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Resilience is a Lifestyle, Not Just a Mental Skill

Updated: Apr 1


Man climbing a mountain.
photo by: Luke Helgeson

Intro

How do you know if you’re truly resilient? How do you know if you’ll really have the ability to bounce back when situations are extreme, and how do you train it? So many talk about it, yet very few can go into depth about it. In fact, I’d even say that it’s become a bit gimmicky; from “Influencers” who try to say that getting up at 4am justifies resilience, or mental toughness, to some degree, to trying to justify “working out until you puke” as a good measure of being “strong mentally.” Any strength coach will tell you that this doesn’t justify a good workout, at all, yet athletes and high performers tend to find this somewhat appealing. It’s confusing, and it’s not really clear; it needs to be simplified.


Resilience is a lifestyle that requires an individual to see the mind and body as one, allowing for peak states of performance to be achieved. It’s a mix of habits and mental skills that come together to form a resilient lifestyle.




What the hell is resilience?

In its simplest form: resilience is being able to adapt to an undesirable situation as quickly as possible. It’s having the ability to remain focused and calm under some of the most extreme situations. We often hear psychologists, or therapists, characterize resilience as being a single trait; it’s often discussed as a mental skill alone. Although this is understandable to assume, it doesn’t do the trait justice when you break it down.


Think about some of the world's most iconic athletes: Tom Brady, Michael Jordan, Serena Williams: all of them display resilience in performance. It’s almost like no matter what adversity they face, they can handle it; their ability to adapt is flawless. But does that just come from them having a strong mindset, or a singular mental skill; does that just come from them thinking differently?


Both of those aspects definitely play a crucial role in the individual being a peak performer, but it goes even deeper than that. These individuals have optimized their lifestyles so that they have the ability to adapt in extreme situations. They go out of their way to ensure that on a daily basis they are optimizing themselves both mentally and physically.


In short, these individuals work at the level of lifestyle in order to be resilient, and if you’re looking to build this trait within yourself as well, then you must take the same sort of approach. Think about it: adaption requires you to think differently, act differently, and feel differently. It requires you to master your mental, physical, emotional, and metabolic states. For example: can you be resilient if you have a strong mindset, but a weak body? Sure, probably for a short while, but in the long run you’ll eventually break from the constant stresses and frustrations of your mind getting you there, but your body failing you (I can say this from experience). And what about the opposite end? What about a strong body, but a weak mind - can this work? Absolutely, but again, only for a short while; eventually your inability to manage your mind will catch up to you, breaking you down and causing you to displace energy.


We often get attracted to “beast mode”, but don’t give ourselves the best chance to become a beast; trust me, I used to be just a “mindset guy,” meaning I saw the mental skills aspect as the “superior trait,” of resilience. However, once I went deeper into resilience, refining and innovating our work in the process, I realized how much was missing; I realized how much this was a lifestyle game versus just a mental skill. Resilience skills that we train individuals on, such as triggers, or an alter ego, all require habitual, physical, and mental mastery - they all require an individual to be at their best so they can experience these skills in the best way possible. Think: sleep, nutrition, spirituality, personal, social - they all play a role in resilience and all require a high performing individual to manage these on a daily basis. It’s a challenge, but it’s what’s necessary to truly build resilience; it’s a lifestyle.


Resilience requires physical, mental, and habitual optimization that allows you to adapt at the drop of a dime; often experts talk about “preparation,” but only cover a singular aspect of it. I’m here to help shed some light on what that really means; resilience is a lifestyle, not a mental skill.



Why Lifestyle?

Simply put if you want to be great, train your mental skills, but if you want to be iconic, then you must create a lifestyle. The best in the world work extremely hard on a daily basis to be in an optimized, or resilient, state; it’s a daily commitment to being better than the day before. We often see the aspects of resilience interpreted in silo, or see “one thing” as being the game changer, when in reality that couldn’t be further from the truth.


For example: often we’ll see an athlete add in one of our Morning Power meditation audio tracks, helping them get their focus on track through a series of breathing, visualizing, and self talk; they often see an increase in performances as a result of it. But does that mean that the morning audio alone helped them perform well? Absolutely not! It may have helped them, but without all of the other aspects mentioned previously, this wouldn’t have been possible. If their hormones are off, or their sleep sucks, or they are chronically stressed or anxious - their nervous systems are going to be taxed. Sure, you can slap a temporary bandage on the situation, but it’s not a long term solution. Resilience must be seen as a way of life and not just a mental skill.




Energy Optimization For Resilience

Like stated earlier, being resilient requires a total lifestyle approach that can be broken down into the following: metabolic, mental, and physical optimization.


Metabolic optimization focuses on the aspects like sleep and nutrition, ensuring that an individual's energy levels are enhanced so they can use their mental and physical skills to battle through the tough times. Vitamin D, Ferritin, Iron, to name a few, play a crucial role in how an individual is feeling and how they’re being optimized. I’ve had high performers come to me before talking about “focal issues,” when really they were just deficient in a nutrient. In another instance, I’ve had an athlete gripe about “mental fog,” before, when really it was just a lack of sleep that plagued them. It’s crucial to rule these both out before even getting into the mental aspect of performance.


Once the basics are covered, then we can get into the mental skills aspect of resilience. The ability to shift and guide energy, or focus, stems from being able to master your mental and emotional skills. These mental skills are often what are given credit for an individual being resilient; however, they should be seen as “the cherry on top.” We work to get all of our individuals into what we call a resilient state, or being able to manage their physiology, focus, and dialogue.


We know that by simply raising your heart rate, or changing your body language, that you can put yourself in a better mental state. There are countless studies that show the relationship between exercise and mental health, with the majority of findings showing dopamine and endorphin levels being increased post exercise. We also know that individuals who direct their concentration and focus have higher levels of confidence, which is a crucial aspect to being resilient. Finally, we know that by simply changing phrases, words, or sentences that you tell yourself, you can dramatically change your mental state. By saying them aloud with belief and power, you can take that transition to an even higher level. As a combined result, this puts an athlete into a mental state that allows them to adapt, trust in themselves to make the right decisions, and to carry out the right actions to dominate in performance.


Finally, the physical aspects of performance must be addressed, but not in the way that many think. When it comes to resilience, individuals work for confidence, not just physical gains. Think about it, if you’re going to be able to adapt for any situation, then you must know that your physical strength, conditioning, speed, agility, and specific performance skills, are all at an optimized level. This allows you to know that no matter what is thrown at you, you’re ready for it. This will allow you to attack any situation with confidence, versus hoping that it will go well.



The Molliteum Lifestyle
Figure 2: The Molliteum Lifestyle™️

Closing thoughts

Resilience is a lifestyle; it goes beyond a singular mental skill. It requires a constant effort to manage and optimize your lifestyle daily, so that you can adapt in performance, no matter the situation. There are metabolic, mental, and physical components that must be built in order for you to be locked in when going into a competition. Again, this is about a holistic approach that requires commitment and dedication. This is not a short term, “put a piece of tape over it,” type of solution; a lifestyle is for those who are looking for long term results on a consistent basis. Yes, there’s a psychological component, but that’s just a piece of the puzzle. Mental skills are for those looking to be good, while resilience is for those looking to create a lasting legacy.








References

Dauncey, M. (2012). Recent advances in nutrition, genes and brain health. Proceedings of the Nutrition Society, 71(4), 581-591. doi:10.1017/S0029665112000237


Hays, K., Thomas, O., Maynard, I., & Bawden, M. (2009). The role of confidence in world-class sport performance. Journal of Sports Sciences, 27(11), 1185-1199. doi:10.1080/02640410903089798


Hijazi, M. M. (2013). Attention, visual perception and their relationship to sport performance in fencing. Journal of Human Kinetics, 39(1), 195-201. doi:10.2478/hukin-2013-0082


Kendra, J. M ..and Tricia Wachtendorf. 2003. Elements of Resilience after the World Trade Center Disaster: Reonstituting the New York City's Emergency Operations Center. Disaters, 27 (1): 37-53.


Pike, A., Dawley, S., & Tomaney, J. (2010). Resilience, adaptation and adaptability. Cambridge Journal of Regions, Economy and Society, 3(1), 59-70. doi:10.1093/cjres/rsq001


Seelig, A., Jacobson, I., Donoho, C., Trone, D., Crum-Cianflone, N., Balkin, T. (2016). Sleep and Health Resilience Metrics in a Large Military Cohort, Sleep, 39(5), 1111–1120. doi:10.5665/sleep.5766






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