09 Apr How To Be Resilient: 5 Secrets To Mental Toughness (Pandemic Edition)
If you’re happy at the moment … that’s great!
If you’re finding happiness hard to find at the moment … that’s OK.
Happiness isn’t always appropriate; or at least, happiness sometimes needs to be redefined. And at the moment, happiness is probably best thought of in terms of resilience…
via Eric Barker
You don’t get a name like “The Black Death” for nothing.
“The Foster scale” is the Richter scale for historical catastrophes. On its list of high scorers, The Black Death comes in at #2.
Throughout all of recorded history, only World War 2 produced more death and suffering than the plague did.
From The Great Mortality:
According to the Foster scale, a kind of Richter scale of human disaster, the medieval plague is the second greatest catastrophe in the human record. Only World War II produced more death, physical destruction, and emotional suffering, says Canadian geographer Harold D. Foster, the scale’s inventor.
There’s some debate about the overall mortality rate of COVID-19 but it’s always in the single digits, if not decimals. Bubonic plague has a mortality rate of 60 percent. Adjusting for population growth over the past 700 years, if the Black Death happened today it would kill 1.9 billion people.
Between 1347 and 1352 it killed a third of Europe. 75 million people became 50 million people in 5 years. Of course, the deaths weren’t evenly distributed. England was on the high end with a mortality rate of about 50%. Half of its populace gone — in just two years.
Florence lost half its population as well. Normally church bells would ring when someone passed but eventually the ringing became almost non-stop and the practice was ceased to preserve morale.
Nobody knew the plague bacillus, Yersinia Pestis, was the cause. Heck, they didn’t even know what bacteria was. Supernatural explanations were all they had. Some said it was god’s wrath. The medical community of Paris said the plague was due to “an unusual conjunction of Saturn, Mars, and Jupiter at one on the afternoon on March 20th, 1345.” Others said it was caused by vampires.
How do you summon the will to prevent something that you don’t understand, that you can’t explain? There seemed to be nothing anyone could do but pray.
But one city stood apart. One city fought back against the scourge with a resilient mindset of scientific thinking and innovation:
As an international hub of trade, the island city basically had a bullseye on its head and quickly became the epicenter of the plague in Europe. 60 percent of the population died. The Venetians took it on the chin initially… but did not go down for the count.
They didn’t understand the cause of the plague better than anybody else. Cure wasn’t an option. They had to focus on resilience. You can’t stop the hurricane but you can be the tree that bends with the wind and snaps back up. They rigorously studied what worked and what didn’t, innovated, and created resilience practices that are studied to this day.
Plague-era Venice coined the word “quarantine.” They didn’t invent the practice — but they improved it and made it powerfully effective. Croatia had started preventing foreign ships from docking for 30 days and had some success fighting the Black Death. So Venice implemented the idea and kept detailed records of their results. And based on that data, they expanded their quarantines to 40 days. Guess what? Modern medicine has found that the time for bubonic plague to go from infection to death is 37 days. Not bad, medieval Venice, not bad. They used what worked — even if they didn’t know why it worked.
In subsequent centuries Venice and their Ionian Islands only had minor recurrences of the plague while Greece and much of southern Europe continued to fight major outbreaks throughout the 1500’s and 1600’s.
COVID-19 is not The Black Death. (Thank god.) And you’re not a city. (Okay, under quarantine you might be snacking enough to feed a city but you’re not as big as one… yet.) We need to stay strong for the fight ahead, for ourselves and for our loved ones. I’ll leave combating the virus to the epidemiologists. But we can learn something from the spirit of Venetian resilience.
How do we maintain the mental toughness to keep going when times get difficult? Luckily, we have access to better data than the Venetians did. So what can disaster survivors, academic research, and elite military operators teach us about staying personally strong in the face of our own pandemic?
Let’s get to it…
1) Positive Self-Talk
A while back I interviewed a Navy EOD Team Leader, a bomb disposal expert. His superior officer once told him a story about trying to defuse a mine while underwater — and realizing that he had become trapped, unable to move his hands or feet. What was the next thought that went through the chief’s head?
“I’m still breathing, so that’s good. Now what else do I have that’s going for me?”
Now that’s what you call “looking on the bright side.” Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney studied resilient people for over 20 years. They interviewed Vietnam prisoners of war, Special Forces instructors and civilians who dealt with terrible experiences like medical problems, abuse and trauma. And what was one of the things that kept all of these survivors going? Optimism.
By starting with the good, but staying realistic about the facts of the situation, our EOD’s superior was able to stay calm and focus on what he was able to control and start taking steps toward resolving the situation. Our EOD friend explains:
He’s like, “If you can wiggle your fingers, the line that’s wrapped around you or whatever situation you’re in, if you can do one little thing to make it a little bit better, then do that. If you can do another thing and then another thing, and then you can have cascading positivity as opposed to spiraling negativity.” You get to know the technical parameters of whatever job you’re doing and then you go, “Is this really an emergency? Yeah, but it’s really only an emergency if I can’t find a solution. What is my next step to make this situation just slightly better?”
Again: He was underwater, unable to move his hands or feet, and was next to an explosive device. But he didn’t see it as an emergency.
It was only an emergency if he couldn’t find a solution. That’s optimism. But how can we stay optimistic when the news is 24-7 death statistics? Well, it’s all about that voice in your head.
It’s estimated you say 300 to 1000 words to yourself per minute. Olympic athletes and Navy SEALs agree: those words need to be positive. One of the Olympians said:
Immediately before the race I was thinking about trying to stay on that edge, just letting myself relax, and doing a lot of positive self-talk about what I was going to do. I just felt like we couldn’t do anything wrong. It was just up to us. I said, “There’s nothing that’s affecting us in a negative way, the only thing now is to do it, and we can do it . . . I just have to do my best.”
And as I discussed in my book, positive self-talk is one of the four techniques the Navy used to increase SEAL graduation rates from 25% to 33%.
We all spend a lot of time thinking about what we say to others. To stay strong during this challenging time, give a little more thought to what you say to yourself. And make it positive.
(To learn more about how to stay calm under pressure — from a Navy Bomb Disposal Expert — click here.)
Positive self-talk can help keep that brain of yours steady. But guess what? Your brain is part of your body. So we need to keep our bodies strong too…
… keep reading the full & original article HERE