Some reflections on adaptation, psychological flexibility and resolve when faced with challenging circumstances...
I've always enjoyed this quote from Joe Louis. I love boxing and martial arts and I've always thought that there are some intrinsic lessons about resilience that can be taken from their practice.
There's a very direct and obvious interpretation of that Joe Louis was talking about here. You might also recognise a similar quote from Mike Tyson a few decades later. This speaks of how easy it is to talk a tough game. It's easy to expect something to be, well, easy - until those punches start flying. That's when the fear and pain starts, and for most people also when those intellectual plans disintegrate. When that happens we revert to something more, for the lack of a better expression, primitive. In many ways then Louis was giving us a warning about the dangers of hubris, arrogance, taking things for granted, and about how quickly events, especially in boxing, can turn around. Performance in combat sports is a fascinating and huge topic in its own right, and I will definitely talk more about this another time - or at least I will ask one of the many experts I am lucky enough to have met to speak about it for us. But, back to Joe Louis - I also like to interpret this quote of his more widely - as a metaphor for life's punches.
When life hits us hard, as it does for almost all of us at some stage or another, it not only knocks us off our feet, but can leave a legacy which affects the direction of the rest of our lives. It destroys the 'plan' we once had. It is often this medium to long-term impact that we need to help clients address.
Sometimes setbacks delay things in our lives - so we need to postpone, reschedule or re-prioritise different aspects or domains of our lives, and we can help do that in therapy and coaching. Sometimes we may need to do some comprehensive problem solving to overcome an issue or challenge, and we can bolster this problem solving with visualisation, hypnosis and other skills such as assertiveness training. To come back to the boxing analogy - we need to roll with those punches and address the pressing issues in the here and now.
But sometimes the challenges are more permanent. I have had several clients impacted by long-term illness and injury and their lives are permanently changed by this. In the initial stages of treatment we can of course, help them to deal with the pain, anxiety, poor sleep, and self-esteem issues that result. But as we start addressing these pressing issues, we often start directing our mutual attention to enabling that client to once again living a life of meaning, purpose and richness despite the changes and challenges that are now present. This is the very essence of resilience as we define it.
Or, to put it another way - we want to help each client find a way of continuing to be the person we always aspired to be despite the barriers now in the way.
If, just for example, someone has developed a chronic condition that affects their mobility, how can we define values-based goals that still allow them to pursue their values of being independent and adventurous? Or how can I, now that I have a chronic back injury, still continue to be active and enjoy the pursuit of martial arts and boxing, and using my body in many challenging ways? Can it be done? 100% yes. Can we now define values-based goals that empower us with the same passion and purpose we had when the situation was different? Again yes, but both these things also frequently require us to practice enormous self-compassion and embody psychological flexibility whilst being honest about what is now possible. It also means being honest about some of the values we thought we once had and examining if these are now relevant and indeed, were truly our own values to begin with. It is common for us all to have pursued someone else's values, values that do not actually serve us, or give us passion or purpose, and do not help us in the situation we now find ourselves. Values identification can be a quick activity, but its one we often come back to several times as our true or core values don't always rise to the surface on the first pass.
We'll return to the subject of values in the next article, but for now I'll bookend this one with another great quote on planning, this time from the amazing Joseph Campbell:
"We must be willing to let go of the life we have planned, so as to have the life that is waiting for us."
More on this in the next article too!