Something I’ve been thinking about this week is resilience. Resilience: the capacity to recover from adversity and pursue your goals despite challenges. It helps you survive the worst day of your life and thrive every day of your life.
In running we can build resilience through strength work and base mileage. That way when we encounter a higher load, we can recover or “bounce-back” more easily. Or we can challenge ourselves to perform in challenging circumstances instead of only when our internal and external environments are perfect and in control. This allows us to become non-fragile athletes. We know how to train to become resilient athletes – this is nothing new.
But what about becoming resilient people? Why do some people seem to be more resilient to repetitive hardships, while others seem to be more fragile? I did take a course on this a while ago, so I thought I’d share what I learned.
It is based on the premise that our brains are wired to remember negative experiences more strongly than positive ones. This makes sense in terms of evolution: if we remember where the sweet berries were, it’s nice, but not necessary for our survival. If we remember where that family of hungry tigers lives, we’re more likely to survive. When we have a negative experience it makes a disproportionately bigger imprint on us than a positive experience. This is a good thing – it’s why we’re here even discussing it! (I’m sure there was an off-shoot of our ancestors who remembered where the sweet berries were, but those happy-go-lucky optimists were likely killed by the tigers so weren’t able to pass along their happy-go-lucky genes).
As a result, here is an example of how our brains function today. We wake up and go for a run, we smile and wave at a few people, someone yells at us for passing too closely on the sidewalk, we have a nice chat with our neighbour at the end. We then go to the grocery store, listen to a favourite song on the way there, enjoy the sunshine while waiting in line, get admonished by someone for walking the wrong way down the aisle, have a nice exchange with the cashier.
It’s now mid-morning and we think: what a bad morning – why are people such angry idiots – everyone is yelling at me. We’ve had at least 7 positive experiences and 2 negative ones, but we tend to only recall and emotionally attach to the negative ones.
So what does this have to do with resilience? Resilient people tend to have a bigger reservoir of positive experiences to offset the negative ones. Think of your positive experiences as your root system which grounds you and holds you in place when heavy winds or a tornado arrives. The more you have, the more anchored you are, and the more resilient you become.
How can we control our positive experiences and lay a greater foundation? By being aware of our negativity bias and really pausing and reflecting on the positive interactions. Remember: we have many more of these positive experiences daily than we remember. Our brains don’t naturally hold onto them though so they can easily become wasted moments and not add to our anchoring root system. It is up to us self-aware Big Brain people to download those moments. How? Notice them when they’re happening, replay them afterward, and think about them with gratitude. Then when the negative experiences come (and they will – that doesn’t stop!) it is experienced on top of a strong foundation of positive experiences. We are then able to bounce back from set-backs, failures and heart-aches much more quickly. It does take some effort and self-awareness to train our brains, but if we can consciously build up our resilience we have the opportunity to become both better athletes and happier, more productive humans.
Ok, onto workouts for this week:
- Pottery Rd Hills (some of us may have been leaving these a little on the back-burner so time to throw a few sets in for strength and resilience!)
- 3-4×1200 with 2:30 rest at 25 sec faster than tempo pace; 4 min rec; 4-6×200 with 1:30 rest (you’ll have to know about where the 400 mark is if doing these on Lakeshore but it’s 1 ½ lengths. So if you start wherever you finished they’ll even out).
- Short Riverdale hills (6-8) followed by 4-6 good strides. This one is a zinger which addresses all those fast twitch and power fibres some of us start to lose over time
- Tempo: 2×8 min with 2jog at tempo pace; 3 min rest, 2-4×2 min with 1 rest at 10 sec per K faster than tempo plus strides