When You Fall Flat on Your Face: 9 Steps Toward Resilience

Whether or not you are a fan of college track, it’s hard not to be inspired by Heather Dorniden’s unbelievable 600 meter run at the 2008 Big 10 Indoor Track & Field Finals. The celebrated runner for the University of Minnesota had completed two laps of the three-lap race and was leading the pack, as was expected due to her stellar earlier performances. But we all know how quickly adversity can hit. With only 200 meters to go, she tripped and fell hard, face-down on the track, quickly finding herself in last place and a good 25 meters behind the others. But here’s where the miracle happened. Instead of calling it quits, she sprang to her feet in a full-out sprint, and in a most-amazing finish, passed each of her competitors, one by one, and crossed the finish line in first place!  I get chills every time I watch it. To be honest, it makes me cry. If you haven’t seen it, watch (and cry with me) here:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=xjejTQdK5OI

Wow, right? It’s rare to find someone with such a dedication to a single-minded purpose combined with the tenacity and grit to make it happen.

When you fall flat on your face, what do you do?

“Show me someone who has done something worthwhile, and I’ll show you someone who has overcome adversity.” – Lou Holtz, college and professional football coach

Grit, or resiliency, is the ability to show perseverance and diligence in the face of setbacks.

People who are resilient are able to cope with disappointments and can overcome obstacles that slow others down. But not only can they cope — they are able to bounce back from adversity and often come out ahead of where they started.  Exhibiting grit is not about surviving but thriving.

If you’re human, you’re going to experience disappointments and setbacks.  But do you notice how some people seem to jump over the hurdles set before them, while others allow the hurdles to stop them short? Those who struggle with grit tend to see failures as permanent, usually due to inflexible thinking. They tend to dwell in the past, ruminating about previous mistakes and difficult times to the point of getting ‘stuck’. It’s like when you meet someone who’s telling you about their ex-husband, not excluding a detail of all the bad things he did, and how he hurt her, and the marriage — then you come to discover the divorce happened 20 years ago. From the conversation you’d think it happened yesterday. People who lack grit also experience a great deal of negative self-talk. They think and say things like, “How could I be so stupid?”, or “You’ll never fix this one!“.

“Your choice:  victim or victor.”

Setbacks are difficult. Having grit isn’t about being Pollyannaish and pretending the pain of the failure isn’t real, because it is. Experiencing any type of loss hurts.  And we need to take time to grieve. But at some point, we get to determine if we want to bounce back or let this setback be the end of us. Even if you’ve caved in the past, developing resilience is possible for anyone willing to make some small steps in that direction.

One step at a time

Many factors can contribute to developing grit, but all it takes is one step at a time to start moving in a positive direction. Which of these will you start with?

  • Adopt a healthy lifestyle. It is very difficult to have grit when you lack sleep, are exhausted, or overly-stressed. Building in periods of rest and renewal (and fun!) into your life can help develop a resilient outlook when tough times hit.
  • Seek support and surround yourself with friends and family who encourage you.
  • Read stories/watch videos of others who have overcome failures and turned their mess into a mission.
  • Tell yourself, “This too shall pass”. Though the effects of setbacks can feel devastating, the event itself actually is temporary.
  • Challenge your negative self-talk. Using a tool such as a “Thought Log” can be a helpful way to sort out negative thoughts from reality.
  • Ask yourself if you’re trying to control something you cannot. Often the circumstances can’t be changed, but your outlook can.
  • Focus on your strengths. Not sure what they are? Try an emotional intelligence assessment to help you determine the areas of life you excel in.
  • Drop the expectation of perfection.  We all mess up. Accept that you may have missed, forgive yourself, and move on.
  • Work with a coach to become more flexible and adaptable. Often a rigid mindset can prevent us from seeing setbacks as opportunities for growth and change.

When it comes to resiliency, perspective is everything.

If you’re struggling with seeing setbacks as anything else but absolute and complete failure with no hope for the future, stop and ask yourself these questions:

  1. What is the worst thing that can happen?
  2. How likely is it that this worst thing will happen?
  3. What is one thing I can do to stop it from happening?
  4. What is the best thing that can happen?
  5. What is one thing I can do to make that happen?
  6. What is the most likely thing that will happen?
  7. What can I do to handle the most likely thing that will happen?

It hurts to fall flat on our face. And the easiest thing when we do is to lie there and refuse to get up. But we humans are wired to be resilient. We have the choice to rise, sprint forward, and finish the race. What will you do?

“True grit is making a decision and standing by it, doing what must be done.” – John Wayne

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