Emotional Resilience

As a society, we are not giving our people emotional resilience. It starts early. Two stories stick out in my mind.

Recently, Simone Biles withdrew from the olympics to protect her mental health. She was “carrying the weight of the world” and it was probably the right decision for her, given all that’s happened in Gymnastics. But why wasn’t she mentally prepared to do that in the first place. Why are we not teaching soft skills to give people the tools and confidence to get through those times when we carry extra weight.

Not long ago, Naomi Osaka said she wouldn’t do a post-match interview. This is part of the job of being a professional sports athlete. She was not prepared to do her job. When I use the word “Prepared” I mean it in the long sense. Athletes bodies are trained, but not their mind. But it isn’t just athletes. I’ve seen it in education as well. We have boiled the frog with our children and students, and each decade I see students who’ve been more and more coddled (I’d like to find a softer word than that). You can’t blame parents for trying to make life easy for kids, for putting pressure on schools to remove barriers.

The problem is that those barriers fortify the mind, just as early exposure to pathogens fortify our later immune system. An easy life is a myth, because an ‘easy life’ is one without challenge or meaning and mentally bereft of the joys that come with overcoming challenges. Those challenges mount in adulthood. Mental grit is necessary.

I don’t fault Biles and Osaka. I fault the systems that we have in place that didn’t prepare them to handle the life they chose (or, given their age, may have been chosen for them).

But what about you? What can you do?

Challenge yourself.

Do something that makes you uncomfortable. Comfort is a dangerous drug.

When something bad happens, chose the hard option to facing that situation.

Think long-term. Short term pain brings long term gain.

And be sure to care for your mental health with the appropriate rest. It’s ok to lick your wounds. That’s also part of healing and mental strength, as long you stop, heal, and move on.

And to be sure. I think Simon Biles is a bada**. She helped her team. She knew that she was too distracted to do a complicated and dangerous sport. I spoke of the two athletes, but the situation is vastly different. Biles was a team thinker and despite the stress of her decision she was still out cheering for her team.