For our ancestors, resilience and grit kept you breathing. No stretching, no massages, no sun salutations. Those who didn’t work hard didn’t make it.
With a few exceptions, modern survival is included in the price of admission. Just show up and you’ll be fine. No hunting or gathering. Buffet opens at 4 p.m.
Essentials such as lifting, running and climbing have been replaced by corporate behaviours such as political acumen and SMART goal management. Don’t get me wrong, I would much prefer attending the company golf tournament than running from a sabre-toothed tiger (actually, both make me a little nervous).
Regardless, better communication skills may keep the boss happy but they won’t promote weight loss or strength gain. To survive the modern word, you need to be adept at texting. To survive period, you need to get out of your chair.
Recently we started binge-watching Alone, a reality TV show on the History channel that features 10 people dropped into a harsh wilderness location, far from others, with few personal survival items. A bow and arrow and flint seem to be popular.
Everyone is supplied with video cameras (so they can document their trials) and a radio to signal for help or to ‘tap out.’ The person who survives the longest (spoiler alert: three months), without getting eaten or broken wins $500,000 and bragging rights.
Unlike the popular show Survivor (or a typical day at the office), politics, scheming and pizza challenges won’t get you far. This is the real thing. If you don’t find shelter, you freeze. If you don’t find food, you starve. If a grizzly happens upon your camp, you’re dinner. (The time it takes production staff to arrive by helicopter, boat or ATV turns the rescue mission into cleanup detail.)
On day one shelter is a priority, followed closely by food. Tasty resources that are scarce but available during the fall (mice and fish) disappear as temperatures drop. When your daily menu consists of tree bark and seaweed, you’re close to the end.
The real zinger is you have no idea how others are doing. There could be five people toughing it out or one other guy eating his own socks.
As important values such as equity and acceptance gain momentum in our culture, so do other less helpful behaviors. No one should feel the sting of ridicule or bullying. At the same time, complacency and political correctness shouldn’t dull our logic.
The missing links in all of this are hard work, resilience and grit. We are here today because of it. Unfortunately, our tough-it-out genes have devolved.
On Alone, participants lose a lot of weight — the biggest drop being 70 pounds. I’m not suggesting you adopt the ‘Alone starvation diet’ (or build a lean-to in the park). In fact, if you lose pounds quickly, it will return with a vengeance (also be mindful that missing muscle and water make up a big part of your short-lived loss).
I am suggesting, however, that we all consider sharpening our physical acumen by improving resilience and grit (resilience means to bounce back, while grit means to persevere).
For some, passing a plate of donuts without taking one is comparable to bench pressing 300 pounds. For others, going for a frigid walk after a long day is like passing on a plate of donuts. Either way, stretching your ability to say ‘no’ to junk and ‘yes’ to exercise is work in itself — tough work.
I was fascinated by the participants on Alone that used each challenge as a growth opportunity. A setback for one person was growth for another. To survive, you need to drop your head and keep pushing. ‘You deserve a break today’ is not part of their lexicon.
Many ‘poor me’ people are convinced they have it more difficult than everyone else. Hey, we all have our burdens. We also all have the same number of hours in the day and weeks in the year. Drop us on a deserted island and we all end up stronger and thinner.
If you’re struggling to lose weight, consider working on simple changes that rewire your brain. Maybe you don’t ‘deserve a break today.’ Maybe you need to tough it out. Skip the donut, go for a walk, repeat.
Soon your resilience and grit muscles flex and temptations become less of a distraction. Whatever you do, don’t tap out. There are big rewards in the end.