Fortitude

Is fortitude key to thriving?

In the past 30 days, I’ve had two days off. For the past two weeks, I’ve worked 12 plus hours per day. This temporary gig requires patience and humor. Without a great deal of fortitude, I’d be sunk. As an entrepreneur, I have long been aware that tenacity, fortitude, and flexibility are more important to achievement than intelligence, knowledge, and contacts.

Fortitude is what gets you through when you do everything right and things still turn out wrong. It’s what allows you to get out of bed and be excited about a project no one else appreciates. It’s what enables you to be ethical even when it means your bottom line will take a hit. And fortitude supports the patience it takes to slowly build a successful endeavor. Most importantly, fortitude is what allows us to weather the storms that come our way, slog through the aftermath, and emerge better for having had the experience.

I’d be willing to wager that those who had previously developed fortitude have been less detrimentally affected by the pandemic than others. That doesn’t mean they felt the losses and inconveniences any less, it just means they had a well of mental and emotional strength to draw from while envisioning ways to navigate the rapidly changing environment.

While most years won’t bring a pandemic, all will bring unexpected challenges beyond our control. So how does fortitude fit into everyday life?

Life is a game.

We seem to recognize the value of fortitude in sports competition. We expect elite athletes to train relentlessly, endure painful injuries, and still perform. We expect them to be able to focus and deliver peak performance no matter what is reported about them in the press. We feel free to bash them publicly when they struggle with their head game. And yet many of us allow ourselves to be mentally and emotionally lazy.

But life is the overarching game. And creating the life we desire is infinitely more achievable when we are mentally tough and emotionally balanced. We are all capable of improvement. All we need is to prioritize and practice building our skills.

The sooner, the better.

I’ve seen adults who had very little difficulty early in life self-destruct when hard times finally found them. Perhaps if they had developed fortitude sooner, they could have continued their early success.

Failure and fortitude go hand in hand.

No matter what you’re attempting, you will sometimes fail. As long as you keep learning from momentary setbacks, you will remain on a path to success. Each failure helps build fortitude.

Everyone’s tolerance is different.

Developing mental toughness requires difficulty. Removing all difficulty and pain will not help a child, for instance, develop fortitude. But each child will have a different level of tolerance. And each will require a unique approach for absorbing difficulty as a positive experience. Finding that approach and encouraging children while allowing them to feel disappointment, frustration, fear, sadness, and anger are key roles of parenting. Adults can be guided similarly by spiritual leaders, life coaches, therapeutic techniques, and even trusted friends or empathetic bosses.

Avoidance may be more pleasant in any given moment, but in the long-term can contribute to additional avoidant behaviors, more chaos, less resilience, a lack of follow-through, an inability to stick with a plan, and a tendency to quit rather than persevere. A bit of struggle is a good thing so long as it doesn’t overwhelm to the point of becoming traumatic.

Boundaries are essential.

When you are capable of more, you will be asked to do more. No matter how tough you are, there is a point at which taking on more is unhealthy. Setting and enforcing boundaries is essential for keeping your load at a level that allows you to thrive.

Building fortitude can help you reframe “I can’t.” to “How can I best approach this?” That tiny shift can make all the difference in how you feel.

That can be the difference between surviving and thriving.

Dual Purpose

Paper plates as dustpans, quarters as screwdrivers, and duct tape for everything – everyday items can serve a dual purpose! When things go according to plan, the perfect tool can make a job easier. But life often doesn’t go according to plan. Being able to improvise using what’s available is a skill worth cultivating.

Some of us naturally view each day as a puzzle to be solved. When a problem arises, our minds are quick to look for possible solutions. For others of us, a problem stops us dead in our tracks if we don’t have exactly what we would need to fix it if we lived in an ideal world. It may always be a stretch to envision doing things in a unique way, but anyone can do it with some practice.

Conserve your energy.

Fear, panic, and flailing about use energy that can otherwise be spent on problem solving. It is normal to feel anxious or scared sometimes. It is normal to feel overwhelmed or inadequate sometimes.

Register the feelings and set them aside for a moment if you’re in a critical situation. Otherwise try sitting with the feelings until you feel them dissipate, then return to the task.

Observe the environment.

The solution to a problem will become apparent more quickly when you make a habit of observing your environment. Keeping a mental visual map of your surroundings will reduce search time you might otherwise incur when an issue arises.

As a short person, I’m always looking for a way to reach something. I have been known to use a bread knife to tilt a plastic cup on a high shelf until it falls off into my hand. That may not be the ideal second purpose for a knife, but it works!

I also have some inexpensive metal tongs that I use to grab spices off the top shelf. It’s easy to apply enough pressure to pick up the small jars and it works beautifully.

Prioritize function.

An item serving a dual purpose may not look or feel like the original. The most important thing is that the replacement function similarly enough to accomplish the task without creating further complications.

Practice.

Everything seems bigger and harder when you think about it. A sink full of dishes feels like it will take forever to wash until you start. The key is getting started. Once you jump in and begin, much of your anxiety will subside and everything will seem easier. Knowing that, you can practice thinking about projects differently.

I so this all of the time. If I see on the news that a bridge collapsed and cars drove into the water, I mentally develop a plan for what I would do in that situation. Would I roll down my window? How far? Would I leave my seat belt hooked? What could I use to cut it if it were stuck….

Here’s how the process goes: Pretend X happens. Break down what you will do first, second, third, etc. into simple steps. You’ll probably want to begin with diagnosing the issue to be fixed. Then you may want to explore the possible causes of the problem. From there, list possible remedies. That will take you to the point that you can determine the tools you need.

Remember, this is just a mental exercise for now. There is no failing. Each new idea you have is a success even if it feels improbable as you think of it.

If this seems pointless, remember that you’re developing a new grove for thinking patterns. The reward will come when a problem arises and you’re able to solve it more quickly and easily.

Have fun.

Exaggerate your solutions. Get the kids involved. Think of the most outrageous fix you can and explore that. What if there were no gravity? How would that change your plan?

So often, we fail to see the solutions right in front of us because we have one particular vision of what they should look like. The truth is, there are many ways to approach a problem.

Understanding how many workable options surround us at any given moment opens the world to much greater possibility and so many things to being dual purpose. It can also enhance a feeling of competency and accomplishment.

And it can put many a rarely used object to use as you discover that it has a dual purpose.

Limiting Box or Launching Point?

Guidelines can form a limiting box or a launching point. You probably know someone who uses recipes as loose guidelines and makes delicious food. You probably know someone else who carefully weighs, measures, and strictly adheres to recipes who also makes delicious food.

The way each of us responds to recommendations or guidelines is the result of many factors. It’s easy to just respond and move on without thinking about it, but we may unnecessarily limit ourselves in the process – some by not setting limits and some by not venturing outside limits.

You may already know the camp in which you fit. If not, examine statements A & B below. Which statement feels right to you? Both can be true, but notice the one that feels most natural and comfortable. That will tell you the kind of environment you need to support you so that all guidelines become launching points.

A)Following a recipe means you never have to worry about over-salting.

B)Following a recipe means you have an idea how much salt to start with.

I will always choose B.

I view recipes as a starting point. I know that if I follow one precisely, the result will be good. But I love feeling free to add a dash of cinnamon or substitute honey for sugar. Endless possibilities energize and excite me.

And seeing the possibilities outweighs any worry that my dish may not taste as good as it would if I followed instructions. In fact, I never think about the risk of bad food. In the moment, I feel confident I will make it better.

Sometimes that doesn’t hold true, but that never discourages me from experimenting because that’s where the joy is for me – in the process. If the result is good, bonus! This doesn’t just apply in the kitchen. It guides my life.

For other people, experimenting may feel reckless or stressful. When that’s the case, it is important to create or choose a more structured environment that allows for growth and expansion within comfortable bounds.

Knowing the environment that best supports you will save time and heartache. It can inform your choice of career, housing, romantic partner, and family culture so you can live your dreams.

We all get to design our lives. The better we know ourselves, the more successful we will be in creating a supportive plan that launches us to points beyond what we imagine possible.

Along the way, there will be plenty of people who deliberately throw up roadblocks. Some will be well-intentioned. Others will not. To prevent any deleterious effect, make sure your life plan includes activities and environments in which you feel your presence and contributions are valued. Leaning into activities that make you feel valued, creates a well of positive feelings and energy on which to draw when negativity weighs heavy.

Few of us may surpass our potential, but all of us can approach guidelines in a way that makes them a launching point for creating the life we desire. Let’s kick those limiting boxes to the curb and live our dreams!

Oh, Hornswoggle!

Oh, hornswoggle! I’ve felt so much cognitive dissonance through the pandemic. I had hoped against hope that this feeling would lessen in 2021, but it has not. I need a way to put a marker by something that strikes me wrong so I can decipher why in my own time. I’m choosing the word hornswoggle as my red flag word.

In the strictest terms, hornswoggle means to trick or deceive. Telling me one thing is true while contradicting it with your next sentence feels like trickery. I experience this day after day after day from the news, from Twitter, from blogs that feature headlines contradicted by the story beneath and other blogs that misstate the results of a study.

I feel frustrated and weary from this. When it affects me directly, I feel angry. When it means horrible government and governing, I sometimes feel helpless. I know that my ability to affect positive change is related to the size of my platform and the amount of time and energy I’m willing to devote to my message.

But I have very real time and energy limits. I have priorities that sometimes supersede my public policy concerns. And increasingly, I am choosing to change the flow of my days to a kinder, gentler flow. I can only combat so much hornswoggle in one day. But I can flag it when I see or hear it. And you can too. Perhaps “Oh, hornswoggle!” can become a battle cry to combat misinformation.

Unfortunately, misinformation sometimes comes from seemingly credible sources. Or it’s delivered without full context. This creates loopholes that make it easy to argue with science. I hate this. We need evidence-based information!

I also hate the role that credentialed professionals sometimes play in dissemination of hornswoggle. This is often done with good intentions, but it’s harmful and ultimately creates distrust.

One of the most prevalent themes in hornswoggle is that there’s an immediate fix for everything. Have a pain? Take a pill. Need to lose 10 lbs? Eat only protein. Have PTSD? Try psychedelics. Want to be stronger? Use steroids. Can’t sit still? Take a pill. Annoyed by your kids? Give them a pill. You know the routine.

And many of these solutions work short term. The question is whether they actually promote healing of the underlying problem or just lead to dependence on repeated short-term solutions.

Beyond that, I’ve begun to wonder whether frustration over widespread failure to address underlying problems is contributing to the increase in violence we see playing out at grocery stores, hospitals, and on airplanes. The stats on airplane violence are sobering. Forbes Magazine reports that “Through May, about 2,500 such incidents have been recorded, and those categorized as “unruly” reached 394, compared with well under 200 for each full year of 2019 and 2020.”

And we’re confronted with mass shootings every week. I’m hearing an increase in gunfire in my neighborhood recently. If you’re interested in tracking this particular type of violence, visit the Gun Violence Archive. They’ve been doing evidence-based research since 2013 and the site offers detailed charts.

In addition to glossing over underlying conditions, hornswoggle’s demand for immediacy can impede due process, in-depth conversation, and carefully considered consequences. I can’t see the positive gain from immediacy if those are things we give up. The cost is simply too great.

I think we’re feeling all of this under the surface. When we try to express it, we may be dismissed or demeaned or canceled or bullied or shamed or, very possibly, never acknowledged at all. And then we’re faced with the choice of how to respond.

In order to avoid feeling dismissed, humiliated, shamed, or unheard, some of us suppress how we’re feeling. But at some point, we may not be able to do it any longer. And if anger is the first emotion to reach the surface, it may explode into violence.

I’m not going to tell you that hornswoggle is the cause of all violence or that removing it tomorrow will solve our problems immediately, but seeing it for what it is and refusing to perpetuate the narrative can help raise awareness. Calling hornswoggle when you see it can put a pin in topics that require thorough examination and thoughtful consideration.

And maybe if we slow down a moment, we’ll come to our senses and realize no one should have to repeatedly swallow hornswoggle.