The Plastic Effect

by drstephen

Fox Hill Point – Rye, NH, sunrise 

I stood on a large granite boulder, hands in my pockets looking down at my wiggling toes.  I had stuffed them into some wooly socks and then jammed my feet into my flip flops.  It’s not that I found my feet all that interesting; it’s just that I was too nervous to look up at the large set of waves that was detonating on the outside reef at my favorite local point break.  The surf that was delivered up by Hurricane Bill was so large that the states north and south of us had declared “Condition Black” – no one allowed in the water or they would be arrested for endangerment.  But this is New Hampshire: Live Free or Die.  Seemed ironic.

As I pulled on my wetsuit, I remembered something that was said to me by a Chilean surfer on a similar big day in Costa Rica – “These are the days that define us.”

I was waxing the board that I only go to when the waves are extraordinarily large – I call it The Laxative.  I grabbed my 6-foot, heavy water leash and fastened it to my ankle.  I must have checked that Velcro five times before I actually got in the water.

When you duck-dive under a big wave, you get an appreciation for just how insignificant you are in the big scheme of things.  The waves this day were thick, powerful ground swell waves generated a thousand miles away by 125 MPH winds. They stood tall and clean, perfectly groomed by light offshore winds.  They had marched across the Eastern Atlantic for days to meet me here this morning.

The set waves were spaced out every 18 seconds.  An interval of that length is a key indicator of the power of the wave itself.  14 or 15 seconds is usually an epic day – 18 seconds is almost unheard of on the east coast.   I took full advantage.  I had some all-time thrilling rides and some world class wipe-outs.  As I ambled back up onto the rocks, arguably the most treacherous part of any surf session, I notice my “leggie” was no longer 6 feet long.

I laid my board on the sidewalk to inspect my leash.  It was now a full 9 feet.  Incredible.   The force of the surf had actually stretched it by an additional 50% – and it still held up.  Physicists call this phenomenon plasticity: the ability of a material to stretch and be reshaped under stress.

Every day we have the incredible opportunity to get out of bed, “paddle out” and stretch ourselves.  The human mind has many innate requirements.  These can be referred to as Essential Elements.  One of these elements is struggle.  Struggle gets a bad rap.  From the beginning, we are taught that it something to be avoided.  We fear it, complain about it, or want to be rescued from it.  Instead, we should embrace it.

Struggle shapes us.  We are plastic beings.  Neuroscience refers to this quality as neuroplasticity.  With the right perspective, coping mechanisms, and rest and repair strategies, we move forward, expanded.

The next morning I found myself more confident in somewhat smaller, but still challenging surf.  The prior day’s experience had changed me as a surfer.   I was stretched.  I paddled into large waves comfortably, punched through the sets with ease, and smiled as I noticed my leash trailing further behind me than usual.

Now go stretch yourself,

Dr. Stephen Franson

An Upside to Conflict

by admin

  • How is this struggle or conflict serving you? How will this shape you? Strengthen you? On the other side of this, how will you have grown?
  • A challenge is an opportunity to change – to learn, reflect, and become better. Think of 3 anxieties plaguing your thought process lately. Write out the strongest thought pattern you’ve had around each of them. Then take a minute to write the opposite of each of these thoughts (i.e. Starting a new job: I will not be adequate for the position. Opposite: I am adequate and have the capacity to learn how to completely rock this new position).
  • In all situations we can choose to allow stress to build in our hearts and minds, or let gratitude fill our growing minds and spirit. Reflect on a time you observed someone turn a stressful situation into a civil, reasonable one. Consider a time when you have done the same.

Embracing Struggle

by admin

  • Embracing Struggle: What is the primary source of struggle, resistance or challenge in your life right now? Address this issue in the context of each of the Lifetime Value Categories: Example: Familial Life: My sister in law is creating stress in our home because of the choices that she makes… Example: Recreational/ Social Life: I never have enough time to spend with friends. I have lost touch with several…
  • By choosing to embrace struggle, we bring about opportunity for growth. Consider a current struggle or conflict area in your professional life. Take a few minutes to write out the nature of this struggle. Then consider your ideal response the next time this conflict comes up.
  • In nature, we encounter a challenge or struggle, adapt, and move forward. List 3 of the greatest battles you are facing with your body. Take one of those battles and envision what complete success would look like in it.
  • Family matters can offer us some of our greatest challenges. Reflect on a hard conversation you are in the midst of with a family member or close friend. What is making it so hard? What would the greatest outcome be, from your perspective? How about the greatest outcome from their perspective?

Struggle and Strength – Using Adversity to Motivate Personal Growth

by admin

Struggle is everywhere.  It presents itself to us daily, in many different forms, and each time, we have a choice of how to approach it.  Everywhere we look, someone or something is facing and overcoming adversity:

• It has been said that the initial struggle a baby bird meets with to emerge from its egg is necessary for its survival.  Chicks that overcome the struggle of hatching are generally strong enough to sustain life outside the egg.

• Increased muscle growth and density is a result of the body’s natural repair response to the tearing of tissue.  Dr. Michael Roizen of the Cleveland Clinic explains that, done correctly, resistance exercise and the struggle in the last few repetitions before exhaustion optimize muscles and sends them “the message to build themselves up in preparation for the next battle.”

• A mother must labor through the birthing process so that she and her baby can enjoy life together.

• Those who have suffered the loss of loved ones know that the grieving process is one of the toughest struggles of all.  Yet, most also know that there must be an appropriate duration and eventual end of the grief if life is to move forward in honor of those lost.

Erik Weihenmayer is familiar with struggle.  As a youth, he lost his eyesight to a degenerative eye disease.  In the advanced stages of the degeneration, Erik dealt with frustration and anger associated with gradually losing his ability to see and engage in activities he had been always been well-equipped to enjoy.  Yet after being struck completely blind, Erik faced his adversity and determined to turn it into his strength.  He has achieved what relatively few have:  Erik has successfully climbed the Seven Summits – the highest peaks on each of the seven continents…and he did it completely blind.

Erik’s struggle and his determination not to yield to it produced strength of character that many admire and greatly respect.  This strength he now shares with others, seeing and non-seeing, all over the world, inspiring them to scale their own summits and giving them hope that they might see possibility in the impossible.

The same opportunity to make a difference for ourselves and for those around us exists for us every day.  We may not be losing our sight or climbing an icy peak, but none of us lives without challenge, adversity, and struggle.  They are integral components of life and growth; we are who we are today because we have made it through all the struggles of our yesterdays.

In the ongoing pursuit of the lives we want, let’s be conscious of our struggles, give them the attention they require, embrace them as opportunities to grow, and power through them with the expectation that we will emerge stronger, better adapted, and wiser on the other side.

Will we be the ones who choose to fight through pain and exhaustion to hatch to strong, healthy lives, or will we be those who give up and never grow beyond the bounds of a thin shell?  The decision is ours and ours alone.

Week 6 Spark Insight: The Value of Struggle

by admin


Critical Concept:  Struggle Brings About Growth

What do we gain from struggle?
There is an interesting paradox that exists within the fundamental nature of man’s make-up.  The Motivational Triad dictates that we are hard-wired to seek pleasure, move away from pain, and do it all with the greatest economy of energy.  Yet, we are designed to grow – even flourish – under stress.  Nearly all advancements that we make neurologically, physically, emotionally and socially happen as a direct result of some kind of challenge.

We encounter the challenge, struggle, adapt and move forward.  This is the essence of growth.  In days past there was the adage, “What doesn’t kill you will make you stronger.”

Weightlifting stresses a muscle and causes an adaptation – muscle growth.  The same response is evident in our neurological functions, immune systems and social skills.  Resistance, friction and struggle produce advancement in our ability to cope and succeed.  We get stronger.

Throughout our lives there are requisite struggles.  As infants, we constantly put things into our mouths when teething, thereby opening the gums to create the ideal portal of entry for bacteria; this, in turn, triggers our early immune system responses.  Among these is fever.  Fever is the body’s innately intelligent response to a pathogen (germ).  With very few exceptions, fevers are not dangerous - in fact, immunologists have coined the expression “Fever is your friend.”  The fever will kill off the invader and save the child.  Although a child may be temporarily uncomfortable, this “struggle” promotes a robust immune system for life.

Why do we feel the need to interfere with this time-tested and effective method of healing?  Parents often want to make the child (and themselves) feel more comfortable.  But what is more important, being comfortable or being well?

We require struggle.

Can you imagine interfering in a young person’s first experience with upset or heartache in a relationship?  How would they ever develop the critical coping mechanisms that they will surely need in mature, successful relationships in the future if they were rescued at every sign of upset?

What if a young soldier skipped the conditioning and training of boot camp and was sent to the front lines of battle?

Our attitude will determine our experience with struggle.  If you accept struggle as part of personal growth and embrace it, you’ll respond differently.  Look at these moments as opportunities to grow and expand. Healthy people are always learning.

A Bonfire best practice is to train this new attitude deliberately.  Your mindset is like a muscle – the more that you use it, the more coordinated and flexible it becomes.  Unexpected life challenges can pose a heavy burden.  Developing emotional fitness should happen before you need it.

Author Dr. Steven Covey teaches us another vital behavior:  increase the time between stimulus and response.  If we do not show this kind of restraint, we will most likely react, rather that respond.  When dealing with others, it is always best to consider their position and feelings.  In our adult lives, it is fair to say that a good portion of our struggles will involve interactions with other people.  Developing this healthy coping mechanism is a priceless skill for those who seek extraordinary relationships.

If this creates a challenge for you, do not despair.  The mind had the capacity to change.  We have the ability to form new habits by repeatedly choosing new behaviors.  Practice responding to struggle with a new attitude.  An attitude is defined as a consistent thought process developed over time.

Choosing to practice a new behavior pattern is like cutting a new path in the woods.  You have to pass over the same terrain several times before it gets easier.  But this struggle is sure to leave you stronger…and enjoying a better life.