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Building Resilience

Resilience is known as the ability to successfully overcome challenges and handle stressors while facing adversity. We develop resilience by confronting rather than avoiding difficulties. As we successfully overcome challenges, we develop greater self-esteem and a higher level of confidence. We cannot develop resilience unless there is adversity to navigate.

Is resilience an in-born trait or a human quality that can be developed? Although genes do play a role providing an initial physiological framework, resilience is mostly a learned

experience. From the time we are born, we are constantly facing challenges. We do not remember it, but learning how to stand up for the first time was surely a challenge for all of us. It took quite a few attempts, trials and errors until we were successful able to grab on to an object and stand up, even if it was for only a few seconds. Such a moment was a great success. We learned to overcome a challenge and, I am sure, we showed the greatest smile ever. Most importantly, our brain learned to celebrate such an outcome to the point where we wanted to do it again and again. This simple, and not so simple task, is an example of how resilience is built.

As life goes on, we face different challenges. School, sports, and life in general. We are faced with navigating constant obstacles. However, the essence of building resilience rests on the same learning process we used to stand up for the first time. We try, and try, and try until we finally get it. And, most importantly, such an achievement is celebrated as an act of personal perseverance. The personal gratification that comes when success is achieved is due to its continued effort. This successful experience translates into building confidence and self-esteem. Again, while all this successful experience is celebrated, it is the brain that absorbs this experience as part of our memory.

We can also say that the opposite is equally valid. If we lose our temper when we face an obstacle, give up when challenges come up or expect others to come to our rescue, the brain is also learning from these experiences. If personal gratification was not imbedded into our brains when we achieved success and, instead, unhealthy habits were often used, by default, the brain will repeat unhealthy behaviors. How we respond when facing obstacles become learned experiences that eventually become patterns. How it is learned is how the brain will repeat it.

To foster resilience, Dr. Salomon is known for having developed a four step process that helps athletes learned from failures and use those learned experiences as information to make constant adjustment and continue improvement. These four steps are known as ARSE, which stand for the following:

  • A: Acknowledge: the athlete takes responsibility for the mistakes and accepts the emotions that accompany those experiences. These mistakes are not seen as punitive, but rather as a source of learned experience.

  • R: Review: the athlete uses this opportunity to examine how and why the performance did not materialize as expected.

  • S: Strategize: a plan is executed to correct the error. This strategy may be reviewed with a coach or teammates. However, the individual athlete takes full individual responsibility to make the needed personal adjustment toward improvement.

  • E: Execute: the athlete attempts the next performance based on updated information or adjustments. The quicker the athletes adheres to this four step process, the easier will it be to make the necessary changes that lead to continued growth. Resiliency can be learned. It requires steady quote of effort, positivism, and encouragement. And, most importantly, resilient athletes embrace constant learning and self-exploration attitudes knowing that each experience gives them a greater source of knowledge.

Alex Diaz, PhD Sports Mental Edge

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