“Mandatory Fun” is what we coined it in the Air Force. I distinctly remember sitting in a classroom at MacDill AFB circa 2012 watching and listening to a Tech Sgt bounce a yellow stress ball with a smiley face on the ground. She was teaching a class on resiliency for Wingman Day.
I was pregnant, uncomfortable, and thinking of the thousands of other things I needed to be doing.
What a waste of time I thought. Why do I need to be taught about resiliency?
Personally, I had felt that I had had resiliency training my whole life. As a daughter of parents who survived childhood abuse and a Cuban immigrant, resiliency was in my blood.
We grew up poor, living paycheck to paycheck, sometimes doing without. We rarely took a vacation or ate out at a restaurant. I was taught by observation at an early age if you want something you are going to have to work for it.
Resiliency: an ability to recover from or adjust easily to adversity or change
Rewind back to Wingman day. When I looked around the classroom what I saw was not a lot of successful medical officers, but several young airmen who were nervous, scared, and lonely. They had not had the years of adversity, challenge, and misfortune to shape them. The reality is, you must practice resiliency, it does not come naturally.
If you sit down and look up resiliency training, you will be flooded with hundreds of different websites and programs. Let’s face it, even if you have not personally experienced trauma, just living in today’s world you are forced to view suffering on the news and social media daily. Practicing and learning resiliency gives us a toolbox to reach into when we are having trouble with acceptance and bouncing back.
The Power of the Bounce Back
Bend and Snap.
People who are less resilient tend to dwell on problems, feel overwhelmed, and use unhealthy coping tactics which lead to anxiety and depression. With resiliency training or practice you learn to take a situation and alter your thinking towards a more purposeful, positive direction. With resiliency practice, you focus on areas of emotional, cognitive, physical, and spiritual resilience. Concentrating on these areas can increase your resiliency, improve your quality of life, and reduce your stress and anxiety by teaching you to view life’s inevitable challenges as opportunities.
“Let’s be honest. We’ve all done the Bend and Snap at least once in our lives. If you haven’t, you’re lying to yourself.“- Elle Woods
Let’s explore some steps we can take towards building mental toughness and becoming more resilient:
- Find your “Why” — We all need purpose. Without a roadmap, we are wandering down a road with no destination. Now that is okay at times, but what is your drive? What is your life mission statement? Developing your purpose will provide you with a lighthouse when the waters get rough.
- Relationships— My Program Director, Col. James Haynes, use to say on repeat “It’s all about relationships.” Honestly…. it really is all about relationships. At the core of biology, we are social animals. We crave connection. Finding your tribe will give you a safe haven. Developing relationships and truly being genuine will fill your gas tank. Life is about connection, foster your relationships and your cup will always be full.
- Embrace positive thinking—Ok this is a hard one. Sometimes life sucks, and it is just that simple. I could throw at you hundreds of sayings and mantras I have had to repeat to myself to help me through tough times, but I will spare you. Embrace the suck. Taking a bad situation and spinning it to a positive takes conscious effort. Practice taking a complaint and substituting it with realistic optimism. With repetition, you will learn to shift your focus on the more positive outcomes in your life.
- Foster Self-Care—This step is a part of any good life change. Take care of yourself. You cannot pour from an empty cup. If you are not tending to your own garden it is very easy to jump on the negative train. Developing mental strength and optimizing health will prepare you to handle lemons that life throws at you. Start by trying to carve 30 minutes a day to focus on just your needs. It can be as simple as drinking a cup of coffee in silence at 4:45 am in your office under the stairs while writing an article. If you are doing that too, we should be friends.
Resiliency does not come naturally. By shifting your focus and practicing your bounce-back it can get easier. Up until today, you have survived every hard day in your life.
Just remember, “Bend and Snap.”
We call my father the Cuban Cockroach. No matter what has been thrown at him in life, and there have been truck-fulls, you just cannot get him down. He keeps going. I have been fortunate to have a resiliency mentor.
I leave you with this quote he has repeated to me on numerous occasions in my life: