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Physical exercise creates many kinds of resilience
One of the reasons that people do hard things with their bodies – climb mountains, run or walk long distances, lift heavy things and put them down – is to develop physical resilience. We are essentially seeing how much we can handle how gracefully. Physical feats like these and others challenge our cardiovascular system, muscle strength, and endurance. With persistence, exercise works. We can do more each day and suffer less after we do.
Physical pursuits challenge us mentally, too. We see this as we learn to develop technique. Technique is a way to carry out a particular task – say climbing a rock face, shooting an arrow into the center of a target, or moving into an arm balance on your yoga mat. When developing technique, we are learning to be resilient in the face of failure. When we readily try again, we are exhibiting both physical and psychological resilience.
Physical pursuits also challenge us to develop psychological resilience. We face doubt – that we’ll ever be able to do “that” – and fear – that we could get hurt as we try. In these moments we are coping with a challenge that is more mental and emotional than physical. Again, persistence is the secret to developing resilience. We are willing to show up and keep trying. We trust that, as our abilities increase, our doubt and/or fear will decrease.
Resilience feels even better than success or victory
The most physically accomplished folks that I know – runners, climbers, swimmers, hikers, yogis – say that though they really like being good at their “thing,” that is not what keeps them going. What they love even more is the way that all the effort they pour into getting good changes the way they live the rest of their life – especially when life gets tough.
Kara Lawson, the head basketball coach for the women’s team at Duke University shared a video post on LinkedIn in which she describes the type of resilience I believe my accomplished friends are noticing in themselves.
“We tend to wait for things to get easier. … It will never get easier. What happens is you become someone that handles hard stuff better.”
Practicing so you can do a hard thing – compete in an iron man, swim across the bay, hike the Appalachian Trail – requires you to show up and do hard things every day. You’re not training so the hard thing becomes easy for you. You are training so you become a person who, in Lawson’s words, “handles hard well.”
Life isn’t easy and isn’t going to get easy
When you know you can handle hard well – hard runs, swims, bike rides, and yoga postures, you are able to trust yourself to handle hard well in the rest of your life – relationships, jobs, and personal struggles. You are (at least a little) more comfortable with struggle. You are more tolerant of failing and more willing to try again. You recognize the power that your own doubt and fear have to hold you back and you know you have the strength and steadiness to face them head on.
So, do hard things. Be reasonable with yourself. Be compassionate with yourself. But find something hard that sparks a little excitement in you and do it. As you do, remember that your real intention is not to reach the moment when that hard thing is easy. After all, your life isn’t going to get easy.
Your intention when practicing hard things is to develop into someone who, because you have developed deep reserves of resilience and persistence, can handle the inevitable challenges and struggles of life with strength and grace.
Interested in starting a practice that will help you handle hard stuff better? Stay tuned for my upcoming course “Practice” coming this fall.