The Art of Getting Back Up

Life is going to knock us all on our backs. How often and to what extent varies by person and by season of life. But your response is a choice. There is an art to getting back up.

Resilience Can Begin Right Now

I wanted to be a professional NFL wide receiver when I was young. I was fast, coordinated, and had great hands. But I weighed 130 pounds in high school and college. That dream wasn’t going to work. There are many things that aren’t attainable, or at least not attainable in a short time frame.

Resilience, however, is attainable by any person, and I believe it can be developed relatively quickly. It is a skill that can be practiced and improved, but it starts out as a choice, meaning you can start at any time.

“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”

Victor Frankl

What if everything were taken away from you? In 1942, Victor Frankl and his entire immediate family were imprisoned in a concentration camp in Nazi Germany. They all died there except for Victor and his sister. So much was taken from him that he held onto the last thing he had—his freedom to be and react in his way, on his terms. 

No matter what happens to you, you will always have the freedom to be who you want to be and react in whatever way you choose. This needs to be said and understood, because not all of us realize this power we have. I’ve certainly noticed myself believing thoughts like, “This happened, so I’m going to be sad or upset for the next while.” There’s no rule saying I must respond that way, that’s a choice. That’s my choice, and one that I intend to protect more judiciously from the jaws of circumstance.

Victor Frankl said our power to choose our attitude is the last of the human freedoms; it’s also the first and best one to rebuild with.

Believe and Acknowledge Your Power to Choose

Belief is tricky. You can’t force yourself to believe that you can do something you know you can’t do. For example, no matter how hard I tried, I would never believe that I could lift off the ground right now and fly to Saturn. I know too much about the many things preventing it, beginning with my inability to fly. I’ve tried flying, too. As a kid, I would stand on the couch and jump off, saying, “Superman, peanut butter!” (Superman can fly, but I don’t know why I said peanut butter… I was am just a weird kid who likes peanut butter.)

You can, however, get yourself to believe in things that are possible, but currently seem or feel impossible. Outside of breaking the natural laws of physics, there isn’t much that can’t be done. The first part of being resilient and getting back on your feet is knowing and believing that you can do it.

“Once the mind believes it can be achieved, only then does it start to break down tactically how we can do this.”

David Goggins

Without belief, you will stay on the ground. With belief, you will rise to your feet and begin to formulate tactics and strategies to fight. Imagine that you’re running a race, and you begin to feel tired. This is an inflection point, as you have two choices.

  1. You can think, “I’m tired. The race is over.” 
  2. You can think, “I tired, BUT I believe I can push myself harder.”

The second option will take you farther, every time. Why? The first option is defeatist. The second option is optimistic, hopeful, and inquisitive of possibilities. I’ve analyzed the remarkable difference between these two while interval training, which alternates sprinting and resting.

When sprinting, I often think in terms of “I feel super fatigued. I should stop.” Then I stop. But on a few occasions recently, I experimented. I thought, “My body wants to stop, but I believe I can push it a little bit harder.” On those occasions, I’ve run up to twice as long (and have even sped up!).

When I chose to believe I could run more, I found a way. When I chose to believe I could run faster, I found a way. We are almost always more capable than we think we are, so be sure to challenge your assumptions.

We can take extreme hits and get back up. We can push ourselves harder when needed or wanted. We’re stronger than we think, but we have to believe that we have some untapped strength inside of us in order to be able to be that person.

“This Happened, BUT…”

Belief should not be blind. It’s not about ignoring your broken leg and continuing to run. Acknowledge the reality of your situation, take it in, and then respond with power. That’s getting back up in a nutshell.

Thus, I think the “formula” above of “[These are my circumstances], BUT…” is the right way to approach it. Life gives us micro to massive problems, whether it’s fatigue from a run or a life-shaking tragedy, BUT our response is always up to us. To move forward, we must accept what has already happened and our power to respond to it. This happened, BUT this is who I am going to be.

David Goggins was physically abused as a child. I can’t imagine the psychological pain that would entail, but he still speaks about it openly. You get the sense that it’s not something he tries to hide from himself or others. It’s a part of him and his story. He shares it. He faces the wound so that he can get past it. I think that’s so important. He’s one of the best EVER at getting back up, and here’s his perspective:

“You have to own all those things people may have done to you. Now it’s yours. It makes no sense. It’s not fair. I get it. But if you live in that ‘woe is me’ mentality[…], you’re going to always live right there. You have to figure out ways to move forward, because you’re not coming back.”

David Goggins

David Goggins has an interesting life story, and his book, “Can’t Hurt Me,” is next on my list of books to read. He’s a retired Navy Seal, and from what I have seen—and the fact that all Navy Seals know about resilience—I think he has a lot of wisdom to share. He was knocked down constantly, and yet, he stands taller than ever. The book does appear to have strong language, so be mindful of that if you are interested to read it.

Never forget the power that nothing in the world—no ruler, no authority, no circumstance—can ever take away from you. Your inner world, your attitude, and your beliefs are all yours and yours alone. That’s exciting. It can bring hope in the darkest of days. Getting back up is something you can always do if you choose.

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