Is resilience a skill or a mind-set? Winter Olympics 2018

Right now the world’s attention is focused upon the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang. The athletes, their fitness and physical ability is all under scrutiny as they strive to deliver personal bests and compete on a world stage. These athletes have spent years preparing, requiring the highest levels of commitment, perseverance, motivation and self-sacrifice all in the plight to win a medal. This is their time to be at their physical peak, be mentally ready to achieve new personal bests and break world records to make history. Whilst the preparation of individual training plans will differ, all athletes will have two commonalities;

1. They have a strategy
2. To be at their best when it matters most!

This month we have seen Elise Christie compete in the short track speed skating, only for history to painfully repeat itself as in the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics, where she fell and her dreams of a gold medal were stolen away.
Working hard, and practising for many hours is not enough to achieve greatness, it cannot be done alone. Athletes surround themselves with a team of experts to support them in their fight to become a champion. Their supporting teams are made of various coaching experts, nutritionists, physiotherapists and some may argue the most important, the sports psychologist. Regardless of the discipline, whether it is the endurance of biathlon, speed on ice, longest ski jump or the grace of figure skaters, every athlete has to overcome the mental challenges of self-belief and confidence and the hardest of all – resilience.

The past does not determine your future.

Elise Christie faced probably her biggest challenge yet, to have enough mental resilience to give her final shot at the 1000m qualifying heats. For some people being resilient to life’s challenges both inside and outside work is a challenge easily met, for others it requires consideration, focus and energy. We all need to have the ability to be resilient in the face of the things that happen to us, it’s a survival skill and being able to survive is about being in control of your own behaviours and actions.

OnTrack suggests using these five simple approaches to developing personal resilience:

1. All or Nothing

We often view a situation in absolute terms, as humans we naturally focus upon the negative aspects, what did we do wrong? Why did we get it wrong? We fail to recognise our successes and achievements, leaving us feeling down hearted and disappointed in our results. Ultimately painting a picture in our minds that is distorted against the truth. This actually makes being resilient a much more difficult task when everything appears to be negative. Focus on looking for actual facts and data to help build up a true, honest and realistic picture which presents a balanced and rounded view of a situation, a simple and effective way to achieve this is to seek out detailed feedback from others.

2. A scale of continuum

Once you have built a realistic picture of the situation based upon actual facts and not emotions and given yourself “time to accept the result” we can then be in the optimum position to focus on moving forward and set new goals. A common mistake is to jump into a quick action “doing mode” without setting realistic and achievable goals which can easily turn into frustration and disappointment if they cannot be realised. A planned, structured and methodical approach is required to achieve these new goals. Use a scale of continuum, create your own scale, plot where you are now and then identify the actions that would move you just one place better on your scale. Taking small and bite size steps that can be achieved will build confidence and momentum to achieving your overall goal.

3. Ask for help

We all need the support, help, encouragement and guidance of others. We frequently hear thank you speeches at awards ceremonies; think about all those people who are acknowledged as being part of the team that help a person become successful.  How have you felt when another person has asked for your help, sort your counsel, confided in you or been the person they turned to? It is without a doubt the greatest demonstration of trust and credibility that they have in you. Have courage to ask for help when you need it, it is strength in your character to actually have the confidence to ask and most people will give it willingly.

4. What have you learnt?

The optimists and activists will speedily move on with energy and enthusiasm channelled into achieving their new objectives. This in itself is very positive, however is only effective “for the now” achieving the desired feeling of quick progress. Whilst we don’t want to live in the past, equally we don’t want to zoom into the future without learning from our previous experiences. A purposeful approach to proactive reflection will help to build resilience at a much deeper level as we consciously identify from our experiences of what we did not achieve or deliver as expected and why did this happen? In the same way we need to identify where and how we have become successful, in order to build confidence and to know what we must continue to do.  This timely and balanced reflective approach will enable you not only to build resilience but also in forming a bigger picture strategy to achieving your long term goals.

 5. Personal well being

It is easy to get caught up in “here and now” especially when we are working under pressure, with increasing time scales and demands placed upon us. Sub consciously we feed ourselves the messages that working longer hours, starting earlier, skipping lunch and even taking work home is somehow a means to be more productive, nothing could be further from the truth. We service and maintain our cars in order to make sure they run well and don’t let us down, but do we truly look after ourselves? Take the advice from the experts. There are 3 essential criteria for the brain to function to its best ability.

1) Eat well. The brain must have fuel to operate from, starting with the most important meal of the day, breakfast! Brain cells need oxygen to become alert and “fired up”, this oxygen is sourced from the food/calories we eat.

2) Stay hydrated. 75% of our brain is made up of water, when we do not hydrate enough this affects our brain, slows down circulation and so less oxygen travels around the body including the brain resulting in our cognitive function becoming impaired, also often the onset of headaches.

3) Sleep the golden hours! During sleep your brain does not rest it processes and stores the information of the day. Without sleep humans cannot form or maintain the pathways inside your brain that let you learn and create memories, so with sleep deprivation humans find it much harder and difficult to concentrate. The recommended hours sleep per adult per night is between 7-9 hours.

As the games end and thoughts for the future

Building resilience is not an easy skill to master, many even describe it as a habit or behaviour, regardless it is most certainly a discipline we all both need, and can most definitely develop.  As the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeonchang close, the athletes thoughts will soon be drawn towards the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.  After a well-earned rest, there will be a period of reflection, acknowledging success, and identifying where and how improvements can be made, all in the plight to be fitter, stronger and quicker in pursuit of their dream; to win a medal at the Olympics.

For some the 2018 games will be the year of their retirement, finishing on a high, proud of their achievements. For others with broken dreams of winning a medal, the pain of failure is so heavy and great, they will quietly fade and simply not return. However there are still some athletes not accounted for; these are the athletes who did not achieve all their goals or believed they could have done better, they have felt the heavy pain of disappointment, but in spite of it all, and even when  physically injured and in pain their determination does not waver.

In the words of Elise Christie “I promise Britain I will fight back and I will come back for Beijing”. 

This is the difference resilience makes! How will you build your resilience in 2018?