By Eric Beach
Our Project Echelon mission statement contains the words Self discovery and physical activity. The AND is very important because to heal, we need both pieces working together in concert. One without the other may be helpful, but I've found, to truly heal, we need both.
I was reading "Emotional Intelligence" by Daniel Goleman this morning. In the portion of the book I was reading, the author was explaining the power of hope and optimism. He explained how studies had shown resiliency requires those two things. In one such study, he explained how professional swimmers were first given a test which categorized the swimmer as a pessimist or optimist. After the test, they began swim practice. As they were swimming laps, the timer was instructed to lie and give the swimmers a false time, a time that was far slower than the swimmer would have liked to hear. Those who were categorized as pessimists swam even slower after they received the "false" bad news. On the other hand, the optimists actually swam faster than their first laps! The optimists saw the setback, met the resistance, and were able to push through where the pessimists couldn't.
Not everyone currently has both hope and optimism. I've been there. Its part of my own journey that I've been reflecting on, but struggling to track the transition from hopeless to hopeful, or from pessimist to optimist. I just know it accidentally happened! Which believe me, when you're trying to help others along the same journey you are on and you can't give them steps and explanations... It can be very frustrating! However, after todays reading, I think I understand how it happened for me a bit better.
I believe fully, that I had to read this book now. I believe I am drawn to specific books at specific times because in that moment, I'm ready to receive the wisdom on those specific pages. Any other time, I may have been in the wrong mental state and glossed over very important content.
Project Echelon, in many ways, is my journey from suicidal to servant leader, packaged in a "neat enough" package, given freely to those willing, and brave enough to open it. Admittedly as I mentioned earlier, sometimes I don't know how to explain parts of my growth. But the further I go, the more I realize there is no formula for this. We are walking parallel paths but aren't walking the same path.
My resiliency has increased and recently my focus has been... How? Goleman says optimism and hope. He also says through Self mastery, we can find hope, optimism, and resilience. People with those three ingredients do not feel an overwhelming sense of failure when rejection, defeat, or setbacks occur. Sounds great right?
So how does he say we can foster those qualities in ourselves. Mastery of something... Anything. To attempt to illustrate this, I'll use my own experience and how I unwittingly did this.
To master something we must commit to the thing or process regardless of the difficulty and setbacks. We must be all-in. We must be dedicated AND have patience.
For me, I was tired of quitting, of hurting, of half-commiting, so I committed to going somewhere. I committed to overcoming the physical demands of training for, and completing a sprint distance triathlon. To build resiliency, you must overcome something. Discomfort and resistance.
In training I had to first overcome pride. I had to fight the urge to quit because I used to be capable of running a 6 minute mile, but was now running a 12 minute mile.
Breathe. You have to start somewhere.
Next, I had to overcome the pain and discomfort of training, which mirrors the same pain as growth. I had to break the mental barriers of "I'm to tired to train" or " I have a little bit of a cold, so I'll start when I'm better." I overcame body image from gaining 35lbs (though I still struggle with body image). There were more mental blocks, but those are the big ones that come to mind.
On race day, I finished my race. I overcame, though I was still left not mentally healthy. But, through the process of training, I had gained enough awareness to start finding and cutting out the negative and unhealthy influences in my life. Not all, but some. When it became really dark, I even asked for help! If you know me, you may know how big a deal it is for me to ask for help! Programs like This Able Veteran and Save A Warrior gave me the tools I needed for further Self mastery, though at the time, I didn't know it.
The following year, I entered a half IRONMAN triathlon. No matter the race or training plan, throughout all of it, I was given the precious gift of insight. As I burned off energy and overcame obstacles, I gained more awareness and resiliency. I also began to understand that through training, I was far more open and able to take the journey inward to Self discovery.
I could ask myself hard questions. I could stop blaming others and take responsibility for my side of the fence. I could work on my own "moral failings." I could stop playing the victim...
Physical activity made Self discovery far more attainable. When we train and reach our physical goals, a level of Self mastery is attained. When we attain this, optimism starts to move in. We slowly begin to take failures with larger openness and less despair. We may be unaware of this process, but I promise you its there if you look.
The area you chose for Self mastery may start small, like making your bed every morning. It may be relational like intentionally and consistently spending quality time with your family. There are many ways we can grow the discipline required for Self mastery, but including a physical outlet exponentially increases this process.
For that reason, I believe in the power of physical activity AND Self discovery. For that very reason, I will be competing in this years IRONMAN Madison triathlon because I know the real growth occurs in the months of training that lead up to the payoff at the finish line.
Find ways to overcome and commit to physical activity. Open the doors to growth and relationship. Be open.
We are all learning as we go. Some of us just aren't listening to the soft whisper of life and some of us are ignoring the bricks life is throwing at our heads! Some of us can't feel the unconscious stirrings of the exiled voices deep within us. But, if we move our bodies and then sit with the exiled voices after, we can discover, one of the greatest teachers in the world lives in each and everyone of us.