‘Wellness’ has become a behemoth industry over the last decade; everything from mental health, yoga and meditation all the way through to completely unscientific quackery has all been lumped into the ‘Wellness’ category.
Thanks to a fantastic piece of legislation in New Zealand, The Health and Safety at Work Act 2015 says businesses must take reasonably practicable steps to protect health and prevent harm at work, including psychological harm. This has meant a boom in companies looking to the wellness industry to come in and make their staff happier and healthier. Which, in turn, led to a groundswell of wellness companies looking to fill that void. But, they soon realised that they couldn’t peddle anything ‘airy fairy’, they needed to sell something concrete and practical, and that something turned out to be ‘resilience’.
“Psychological resilience (hereinafter referred to as resilience) refers to a range of individual and environmental level resources that are associated with adaptation, or the ability to ‘bounce back’ or quickly recover after adverse or stressful events.” – Bonanno, 2004; Campbell-Sills & Stein, 2007
Now, I want to be very clear, learning resilience is great, we should and could all be a little more resilient. We should all learn and possess the skills to be able to ‘bounce back’ or quickly recover after adverse or stressful events. This is a key component to living a happy life.
So yes, resilience is the ability to ‘bounce back’ or to get up again after getting knocked down. So I will continue the boxing metaphor; it’s like Homer Simpson when he started boxing. His game plan was simple; take every punch, be strong, weather the storm, get hit and keep going. Be resilient. And he won, his opponents got so tired that in the end Homer pushed him down with one finger.
The plan worked, resilience worked. But he got hit. A lot.
Here’s the problem though; I really don’t like getting hit.
It hurts. It’s uncomfortable. I would MUCH prefer not to get hit. So instead of getting hit, over and over again, I needed to learn to dodge and weave like Muhammed Ali. I needed to be able to slip punches so that they never landed in the first place, this is a much more preferable, comfortable and effective strategy. This is Mental Fitness.
Now, even as amazing a boxer as Ali was, he still got hit occasionally, it is boxing after all. Even with his skill and head movement he still needed to be resilient and bounce back from when he did get clipped. But with his ability to dodge and weave, his opponents’ punches connected far less frequently and usually with less power.
So how do we learn to dodge and weave? How do we learn to slip punches? We become Mentally Fitter.
That’s my Mental Fitness Continuum. I talk about it often in my new book, but it’s pretty obvious to note that we would all prefer to be up the top of the continuum rather than down at the bottom.
In order to demonstrate the difference between resilience and peak mental fitness this slightly cruder graph may help:
Again, it’s a kind of straightforward graph. The further you are up the continuum the less likely things are to fuck with you. When you’re down the bottom, everything messes with you; other people, your job, family, the weather, whatever… When I lived down at that bottom end it really was anything. And that ‘thing’ could mess with me for a day, weeks or even months.
The further you move up the continuum the less fuckwithable you become.
What you’re really training as you move up, is perspective and perception. These are superpowers.
Ali is consistently one step ahead of Michael Dokes in the gif above. It’s like he’s living in The Matrix. Time slows down, he sees the punches coming and is able to maneuver to the side whilst watching the knockout blow pass through the thin air to where he was, not where he is now.
Over the last ten years I have slowly moved from being Homer to being Ali.
I used to get hit by EVERYTHING. And I’d just have to take it. On the chin. Spend some time down on the canvas and then pick myself up again ready to take the next punch. When you’re down the bottom end you get sick of being punched in the face over and over again really quickly. It’s so frustrating.
Getting mentally fitter taught me incredible skills. I started dodging a few punches and man that felt good. I still got hit quite a few times though and I still didn’t like it. But I constantly chose to work on my mental fitness and get better at recognising the punches before they hit me and learning the skills to be able to outmaneuver them
Now, I rarely get hit. I’ve learned to see the punches that would once floor me from a mile away. I feint, dodge and duck as the punches slide on past. If one glances, I take notice and adjust. And I haven’t been knocked down, or out, in a long time.
I’m not even a fan of boxing by the way; I just really like this metaphor.
Resilience is great, we should learn it and practice it, but just be careful to not train solely on being able to take a punch and getting up again. Make sure you put the same, if not a lot more training into being able to have the punches never land in the first place.