The Meaning of Resilience

To those of you who follow this series and were disappointed to find I hadn’t written an article on Friday, I send my deepest apologies. I normally try to pre-write some of my content to make sure it gets out on time, but last week was extremely hectic and I ended up having to draft the article day of.

Which didn’t happen, because on my way home from my writing group on Thursday, I fell on the sopping wet bridge leading to my house. I’d been nagging the guys to get it swept and scrubbed for a while because mildew and algae love this time of year, and they also love untreated wood, which happens to be what that bridge is made of. I’ve mentioned once or twice that I have a recurring back injury, and boy did the fall flare it up. I was out all weekend.

This didn’t bode well for my usual routine. Not only was I scared to go down the stairs with my back being what it was (so I couldn’t get to my office to work), sitting up was painful all of Friday and workouts were out of the question.

So what did I do instead? Catch up on my reading for the review portion of this blog? Work on my self improvement book list? Write things out by hand until I could get to my work computer and relieve my poor wrist cysts? If you’ve seen enough of these sorts of lists to have guessed that I did none of those things, good on you. Gold star. Well, okay, I did read a little more of The Subtle Art of Not Giving a F*ck: A Counterintuitive Approach to Living a Good Life, which I plan on covering in a few weeks. But I digress.

What I actually did was mope about for a day, start playing a new video game on my gaming machine upstairs (which doesn’t have any of the software I used to work), complete all the achievements in that game, and beat myself up for not working.

I had mostly recovered by Sunday, which meant I was able to go downstairs and start catch-up. But I didn’t. Because at that point, I’d thrown myself into the ring with my old nemesis, the most powerful force in the universe (or at least in psychological terms. I’m a sci-fi writer. I know the most powerful force is technically gravity under some circumstances and the strong force in most others): INERTIA.

Inertia is simultaneously wonderful and terrible. For those of you who’ve been out of the educational system for 10 years or more (or just never got into the whole physics thing), inertia is the tendency for moving objects to keep moving and sitting objects to stay put. Like my butt parked in front of my gaming computer after two days of no working out, no meditation, and no working period.

It takes a ton of force to get a still object moving again. Once it’s moving, it’s much harder to slow it down, but those first few days after sitting around feeling sorry for myself are always going to be the toughest. When I got up Thursday morning, I didn’t have to think about going out to eat breakfast, heading downstairs to sweat said lazy butt off, doing my devotions, dumping my brain on paper, and meditating before I started work. I was on autopilot. I’d done these things every bloody day for over four months. They were my routine.

Today I had to make a conscious choice. Today my brain was reminded of the unstructured, Wild West days of staying in bed until 12pm and eating a bowl of cereal, heading down later in the afternoon and working from whenever to who cares. Today I had to force myself out of bed on time, make a healthy breakfast and log it, drag my butt down the stairs, start up the workout video, and really focus on immersing myself in it.

I had to conjure the image of my word counts going up day after day, the miserable days I’ve been too injured to work out and the way I’ve suffered more from that than the 20-35 minutes it actually takes me to sweat my way through to victory.

And the most amazing thing happened. As hard as it was to start the workout, by the time I was done the endorphin rush reminded my grumpy brain that it indeed had a routine it liked sticking to. So doing my devotions and mind-dump on time came easier. And by the time I headed back upstairs during my shallow work/lunch period to feed my aching stomach, it finally felt like a normal day.

Because all the work I did before made this particular slip-up go differently than in the past when a day or two long bender could screw me up for weeks. Making the choice, and making damn sure I knew it was a choice and not a requirement, jogged whatever circuits I’d built and made the workout the pleasure my brain wasn’t yet expecting. I changed my attitudes because I knew the inertia was the hardest part.

The takeaway here, at least for me, is that resilience is the ability to make the future now and focus on the benefits rather than the difficulties in the present moment. And I fully believe that takes the experience of several months of forced consistency to make that happen. Anyone with ADHD knows how hard it can be to pick up a habit, even one you’ve practiced for months, after the chain has been broken so to speak. Inertia gets a boost from having less dopamine receptors and an underdeveloped prefrontal cortex. The deck is stacked against you.

But if you put in the work for long enough, you can build quite a bit of strength in your corner. And the memory of the benefits, the conscious choice to acknowledge the real benefits these practices have brought to your life, can be enough to get you to start. And once you start the bottom of your brain, the part that keeps this whole thing running smooth on autopilot day in and day out, the one you had to fight with to get the healthy routine going in the first place, that part becomes your ally after you get over the initial hump alone.

That is the definition of resilience.

So what about the article on Cal Newport’s Deep Work I promised last week? It’s still coming. Preferably on Friday.

What was it like last time your routine got thrown off because of injury, illness, personal drama, or whatever? Did you manage to get back on track? How did you do it? Feel free to post in the comments below or comment on my Facebook page.

See you Friday!

New to the series and want to catch up?

Week 1 was all about how working out doubled my word count and why on earth our bodies work that way.

Week 2 was all about meditation and task transitioning, and why meditating between tasks helps with focus.

Week 3 was about why throwing my daily routine off mattered so much to my productivity, and how having a daily ritual before writing can benefit the practice even if it can’t be done at the same time every day.