Fortitude: how to incorporate resilience training into your life
I distinctly remember, years ago, sitting on the first day of class as our teacher took the time to teach us the word “fortitude”. She had said that as the year went on, and as the rest of our lives went on, having fortitude was going to be something of extreme importance.
She described it as the ability to persevere and grow through adversity.
From that day on, in times of stress, I think to myself “fortitude” as a means of saying “hang on, bounce back.”
The thing about fortitude (or resilience, which for our purposes, we’ll use interchangeably) is that not only does it help you get through bad stuff. It makes you an even better version of you.
Increased resilience has been seen to improve:
sense of self-efficacy
flexibility of thought
overall academic achievement
Not only that, but it also:
combats helplessness and depression
fosters greater engagement with learning
creates a greater sense of belonging
Mental toughness training? 🧐
Resilience training has been tested, notably, in schools (in a much more formal way than I was “trained”), in athletes, and in soldiers and defence personnel.
In schools, the program consists of a series of classroom activities designed to increase 11- and 12-year-olds’ resilience, to eventually better equip them for the future and have them experience greater emotional wellbeing.
The program is made up of seven one-hour lessons that can be sprinkled throughout the curriculum. Some activities involve storytelling and interactive small-group feedback, some focus on the flexibility of thinking, emotional intelligence, and the regulation of emotions. Others include thought experiments.
The children coming out of this program reported increased “well-being, self-efficacy, positive relationships with others, openness to diversity,” and better tolerated uncertainty.
Not bad, huh?
In the army
As perhaps some of the people exposed to the worst kinds of cruelty, and with such a high rate of PTSD in their population, it has been of utmost importance to train soldiers how to be resilient in the face of the (certain) adversity they will face. As such, several different resilience training programs exist, under different names, but they all follow similar patterns.
The U.S. Master Resilience Trainer (MRT) course is a 10-day program that is a part of the Comprehensive Soldier Fitness Program. It’s based on the Penn Resilience Program (PRP), developed at the University of Pennsylvania, and focuses on: optimism, problem solving, self-efficacy, self-regulation, emotional awareness, flexibility, empathy, and strong relationships.
A central component to the PRP, and frankly many of these resilience training programs, is famous psychologist Albert Ellis’ ABC (adversity-belief-consequence) model, which holds that “one’s beliefs about events drive one’s emotions and behaviours”. The key is to monitor and challenge beliefs in an explanatory style.
Key competencies of resilience
The first thing that the Master Resilience Training program teaches is the components of resilience. One does not simply become immediately great at handling adversity. It requires a combination of different skills, which, when worked on repeatedly, independently, and then together, can increase someone’s fortitude.
Some of these include:
being able to regulate and express emotions
thinking flexibly and taking different perspectives
identifying our core character strengths
building strong relationships
Build ‘em up
It’s nice to know which skills lead to greater resilience, but how can you build and improve these skills?
The Mental Resilience Training uses over 8 different exercises to polish up on your fortitude skills.
Some of these include:
Using the ABC technique: this helps you analyze your thoughts. You learn to recognize what caused it to become activated (A), your beliefs about that cause (B), and the consequences (C), both behavioural and emotional.
Learning to manage your energy: this includes meditation and breathing exercises.
Learning to minimize rumination about worst-case scenarios. Otherwise known as catastrophic thinking.
Cultivating gratitude via a gratitude journal.
Doing this kind of work is most definitely not easy, considering you can’t just train your fortitude muscle. It takes a lot of hard work and perseverance (ha, the very thing you’re sort of trying to train) and being open to improving multiple facets of yourself.
But if in the end you become better at dealing with life’s hardships, isn’t it worth it?