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Overcoming Adversity (The Psychology)…Part 2

Overcoming Adversity (The Psychology)…Part 2

In the previous blogisode I discussed the mindset and independent choice that is required in overcoming adversity. The response and feedback that I received from that post was great so I know that I have my work cut out for me in trying to beat that one out. Now I’m going to have to RISE to the occasion, Dark Knight pun intended! :-)Anyways 3,2,1, and here we GO!

A Bit Of Psychology…

B.F. Skinner was a famous american psychologist and renown behaviorism expert that had a very interesting take on organisms in the environment and what influenced an organism’s behavior. He believed that reinforcement was a central concept in behaviorism. So what does this mean? For instance, if you have ever been to the circus and seen a elephant rise up on his hind legs to stand tall that elephant was trained to do that by a trainer reinforcing its behavior in some way. No, that trainer was not me.:-)

Sadly, in the past negative reinforcement was used to train many animals in this scenario to stand up on their back legs. In other words, the animal might have received some sort of stimulus such as a shock for doing any number of things other than what the trainer demanded. By adding a shock the elephant was forced to do what was intended because when it did do what was intended the shock or negative stimulus would cease. The negative reinforcement was that if the elephant didn’t do what was intended it would get shocked. Now negative reinforcement is often confused with punishment and these are NOT the same things according to Skinner.

On the flip side another common reinforcement was positive reinforcement. Skinner points out that positive reinforcement of behaviors can also influence the outcome of an organism. If we use the elephant scenario again many animals today that you see standing up on their hind legs are rewarded for doing so. In other words, the elephant may be given an apple or treat for performing the trick for the desired outcome. Instead of being conditioned through a series of shocks they get a goodie for performing the trick. Essentially the elephant has been conditioned for the desired outcome, but in a very different way.

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Now why am I telling you all of this? Well to continue down this same path in the first part of this blog series I spoke about the problems that I often see with society with people making excuses and blaming others for their failures. A large part of this is that as a society we have gravitated towards rewarding those that do less and punishing those that do more. Wow, now this is a rather profound observation from a strength coach right? Now think about this for minute.

I’ve seen article after article about sports teams that are given trophies for merely participating in an event and not winning the event. They have been positively reinforced for merely participating. If we further expand this logic into a real day to day life example as a business evidently the more money I make the more I will be punished for doing so because the government keeps demanding that I pay them more and more of it back to them. This was Skinner’s definition of punishment. Punishment has the effect of weakening behavior and decreasing the future occurrence of that behavior recurring. Once again with a real life day to day comparison the number one reason for failure of small business is not being able to pay their taxes due to difficulty in managing the accounting for taxes. Hence the punishment is that the business ceases to exist.

Now the reason I’m saying that is NOT to stir up some political debate, but if you have a half a brain you know that I have a very valid point. Let me take this a step further and relate it to my job as a strength coach and trainer. How much sense would it make if I rewarded an athlete or student for NOT doing what he or she was instructed to do? If I were coaching for a an off season football program and allowed some players to avoid team workouts then what would I be teaching them? What kind of team would I have? To go even further I bet you that I wouldn’t be in business sitting here to write you this blog post! If I am allowing that kind of environment to foster then according to Skinner’s behaviorism I am reinforcing an environment of failure.

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Now this is what amazes me about people in today’s society. There are coaches and trainers out there that believe differently in their day to day lives, but claim to influence their students by these principles. They say it’s an individual choice as to whether or not a student of theirs makes a decision to accept responsibility and train to achieve a goal of a healthy lifestyle, yet they guide their own lives by different principles. There is a word for that and it’s called hypocrisy. Usually these clowns didn’t earn the right to be where they are and if you are observant enough you can usually see that in their character.

Now I’m by no means perfect, but I try to I live my life and guide myself by the same principles. In other words, I want to create an environment of success for my family and friends, but as a coach I also want the same for my students. I want to reinforce them in a training setting in order to succeed. My goal is to condition them for success. I’m not going to put up one front and then act differently over here behind the curtain by guiding my life with different illogical principles. That wouldn’t make any sense now would it?

WARNING: If You Haven’t Seen The Dark Knight I Discuss Some Details Of The Movie In The Following Paragraphs. Go Watch And Return If  You Don’t Want To Hear Anymore About The Movie! See I’m Looking Out For You! 🙂

So where am I going with all of this? Well if I can reference the first blog post in this series again I pulled the meaning of overcoming adversity from the new movie The Dark Knight Rises. Overcoming adversity is what the Batman had to do in this movie unlike any time before and this is the very meaning that I got from the movie. Now the interesting thing is that in overcoming adversity Batman had to learn about himself.

While being thrown into one of the world’s toughest prisons he had to crawl out of a hole up through a tunnel in order to save the world. In the movie crawling out of this hole was an act that only one person had accomplished before in history. Batman (Bruce Wayne) was told that everyone else that had attempted this climb had either died or were seriously injured in trying. Because of this from then on everyone else tried to make the climb while using a rope for security.

Now this is where it gets really interesting. Bruce Wayne attempted the climb a couple times with the rope and failed. Then in a conversation with one of the veteran inmates the elderly gentlemen told him that it was his spirit that would have to make the climb. He said that he (Bruce) was allowing fear to guide him. Now this is the moment where the power of this lesson came shining through for me. Bruce denied the fear of the climb to which the elderly gentlemen replied something like then make the climb without the rope! This was a profound moment!

Bruce made the climb without the rope and made the difficult jump that was necessary during the climb in order to get out of the hole. You see with the rope attached to him he was holding himself back. By making that climb without the rope he had no choice. He could NOT hold himself back and had to succeed in the risk of the jump! In my view this is the problem with our society today. We have too many people that want that damn ROPE! They don’t even want to make the climb on their own and they would rather someone else to make it for them.

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You can believe what you want, but the truth is that a lot of people allow fear to guide them. If you are going to make a choice at having a better life whether it be financially, with your health, with your church, with your friends, or with your team you have to make the INDIVIDUAL choice to make the jump on your own! You can’t depend on someone else to make that jump for you. You can’t depend on your neighbor for your finances and health, you can’t depend on the government for your finances or health, and you can’t even depend on me. Wait you can’t depend on me? As far as you making the choice to make the jump no you can’t depend on me, but you can depend on me to tell you to do it without the ROPE!

You see the point of all of this is that if our society gets to a point to where they are being positively reinforced for doing less then what kind of character are they going to have when something serious is staring them down in their own lives. What happens when their own personal Bane comes knocking at the door? What is this doing to our society as a whole?  They aren’t going to have the strength to crap their own pants let alone live as an individual with individual responsibilities. Sure there are exceptions out there in the world, but as a general rule of thumb there are a lot of us out there that need to cut that ROPE. When it comes to training and our day to day lives you and I  need to do the same. I never said overcoming adversity would be easy. If that were the case then this post would have never been written.

Some ropes may be the people you hang around. It may be some fear that you are allowing to guide you. It may mean that you have to reevaluate the values that you have lived by up until this point in your life. Regardless of what it is I hope that I made it a little easier for you to identify now that you have read this post!

The fact is that we live in a time where strength is a dying characteristic within our society. People want to blur the lines of what the “truth” is all about in exchange for pushing some sort of sick agenda. Bane did the same thing. Remember that true strength comes from within and goes beyond just physical muscle. Physical prowess ceases to exist without the spirit to sculpt it into creation. The question is  what type of spirit do you want to foster. Do you want to live your life hanging on to a rope that you can’t depend on, OR do you want to depend on yourself?

Please leave your questions and comments in the comment box below this article. Remember that most anyone can train hard, but only the train smart my friend!



I'm a Certified Strength And Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) and author. I have had over 17 years experience in MMA fitness, strength and conditoning, and athletic performance for most every sport. As an author and specialist I've written close to a million words on fitness and strength. I'm also a Muay Thai practictioner and enjoy helping others to reach their peak potential through fitness and performance.

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