MCENTIRE JOINT NATIONAL GUARD BASE, S.C. --
What color facemask are you wearing in uniform? What did you do on your virtual drill? Which of the four pillars of resilience, mental, physical, social or spiritual has best prepared you for the pandemic? Even as a first sergeant, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought about a challenge for which I was unprepared; many of the factors I rely upon for my resilience have been challenged. I can’t go to church to strengthen my spiritual resilience, I can’t socialize with friends and coworkers including my Swamp Fox brothers and sisters, which compromises my social resilience and I can’t even go to the gym to keep myself physically resilient. That brings me to mental resilience and the realization that all of the pillars are interdependent.
One element of mental resilience is positive thinking, which is admittedly difficult in dark times, but can be your last resort when faced with a resilience crisis like social distancing. Running is one thing I can still do in these socially distant times and Nike Run Club’s guided runs provide one way for me to improve my physical health. I was surprised mid-way into a run to learn something to improve my mental health as well. The concept came from former Buddhist monk, Andy Puddicombe, founder of Headspace and regular guest speaker on Nike Run Club guided runs.
Puddicombe says our minds already have the resilience we need to be successful. It’s built-in. Imagine that your mind is a brilliant blue sky full of purpose, peace and relaxation. Sounds great, right? But into that mind creep clouds full of doubt, fear and negativity that obscure the blue sky. Negative thoughts are not unusual for anyone to experience. The problem arises when we allow them to crowd out the blue sky for too long and negatively impact our daily lives. It’s important to remember that the blue sky is always there and we just need to find ways to push the clouds out of the way, or maybe rise above them.
Shortly after I returned from a deployment to Iraq, I met up with a good friend on a gloomy day to hike up Table Rock Mountain in upstate South Carolina. The climb was going well until the pain from a herniated disk turned my climb into a literal crawl on my hands and knees. The pain in my back and legs was getting the best of me until my friend reached out and helped me through the toughest, rockiest part. His words of encouragement were exactly what I needed and pushed me to get my face out of the dirt and look for the blue sky. And that’s exactly what we found once we got above four thousand feet; the clouds were below us, the sun was above us and all around us was the most beautiful blue sky. I was thankful for my friend that day, but what happens when we don’t have friends to help us?
The Air Force Profession of Arms Center of Excellence website has a really good paper on “Self-Talk.” Especially in this time when social distancing is keeping us away from those who know how to help us best, we need to be able to know how to push those clouds out of the way ourselves. To strengthen your self-talk, PACE suggests you examine all of the ways you speak to yourself about circumstances in your life. Are your words mostly positive or negative? Do you want them to be more positive? Practice changing the way you talk to yourself; for example: instead of “I made a mistake, I may as well give up,” try, “mistakes can help me learn to do better next time.”
Our daily outlook isn’t always blue skies and sunshine; we all face dark clouds like stress and doubt and sometimes our go-to resilience factors are just not there for us. Be kind to yourself. Give yourself the same encouraging words you would give a friend. Always know that what’s true in nature is also true in our minds; clouds are temporary, but the blue sky is always there, we just need to look for it.