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The Secret of Resilience

How You Can Learn To Thrive From Your Defining Moments.

When you think about it, life is full of defining moments, some are good and some are bad. So how do you explain why some people get stuck and depressed after a bad defining moment while others not only survive, but they eventually learn how to thrive? I’d like to share a story about a defining moment in my life as a triathlete and what we can all take away from that experience.

On August 28th, 2011, I was in Louisville Kentucky competing in my first Ironman Triathlon. For those of you who don’t know what an Ironman is, it’s a 4k swim, followed by a 180k bike followed by a 42k run and you have 17 hours or less to finish the race. Finishing was definitely a defining moment in my life, but within that race, there was a more valuable defining moment. 

Now I haven’t admitted this to many people but on race day, I screwed up pretty good. My wife will tell you that sometimes I have a habit of not paying attention and during the pre race briefing, clearly I was not paying attention when they said the run course was 2 loops. 

Race day was pretty hard as you can imagine. The water in the Ohio river was warm like bath water. It was actually kind of scary, the water was so brown and murky that I couldn’t even see my hand in front of my face while I was swimming.

The bike course was hot, humid and hilly all of which left me so nauseous and dehydrated that it was all I could do to not puke for the last 4 hours of my ride. When I finally got onto the run course, it seemed like running a marathon was going to be the easiest part of my day.

We ran from downtown out past Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, turned around and as we headed back downtown, the crowds were  getting bigger, the music was getting louder and, it sounded like there was a real party going on. The endorphins were starting to kick in which meant I was finally starting to feel good again (relatively speaking) and I remember looking at my watch and thinking wow “2 1/2 hours”…running a marathon is easy.

Just up the road I could see the red carpet of the finish line and just before I ran down the finishing chute, I noticed that the guy who was running beside me disappeared. Fortunately I had the presence of mind to ask the volunteer at the start of the finish chute where that guy went and she said he went for his victory lap. I thought victory lap? Ok, at some races they make you do a little extra run around the block to make up the correct distance. I felt pretty stupid and everyone got a good laugh as I smiled and ran what I thought would be a simple run around the block.

After a few minutes I suddenly had this terrible realization. That victory lap wasn’t a run around the block, it was an entire second loop of the run course and that fastest marathon ever…that was my slowest ½ marathon ever. That was my lowest moment in the race and I got stuck feeling sorry for myself. I did the math in my head and decided I could walk and still finish the race so I started walking. I started talking to other athletes who were walking because they were injured. You know, because misery loves company. The pity party lasted about 30 minutes until I decided I had more in the tank and I was going to start running again. 

A defining moment is an event that determines future subsequent actions.

Resilience is your ability to recover from setbacks, adapt well to change, and keep going in the face of adversity. 

What I learned from that defining moment about resilience is that when you stop moving forward life, when you get stuck in your own head, it is SO HARD and SO PAINFUL to get moving again. 

The secret of resilience is learning how to thrive from your defining moments.

Defining moments are like bank deposits that you get to withdraw from at some other future point in our life. But you’re only richer from your experiences if you learn from them, so the secret of resilience is to never stop learning.

But you’re probably thinking to yourself, I’m never going to be a triathlete so what does resilience have to do with me? What’s the point? Well, if you want to develop more health and happiness in your life, if you want more success and resilience at work, you’re going to need a lifelong learning strategy.

My daily learning strategy includes asking better questions that demand better answers. I record what I’ve learned in my daily journal which serves as social proof that I am moving forward every day. This isn’t my only strategy but it does work wonders for me. Let me know if this strategy has ever worked for you too.

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