Training Through a Disaster

The moment after the smoke clears, you have decisions to make.

On Saturday, August 13th 2016, I found myself sitting with my family in a boat. This wasn’t a vacation pleasure cruise. We had just been rescued from our neighborhood due to the rising flood waters in southeast Louisiana. At that point, my fitness and my second home, the gym, were the furthest things from my mind; the wellbeing and safety of my family were all that mattered.

My fitness, particularly weight training and healthy eating, are normally significant parts of my lifestyle and day-to-day routine. But they were temporarily erased from my priority list within seconds. It wasn’t a sober, conscious decision; an unstoppable force allowed me no choice but to succumb to what needed to be done. Luxuries and comforts like daily workouts and carefully planned meals shifted to absolute choices regarding basic human needs.

But since this fitness lifestyle is such a huge part of who I am, how is it affected in the aftermath of such a disaster? How could I cope with the circumstances, without breaking ingrained habits and possibly throwing away all my hard work? Is there a way to stay steady, or even inch forward, no matter how minute the progress? 

Once the immediate crisis of survival has passed, you have crucial decisions to make. [Photo credit: Brad Borland]

Between Instinct and Conscious Choice

Hardships come in all shapes and sizes: floods, health challenges, unforeseen accidents, or shifts in your family dynamic. Everyone has their own unique story of times of difficulty. One thing is for sure, you won’t go through life without several encounters of hardship. It’s a fact of life right up there with taxes and people who curl in the squat rack. But our ability to recognize and almost expect challenges will better equip us to deal with them as they come.

You must face these hardships. You must take them on and decide what to do next. Flight or fight is an instinctual reaction, but it also gives you a choice. When survival and wellbeing are at stake, your instincts oftentimes make the choices for you, leaving the details for later. But what about the aftermath—the gray area between the stress episode and the comfort of normalcy?

This gray area is a chance to examine what just happened and what is potentially next to come. It is where decisions can become opportunities, and primal instincts return the reins to rational thought. Many will use this time as one of reflection and rest. But I think it’s imperative, however fragile you feel, to recognize the chance for a new beginning and rebuilding. If you’re not careful, your healthy habits can fall victim to the circumstances, and be replaced by permanent, undesired new ones.

Choices in Limbo

This new normal is forced on you without your blessing. The only real choice is to deal with it. But how? I see two main options. One, you could play the victim, curl up in a corner and wait for help. Or two, you can welcome and adopt this new (temporary) normal and press on. Two is the obvious choice, right? But how do you move forward after you’ve experienced great hardship and are overwhelmed and disoriented, to say the least? Let’s break down some simple ways to cope with this delicate time and overcome your setback. 

Practice Awareness

The first step, and this goes for anything in life, is to practice awareness. It’s easy, during and immediately after a crisis, to feel like you are flying by the seat of your pants. This can extend well beyond the actual stressful time. Stay (or become) aware of where you are, how you are doing and what you are still capable of. Any lack of awareness will pit you against yourself and prevent any progress no matter how small.

Be aware that you are alive, have a support system, have a roof over your head and food on the table. Be aware that you still have your mind about you and have the incredible ability to plan, act, and try new approaches to your new challenges.

Take Stock of Resources

With awareness comes taking stock of not only your situation, but also your abilities and resources. What’s available to you right now? Are things still viable, doable, and workable but with some adjustments? What will take longer, require more focus, or a modified approach?

Your current state of living, resources, and environment may not be like they used to be. But remember that this is your new normal. It may not be permanent, but it’s the hand you were dealt. Use what you have and drive forward. Your game of yards may now be a game of inches, but at least you are showing progress.

Do a Self-Check-In 

Whether you’re moving forward a little or kicking more butt than you anticipated, it’s not a bad idea to do a self-check-in. How are you coping? Are you judging your progress or lack of progress too harshly? Do you need to take a pause every now and again to make sure your head’s on straight and that you’re moving in the right direction?

Sometimes you can charge ahead at full speed, but if you’re moving quickly in the wrong direction and making too many decisions at once you’ll find yourself frustrated and with a lot of lost ground to make up. Don’t be afraid to check in with yourself or even ask others for help or advice. No one becomes successful alone—there’s always someone close by willing to help.

Plan Each Step

With a self-check-in done, it may be a good idea to revisit your plan of attack. It’s not enough to simply want to come back after a setback. Lack of planning conjures vague goals, causing you to spin your wheels and delay any real progress. Setting out deliberate, purposeful steps is the simple but effective solution.

If you’re in a new environment, situation or have adopted a new normal, these steps need not be too complicated. Also, you’ll need to think inside that new normal in order to function properly and find success. It’s not advantageous to yearn for the old normal; you must adapt and press on. Use this new challenge to your advantage, find areas to exploit for the greater good and learn along the way.

Accept and Embrace Your New Normal

Yes, whatever you are facing is your new normal, whether only temporarily or for the long haul. Sometimes it’s not your choice; it’s forced upon you and you have to deal with it. Adopting this modified shift in doing things is a must in order to succeed.

All too often we resist that shift and fight tooth and nail against the change brought upon us. I say accept it. Recognize it, embrace the suck, and drive forward. If baby steps are all you can manage in the initial outset, so be it. Your acceptance of your new normal will allow you to start to cultivate new habits, different goals and new learning opportunities—things you may have never encountered otherwise.

Nothing worth having was ever easy. It’s these difficult and challenging moments that create and build character; true character that matters and will endure for the rest of your life. Stand up to the hardships that life throws your way. Fight through them, and you’ll come out better on the other side.

Prepare your mind for the tough times ahead:

Can You Train Mental Toughness?

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