On Falling Down and Getting Up

Resilience is about relentlessly picking yourself up time and time again.

Posted Mar 07, 2018

Challenges are a part of life. In evolutionary terms, challenges are biological stresses that stimulate the adaptations that we see in the diversity of life all around us. When we take the long view it's easier to see that challenges, and the adaptations that arise to meet those challenges, are an important part of life and living.

But challenges are also difficult to respond to in the moment. Many challenges can seem daunting, overwhelming and difficult to overcome. Yet our short term responses to the challenges we face have implications for how we will "evolve" within our own lives and across our lifespan.

Which is why resilience is so important.

My favorite take on resilience is captured in the song "I get knocked down" by Chumbawamba which contains the lyrics "I get knocked down/But I get up again/
You're never gonna keep me down
". There's other bits to that song that speak to other things beyond resilience, but I love that chorus.

This idea of falling down and getting up is also found in the Japanese phrase "nana korobi ya oki". This literally means "seven falls with eight getting up". On first reading it seems the math is a bit messed up with 8 times up with only 7 down. But the figurative meaning resonates with me as in no matter how many times you get knocked down, stand up.

To me the idea of resilience is that you're so ready to stand up you are already doing it before being knocked down. In this context, standing up is a choice and we can relate these choices to those in other arenas of decision making and determination.

I wrote previously about Tim Noakes, an exercise scientist at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, and his work in fatigue.  This work suggests that our brains use a "central governor" to integrate many sensory signals and our intentions and then makes decisions about whether to continue with something. In this way, fatigue we experience during exercise can be considered "a brain-derived emotion" and is related to the idea of determination to get up and keep trying.

Noakes and colleagues have published many studies using this concept of fatigue in exercise, intention and decision making. Our response to challenges such as fatigue can be seen often as a protective regulatory signal. But they can also be too sensitive and we can often push through many things to continue to rise above.

Recently these researchers modeled and examined this idea of determination in decision making during racing and "falling behind". Their analysis shows a strong relationship between psychological decision making and physiological function.

I think we can relate the idea of determination and decision to continue in "falling behind" in a sporting context to failing and falling in all aspects of life. When we fail, fall behind, or fall down, we are left with a choice: do we try again, catch up, and stand up, or do we remain where we are?

Resilience is about constantly picking ourselves up and trying again. The more we can practice this resilient response to challenges in our lives, the more skill we will have for future challenges. Remember to try living "seven falls with eight getting up" and choose to continue in everything that has meaning and worth to you in your life.

(c) E. Paul Zehr (2018)