It was Game 1 of the 1995 NBA Eastern Conference Finals and the Indiana Pacers were down 6 points to the New York Knicks with just 18 seconds left. It looked like Reggie Miller’s Pacers would surely lose the battle and go in to game 2 having lost a heartbreaker. Then, the miraculous happened. It was one of the greatest comebacks in NBA history. Miller made two three-pointers in the span of 3.1 seconds (the second trey after he intercepted an inbounds pass) to tie the score at 105-105. Just a few seconds later, he sunk two game-winning free throws to put the Pacers on top and seal the victory.
I’ve always deeply respected Reggie Miller for his ability to pull from deep within and find the grit and resilience necessary to pull off that incredible comeback. In fact, one of the most exciting things that can happen in sports is when a player can respond to great adversity and challenge with an unbelievable comeback.
One of the reasons that we appreciate a great comeback is because it sometimes directly reflects the human experience of resilience in adversity. There are moments in life when metaphorically we are all down six points with just a few seconds left in the game. I think it’s fair to say that the adversity we have all faced over the last several months as a result of the global pandemic has produced a fear that we’re all about to lose. But our job at this point is to recognize that resilience and grit will lead us to overcome the challenges we are facing together. Culturally, and perhaps personally, we all need a comeback at this point in the game. And if we’re ever going to mount the comeback, we need to understand how to build the resilience and grit necessary to move forward through adversity.
Thankfully, psychologists have been studying resilience and grit for years and have identified several strategies that can ensure you build the resilience you need to make progress through the hard seasons of life. Although not every person will resonate with each suggestion I offer below, my hope is that you can commit to the comeback by developing one or two of these resilience building strategies.
Trust the internal locus of control
Generally, resilient people tend to have what psychologists call an internal locus of control. When you have an internal locus of control you believe that the actions you take in response to adversity will have an effect upon what happens next in your life. It’s important to note that at the end of the day we are not in control of all the outcomes. As a matter fact, getting stuck on controlling outcomes is the surest way to develop anxiety in the midst of situations that are simply outside of our personal control, like a global pandemic. However, in order to be resilient we have to retain the idea that our effort matters and that we have the ability to make choices that will affect our situation, our ability to cope, and our future.
Identify as a champion, not a victim
When confronted with difficult situations and crisis, it’s essential to view yourself as the champ. Reggie Miller did not believe he was the victim of a tough game. Instead, he never gave up hope that he could be a winner. We are not victims of this circumstance. We are not victims of other people’s choices or even their brokenness. While the situation that we’re all in might be unavoidable we can still believe that it is possible to learn and grow, and to focus on how we respond to adversity with character. This little cognitive trick might help you feel like a champion rather than a victim: try looking beyond the present to how future circumstances may be a little better. It might be hard to have complete confidence in how our current situation plays out, but can you see even subtle ways in which you might already feel somewhat better as you deal with difficult situations? A focus on these kinds of thoughts keep us from getting caught in the victim mentality.
Look for opportunities for self-discovery
Most of the time we grow personally in response to the struggle against adversity. Think about it, how many times have you seen tremendous progress in your life when you’re very comfortable? My hunch is, not often. Many people who have experienced significant hardship have reported better relationships, increased self-worth, a deeper appreciation for the simple things in life, and even a more developed spirituality. What have you learned over the last six months about yourself and about life? Write these lessons down and refer to them often.
Develop a good support team
Reggie Miller didn’t win that game by himself. He came through in the end, but making a comeback is about surrounding yourself with a good team. If there’s anything all the drama the last six months has taught us, it’s that good relationships with close family members, friends, or others are important. And it’s essential to recognize that part of being resilient and demonstrating grit is to allow yourself to ask for help. There is no doubt that accepting help and support from those who care about you and will listen to you will indeed strengthen your resilience.