Stress is the norm. Whether it’s from work, finances, or relationships, experiencing stress is part and parcel of the human experience. The problem comes when it escalates to untenable levels, perhaps even taking over and becoming a dominant emotion. Unease and anxiety push us toward feeling despair and maybe even hopelessness. We get stuck in the cycle of wondering when in the world we’ll achieve some sort of normalcy amidst what seems like accelerating change and ever-present chaos. Resilience is an important quality that can help.
The concept of resilience is difficult to pin down. We all intuit what it means, but when we drill down to what makes someone resilient, tough, or gritty, it quickly devolves into an all-encompassing salve to our problems. Being mentally tough becomes the answer to any performance shortfall. Even in the research world, over 30 attributes have been attributed to being tough, including determination, confidence, self-control, handling pressure, discipline, dealing with adversity, intrinsic motivation, self-belief, work ethic, and more. Add in the opposite of our popular conceptualization of toughness, “weakness,” and it gets even murkier. Once a person is labeled mentally weak, the person in charge of helping them to get better is absolved of all responsibility. After all, any performance shortfall can be explained away.
The concept of toughness can apply to just about whatever we want. Perhaps this is why we love to profess its value, even though we struggle to define it in concrete terms.
Real toughness is quiet and comes deep from within. It’s about making the right choice under stress, uncertainty, and fatigue. It requires emotional control: cultivating the power to respond not react, and thus making thoughtful decisions during pressure-filled situations. Real toughness is borne out of authentic self-security that is rooted in confidence, but not arrogance. Toughness is about figuring out how to thrive in the face of stress, adversity, and everyday challenges. It isn’t concerned with posturing; it’s about what puts individuals in the best place to find the best answer in difficult situations.
At the Growth Equation, we’ve long championed ideals that help with toughness. In Peak Performance, we outlined the value of purpose. If we have a purpose bigger than ourselves, we are able to get a little bit more out of our performance. In The Passion Paradox, we discussed having the right kind of motivation. Those driven from within are more likely to persist when the rubber hits the road. In The Practice of Groundedness, we discussed how establishing a secure foundation of acceptance, presence, patience, vulnerability, and belonging provides us the deep roots to keep us solid and stable during challenges. Our brand new book, Do Hard Things, expands upon many of these concepts, with a new and fresh perspective on what toughness is actually all about. The result is a book that helps you navigate whatever challenge it is you may face—be it on the athletic fields, in the boardroom, or in your home.
As a long-time Growth Equation reader, we wanted to offer a few themes that tie our prior work to Do Hard Things. Consider this list as setting the stage. Hopefully, it puts you in the right frame of mind for going against conventional definitions of toughness and instead embracing one that is real, backed by science, and utilized by the best performers on the planet.
Resilience is tied to having low levels of denial and the ability to face your fears. Being able to encounter whatever challenge is thrown your way, not through delusion, but with realistic optimism: a belief that it may be difficult, but that we possess the skills and ability to get through what comes our way. Philosopher Alain de Botton echoes this definition, “The capacity to remain confident is therefore to a significant extent a matter of having internalized a correct narrative about what difficulties we are likely to encounter.”
See Meaning in Adversity.
Resilient individuals are able to extract meaning from struggle. This is tied to having what’s called cognitive flexibility, or the ability to reinterpret or reframe what you’re going through and what’s happened. For example, interpreting anxiety as excitement or loss as an opportunity for growth and development.
Be Proactive Instead of Reactive.
Instead of waiting to see what happens and then reacting to it, resilient individuals are proactive. They work to increase their resources or capacities to handle stress beforehand, and look for challenges or opportunities even while going through tough times. Researchers looking at proactive versus preventative coping in the workplace summed it up quite succinctly: “Be proactive if you want good outcomes.”
Build a Strong and Diverse Community.
One of the best antidotes to stress is social support. When we feel connected to others, or have an outlet for working through whatever we’re going through, we are able to move from stressed out to back to normal. It’s why research shows that after a big loss, surrounding yourself with teammates who care and support can not only reduced stress hormones, but also put us in a place where we’ll perform better in the next game.
Develop Emotional Flexibility.
Emotional flexibility is about holding everything at once — happiness, joy, and enthusiasm at the same time as anger, sadness, and frustration—and being able to feel differently at various points throughout the same day and perhaps even the same hour. Embracing the murkiness — and cultivating the emotional flexibility required to do so—yields large dividends. Resilience comes from deliberately practicing joy, even during awful times; happiness is intensified by experiencing and feeling deep sadness.
Accept Your Inner Doubt So You Can Deal With It.
The old model of toughness tells us that tough people don’t let negativity enter their mind. Of course, that doesn’t jive with reality. Everyone has an inner devil spurring on fears and doubts. By recognizing what actually goes on inside our heads as we face a challenge, we can prepare for and handle what arises.
What does winning the inner debate mean? Sometimes it means listening to the angel on your shoulder instead of the devil. Other times it means letting the negative voice float on by as if it’s your “friend” giving a Facebook rant. Remember that thoughts can represent internal chaos. Sometimes we want to take up that fight. Other times we want to redirect it.
Find A Sense of Control
Viktor Frankl noted that when he was in Auschwitz, another prisoner told him that to increase his chances of survival, he should shave and stand and walk smartly. In other words, control what you can. The researcher John Leach believes that bringing some sort of normalcy to perilous situations “requires an appraisal that the person has, at least, some control over his situation, has not accepted mental defeat.” The most powerful weapon against adversity is having a sense of choice. In many environments, from the micro-managing office boss to the dictatorial football coach, we’ve eliminated choice from the lives of those we want to perform well. Often, we do so in the name of “toughening” up individuals. When we don’t have control, we lose the capacity to cope. We were born to choose, so let us learn how to do it. If we believe we have some degree of control over the outcome, then we are more likely to choose to persist, to find a way through whatever adversity we face.
We hope you enjoyed this brief primer. We are confident that you’ll love Do Hard Things. It just came out and is currently on discount as part of a launch week special. For launch day only, we’re giving away free bonuses if you purchase the book. See below.
Order today and you’ll receive:
- Bonus Deleted Chapter: Why We Quit and What We Can Do About It?
- Online Course: 30+ hours of written, video, and audio content to walk you through improving your mental game. (A $200+ value for free!)
- Guide to Toughness: A guide outlining the key concepts of the book
- Practices of Toughness: A guide with dozens of exercises to help you develop your mental muscle.
- The Principles of Toughness: The key attributes to apply to your business, athletic, and home life to develop resilience.
- How Tough are the best performers in the world? I collected measures of grit on some of the top performers in history. Are they all bastions of toughness, or are they actually more like the rest of us? See for yourself as I walk you through the data to understand toughness.
How do I get these bonuses?
1. Order Do Hard Things before June 21st.
2. Fill out this form.