Awaken Your Force
Everyone remembers this classic scene from The Empire Strikes Back: Luke Skywalker, not yet fully the hero that we all know and love, has begun his Jedi training with Master Yoda on the isolated jungle planet of Dagobah. We have already come to admire his courage and resolve in his training with Obi-Wan Kenobi and the destruction of the Death Star. However, after watching his X-wing starfighter sink underneath the surface of a swamp, Luke is just about to call it quits. Though it is strong with him, not even the Force can help him raise it back onto land.
That’s when Yoda, a 900-year-old “little swamp frog,” raises his tiny three-fingered hand, furrows his brow in concentration, and uses the Force to effortlessly summon the ship up from the depths. “I can’t believe it!” Luke exclaims, to which Yoda responds, “That is why you fail.”
How many times have you failed to accomplish something that you really wanted to do? We’ve all been there in some way or another — struggling to quit smoking, trying to keep lost weight from coming back, abandoning a hobby or side project. It can be difficult to reflect on our failures, but this is precisely what we must do to become more resilient.
Resilience is our ability to adapt to adversity, to continue moving forward in spite of failure, and to sustain our hope when the circumstances are discouraging. Like perseverance or grit, resilience may be the determining factor of our success before we even set out on a task. When things get tough, we have to find a way to keep moving forward toward the finish line.
Is resilience a trait that people are born with, or is it more of a skill that can be learned? Research in psychology and behavioral economics shows that it is definitely the latter. Resilience is a mental muscle that you can grow and nurture, just like improving your concentration or memory. When you push through difficult situations, you condition your mind and spirit to be able to handle more stress, uncertainty, and anxiety.
You don’t need the guidance of a Jedi master to tap into some of their most useful mental abilities. Below I’m going to give you three main skill areas that you can start working on today to cultivate your own sense of resilience.
Figure out the deepest “why” behind the things you want to accomplish. Your goals are more readily achieved when they are made for the right reasons. When Yoda first meets Anakin, he gives a warning: “Fear is the path to the dark side. Fear leads to anger. Anger leads to hate. Hate leads to suffering.”
People formulate their goals under false pretenses all the time. I’ve personally struggled with spending time in the gym because I thought people wouldn’t like me if I was overweight or non-muscular. But when working out becomes harder and harder, this unhealthy motivation isn’t enough to lean on. That’s just one instance of many, and we all can think of examples like this where we were doing things for the wrong reasons. Make sure that your motivation is healthy, and you won’t falter on the next point.
It’s easier to stay committed to a goal when the motivation behind it is healthy, but that doesn’t mean that the commitment itself is easy. Commitment is largely tied to your inner sense of purpose. That means that your ability to “stick with it” is connected to how your goals fit into a larger vision.
This is the big difference between Anakin and Luke throughout the entire Star Wars series. Anakin struggled to stay committed to the Jedi philosophy because he failed to see the bigger picture, while all of Luke’s actions were guided by a grander vision. This is apparent when Anakin is angered by not becoming a master and when he kills Count Dooku. Luke, on the other hand, calms his wrath and refuses to kill Darth Vader in the end, refusing to give into the dark side. If you stay committed to your own vision, you’ll come out the other side of your goals triumphantly.
It’s a modern cultural phenomenon that we’re always caught up in the future at the expense of the present. Progressing toward your goals requires complete focus on each individual step along the way. When I was first learning to do handstand push-ups, I was too focused on what the final product would look like that I neglected where I was in the present – needing to build stability in my shoulders and proper alignment throughout my spine. If you learn to be present in each action you take, you’ll become more effective in reaching your goals.
The philosophy of being present is best captured in one of my favorite scenes throughout the entire movie series, the ending battle in The Phantom Menace. Two Jedi, Qui-Gon Jinn and Obi-Wan Kenobi, face off against Sith apprentice Darth Maul. In the middle of combat, each of them becomes separated by ray shield walls. Darth Maul paces in anger, and Obi-Wan bounces on his feet in eager anticipation. Qui-Gon, instead, turns off his lightsaber and takes a zazen position (sitting meditation). The lesson here is to clear your mind and focus on the task at hand.
Take some time this week to meditate on your own sense of motivation, commitment, and focus. Whether you’re trying to lose a bad habit, learn a new skill, or lift some extra weight in the gym, remember that the roots of success and failure begin in the brain. Aim to be mindful, nurture your sense of resilience, and your goals will come into view before you know it. In all your endeavors, may the Force be with you.