• Josh Vaisman

Dwayne 'The Rock' Johnson, Flat Tires, and Building Resilience 'Muscles'

My addiction to indoor soccer inspired me to improve my fitness levels so I could keep up with the “youngins” out on the pitch. So, to do my best to stave off Father Time, about a year ago I began lifting weights and running races with my wife. Working out four days a week and running 5k’s has, predictably, resulted in stronger muscles and lungs. I’m approaching 42 now and, despite a couple serious soft tissue injuries this past year, in the best shape of my life.

It turns out resilience and fitness have a lot in common in that both are resources that can be built.

It turns out resilience and fitness have a lot in common in that both are resources that can be built.

Resilience is not well defined in the academic literature. However, one analysis points to three accepted categories of resilience:

  1. Resistance Resilience: This is the ability to “stand strong” against challenges. I’m 5’9” and about 165 pounds. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson is 6’5” and roughly 260 pounds. With his feet set I could throw my shoulder full force into his muscle-bound torso and I’d bounce right off while he manically chuckled and didn’t move an inch. Resistance Resilience is just like that – the car gets a flat tire on the way to an appointment and we calmly pull over, hop out, install the spare, and make it to our appointment 2 minutes early without breaking a sweat or so much as muttering a choice four-letter word.

  2. Recovery Resilience: This is the “bounceback” when something in life knocks us down. This time I’m sneaky and The Rock doesn’t see me coming. I plow into him with all my might and he stumbles a couple steps to the side. He catches his balance, stands tall, cracks his neck a couple times, and returns to his mountainous base and stares me down. I sprint the other direction. Recovery Resilience is just like that – the car gets a flat AGAIN and this time it pisses us off. We pull over, bellow out a string of words to make any sailor proud, and punch the steering wheel a couple times. We then take a deep breath, collect ourselves, and install the spare. This time we make it to the appointment right on time, recovered from our ordeal and ready for the next thing.

  3. Reconfiguration Resilience: This is the resilience at work when bad shit goes down, life breaks us a bit, and we have to “rebuild.” I’ve pulled some full on stealth ninja action on The Rock and, when he least expects it, I fly at him like a banshee on fire. Bashing in to him from behind he tumbles over, trips on a box I’ve strategically placed in his way, and crashes to the ground. Little old Josh has tackled The Rock! His ego is badly damaged but after years of therapy he’s ready to face a world in which Josh is his conqueror. Reconfiguration Resilience is just like that – the tire suddenly explodes and we lose control. The car shoots off the side of the highway, takes a sharp turn, and flips over several times. We survive with a fractured bone or two and the car is a total loss. In time we recover and get back out into the world with a new perspective and focus. Post Traumatic Growth is closely related to Reconfiguration Resilience.

Building the resilience "muscles" help us cope with the inevitable challenges in life.

When I lift weights at the gym I’m building muscles. When I run races I’m building my cardiovascular health. The added strength and stamina helps me improve my soccer game as well as a whole list of other areas in my life. In the same way, building the resilience "muscles" help us cope with the inevitable challenges in life. How do we build those psychological muscles?

In a seminal analysis of resilience training a team of researchers clearly identified 20 factors that influence psychological resilience. Of these 20, the 3 with the highest impact were positive coping, positive affect, and positive thinking. All of these are mental skills that can be built.

In life, soccer, and tackling giant men, challenges and setbacks are inevitable. Building our resilience resources don’t eliminate the challenges – they give us a better chance of bouncing back to baseline (or growing beyond it!) afterwards. What will you do to build your resilience muscles?

- Written by Josh Vaisman

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