Facing Life's Smackdowns
10 tips to mine your hidden reserves and bounce back after a setback.
Posted Aug 06, 2020
At this writing, I can bench press my weight. It wasn’t easy to get here. I put everything into it. My personal trainer kept saying, “Let me see your tremor of truth.” Raising an eyebrow at her, I grunted and trembled and sweated before reaching the goal, but I got there. She explained later that the phrase “tremor of truth” is used in physical fitness circles when we push ourselves to the max. Lifting weights, you grimace as a tremor of unease shoots through the body. Your arm muscles quiver during push-ups. Your legs tremble with exhaustion running a marathon. The brain says you can’t do it, but just as grass grows through concrete, you persevere and discover mental and physical reserves you didn’t know you had. And just before giving up, you push through the challenge.
Smack Downs and Your Tremor of Truth
What does working out have to do with resilience? Tremor of truth builds muscles on the physical plane and a growth mindset on the psychological plane. Meteoric obstacles often seem too great, as if you’re pushing through relentless steel, a vein of encased ore: an impossible deadline, a heartbreaking job rejection, a lousy review, or the rumble of your own self-doubt. Sometimes the setbacks make it too hard to bounce back. The hole feels too deep, too dark, the disillusionment too wide and overwhelming. Over time rejections and disappointments nibble away at you like torture from half a million cuts. Statistics say you have more stamina to continue to take safety risks after a car crash than to continue after a series of psychological defeats. After repeated failure, many of us throw in the towel to avoid more letdowns. Your attempt to bring quick relief to the misery of defeat robs you of knowing what missed opportunities lay beyond the barrier.
Although growth can be painful, it can be even more painful to remain tight in a secure little nest. Skill and personality alone won’t carry you through life's massive hurdles. When you’re knocked down, the heartbreak slams the wind out of you. Your face is marred by dust and sweat and blood. Yet you push yourself up on your scabby knees, stagger to your feet, and summon the courage to try again. Just when you’re ready to give up, one more tremor unearths a second wind and a vein of resilience that you didn’t know you had. A sudden jolt sizzles through you, and you’re fueled with pit-bull determination. One extra push and you plow through the smackdown moments that had brought you to your knees, moving over the finish line.
You can build a growth mindset by waiting for your reserves to kick in and learning how much more you’re capable of. If you give up too soon, you’ll never know if you had it in you to pull it off. And that’s a tough unknown to live with. In the heat of the moment, ask if you’re pushing hard and far enough through the gray mist of uncertainty. Or do you need to amp up your efforts? And how far do you stretch before reaching your breaking point? If you’re like most people, you can go farther than you think. “Springback” refers to a process when metal returns to its original shape after undergoing compression and tension (stretching). You, too, have a psychological elastic limit to which you can stretch to a certain point before returning to your original shape. Springback moments happen after defeat, mistakes, or hopelessness over seemingly impossible odds, preventing you from giving up on your career dreams, no matter how improbable they seem.
10 Tips to Mine Your Hidden Reserves
Here are ways your “tremor of truth” can mine the hidden reserves you didn’t know you had—golden opportunities to cultivate the resilience necessary to push through the veins of career hardships:
1. Grow a thick skin and expect rejection and setbacks. Commit yourself in advance to facing the many smackdowns you will encounter like all successful people before you.
2. Ditch the desire for comfort and step into growth pains. Be willing to go to the edge of your emotional pain so you can be fully present with what lays beyond the barrier.
3. Cultivate sustainability. Think of yourself as an elastic band that bends and stretches to a certain point before you spring back higher than you fall.
4. Turn roadblocks into steppingstones. Pinpoint opportunity contained in difficulty. Make it a goal to use negative challenges—no matter how painful, frustrating, big, or small—as lessons from which to learn. Ask, “What can I manage or overcome here?” or “How can I turn this matter around to my advantage?”
5. Refer to previous experience. Reflect on past obstacles you’ve overcome in your life. Point to lessons learned and underscore ways you have grown stronger through the hard knocks.
6. Take risks. Find that one place in your life where you’ve been hiding, then stick your neck out from your comfort zone. Ask what edge you can go to. Seek out risky opportunities that help you bloom instead of low-risk situations that keep you safe in a bud.
7. Identify self-doubts that have cramped your style or crippled you from growing fully. Harness them—instead of running from them—and channel them into useful skills so they don’t paralyze you.
8. Stay off the roller coaster. Manage life's ups and downs by treating highs and lows equally. Celebrate the highs but don’t make them any more seriously than the lows, and don’t take downturns anymore seriously than upswings.
9. Eschew the what-the-hell effect. This attitude only adds insult to injury. Face letdowns by taking the towel you want to throw in and use it to wipe the sweat off your face then hop back into your saddle.
10. Stop throwing the book at yourself and catch yourself when you fall. After a setback or discouraging situation, your motivation bounces back quicker when you support yourself with loving-kindness. Instead of kicking yourself when you’re down, be on your own side, wish yourself well, and be your best advocate.