Updated: Sep 25, 2022
"You learn to take a hit."
That was the response when I asked my male colleague how he was able to play competitive hockey for so long without getting seriously injured with all the contact and heavy bodychecks. My son, now 6, is playing hockey and lacrosse, and while the focus is on technical skills and conditioning, I already see it; the subtle (and not so subtle) ways strategic contact is integrated into the sport.
"I did get injured. But you learn how to take a hit. It always felt shaky at the start of the season. That's when injuries were more likely to happen. Then you'd warm up and get use to it."
I'm going to generalize hard here, and I also recognize that these areas are changing rapidly, which I can see first hand by the number of females playing with my son at a young level. But in my generation (it was the 90's), this was just not part of the female world.
We did not learn how to "take a hit".
We were not told: keep your head up, your body low and relaxed. Counter-check by putting your weight into the hit. If you fall, don't fight it. Fall naturally, then just get up. Let the boards soak up the contact. Getting smashed looks way worse than it feels. Don't be scared of it.
These are real, applicable, useful tips on how to take a hit. These tips acknowledge that learning to give and take a check are essential skills for playing the game at a higher level.
This was not the messaging I got as a girl. "You can do it!" and "Don't ever give up!" are positive messages, but too high-level to be useful when you've just taken a metaphorical hit and your confidence is in the toilet. If you're not taught that getting hit, whether that's in sport, school or business, is part of the game, and you're not given specific strategies to help yourself in those moments, you avoid getting hit as much as humanly possible. And your risk tolerance is lower.
While I was rough, and played, hard and aggressively with the boys as a "tom boy", it was never fostered into strategic skills, it was only reactive. And as I got older, I started to avoid the behaviours that marked me as different or unfeminine, and moved towards more socially acceptable ways of being.
As I watch my son become accustomed to dealing with physical and mental conflict, I can't help but wonder how our mindset as adult women now be different if we were taught those things too?
How does it affect our ability to perform in a competitive world like business, or a world where we're constantly growing our capacity of knowledge and uncertainty, like science or tech? How does it impact our tolerance to risk?
I am not saying we need more aggression in science and business. What I am saying is that we, as women, need to increase our ability to a) anticipate and strategize with confidence, rather than worry, b) acknowledge "hits", uncertainty, or problems as part of the "game" and not make it mean something about our self-concept or self-worth, and c) improve necessary skillsets so we can adapt and avoid getting permanently hurt or taken out of the game all together. Essentially, we need real and practical strategies for improving our resilience.
The good news: Resilience (i.e., learning to take a hit) is a skill, and like any skill, it can be practiced, improved, and mastered with time and intention. Dr. Lucy Hone, global authority on resilience, says "Resilience is not a fixed trait but a capacity we can build in ourselves as well as cultivating it in others." In her 2019 TED talk, she shares three secrets of resilient people:
They get that shit happens. They understand suffering is a part of life, a part of the game. Instead of "why me?", they ask "why not me?". Terrible things happen to them just like they happen to everyone else. Nobody avoids a "hit". Despite what social media will show you, we are not entitled to a perfect and happy life.
They choose carefully where they put their attention, choosing to focus on the things they can change, rather than the things that they can't. Using the metaphor of hockey, we can't control when life will send us the hit, but we can learn to "keep our head up, our body low and relaxed".
Asking "is what I'm doing helping or harming me?". This becomes a filter for their decisions. If you believe your boss has implied your work is insufficient, and you allow that to spiral you into looking for another job, staying up late scrolling and snacking, or overpromising and working unsustainable hours, are your thoughts, feelings and actions around the circumstance of what was said helping you? Or harming you further?
Dr. Hone suggests that it's helpful to think of resilience as a stew - a combination of internal and external assets put together in a way that is unique to you. Some of us will have greater success in increasing our resilience by improving our internal assets, others may need to improve our external. Likely it's a combination of both.
Examples of internal assets you can improve:
Self-awareness: Becoming aware of your patterned thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, and how those things are creating your current results. This will help you identify where you're not taking responsibility or control. Where are you not "getting low" enough? Where are you tensing up? What specifically are you afraid of?
Emotional intelligence: Start to identify what emotions your feeling so you can use them as signals that you've got some thoughts going on inside your head. Pull those thoughts out and look at them. Does it make sense your feeling the way you do based on those thoughts? Allow the feeling to be there and notice exactly where in your body you feel it. Get comfortable with the uncomfortable. Then watch it pass through. You survived.
Generating new emotions: When you pull those thoughts out, you can ask a few questions: Is this thought true? Is it helpful? What could also be true that you're missing? What other ways can I think of this that might help generate a different emotion that'll be more useful and inspire action?
Examples of external assets you can improve:
Situational awareness: Having awareness over the situation through conversations, questions, and actively seeking feedback, rather than staying in your own head (brain) with its biases and habits.
Strategy: Create a strategic plan for yourself with specific projects you will focus your time and effort on in order to move your professional and personal life in the direction you want it to go.
Systems and routines: Creating a "set it and forget it" system or routine can help you both avoid and manage conflict. Examples include a time management routine, a system for starting and ending a project, a daily or weekly structure to your fitness and nutrition practices.
Building a supportive network of family, friends and colleagues that you can lean on and help.
A mix of both internal and external:
Decision-Making: Pull out your reasons for doing something. Which choice has more reasons that you like (rather than reasons that are based in fear)? Make a decision from there. If it ends up being the wrong decision, you just gained a whole whack of data and insight you never had before.
Self-Evaluation: This is where you evaluate the risks and decisions you've made so you can learn how to apply the data in a useful and tangible way. What went well? What didn't go well? What will you do differently?
Taking a hit is part of the game. It's a part of being human, especially when we're the type of humans that are constantly stretching our capacity. We are capable of taking a hit. We can build our resiliency and learn to not be afraid, not get permanently hurt, and not taken out of the game.
If you're interested in taking this work to a deeper level, I'd love to help you. Send me a message (email@example.com) or book a coaching interest call below.