcome – rather than giving up. It’s an exercise in focusing on what can be controlled and directing energy appropriately. The question resilient people ask is ‘what can I do right now to improve this situation in some way?’ Concentrate on the controllables – not the plethora of external factors you have absolutely no claim over and that promise to deliver a one-way ticket to overwhelm.

The third “C”, challenge, describes the ability of resilient people to frame setbacks and controversies as challenges and opportunities to grow. So, rather than wallowing too long in a ‘pity party’, they see difficult times as a stepping stone to what needs to happen next.


Learning resilience – it’s a marathon

The good news is that resilience is definitely something we can learn and/or improve. Building up your resilience is a bit like taking part in an ultramarathon – where the length of the race matches the duration of your working career. You know there will be times when your fitness will be tested and your resolve to reach your goal, challenged.

Teaching yourself to remain focused, no matter what happens around you, is something we can all do to build our resilience. We can also teach ourselves to master our emotions better when things don’t go our way.

According to Dr Daniel Amen, a psychologist and best-selling author, gathering information and building up knowledge is a crucial part of boosting resilience. Amen says that “what you do not know has power over you”, whereas knowledge brings you choices and control. Lean into learning so you can step out of the fear of the unknown and into informed action.

Also, take a good look around! We’re surrounded by lessons of resilience. The very nature of fitness and wellness is to push up against resistance to become harder, better, faster, stronger. Whether it be to build immunity, muscle size or cardiac response, these all rely on principles of perseverance – overcoming challenges and keeping the end goal in mind.

Anyone who’s pursued a big goal will attest that there are dips in the road. At times you’re tempted to quit and throw in the towel. Other times you’ll just want to, straight-up, kill your personal trainer. But people who stay the course, chip away and get it done – train staying power in their professional careers too.

Like a marathon, it’s how you deal with setbacks that counts. Do you adjust and pick yourself up? Do you stay focused and go again? Can you transmute obstacles into opportunities?

Always, it’s your reaction – rather than the action itself – which defines your long term success. And that’s delivered in the small but mighty supplement, called resilience.

“Resilience is very different than being numb. Resilience means you experience, you feel, you fail, you hurt. You fall. But, you keep going.”

― Yasmin Mogahed

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