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The Secret to Our Greatest Comebacks

April 19, 2021 | by Debbie Gutfreund

4 relevant lessons from Matt Fitzgerald’s The Comeback Quotient.

Spring comes slowly and reluctantly to New England. A few days ago there was an April blizzard here, and the tree branches in our backyard are still bare. But you can see tiny buds in the distance, wisps of promises of hope yet to come.

I know spring is here because the greenway where I run is no longer covered with patches of ice and piles of snow. The first morning that it was clear enough to run I saw the elderly couple walking across the wooden bridge in front of me. They were holding big black umbrellas in their gloved hands. I haven't seen them since November. They walk every day up the steep greenway for miles, rain or shine.

We always waved and smiled at each other. I loved seeing them every morning, walking beside each other the way my grandparents used to walk each morning at dawn. Throughout the darkest, coldest days this winter, I thought about them often, wondering if they were safe. Seeing them for the first time that rainy, spring morning brought tears to my eyes.

We made it through the winter and the pandemic! I’m so happy to see you! I wanted to tell them. But I just smiled and waved, like we always did. We met each other’s eyes and shouted good morning to each other through the pouring rain. And somehow, that was enough.

And now each day, I see them again and the handful of others who are there at dawn, rain or shine. The veteran with the limp and kind eyes. The woman who always looks a little lost but plods on. The man with his golden retriever. I don’t know their names, where they come from or where they are going. But their smiles light up my morning. Their waves let me know that I may be struggling again uphill in the rain, but I am not alone. And each day, I see another bud on another branch, another flower pushing its way through the thawing soil, and I know that we are being given another chance to begin again.

I've been thinking about the process of beginning again once my running team posted that the first non-virtual race in Connecticut was actually happening. I hadn’t raced since October. I've been running on the treadmill and skiing throughout the winter, but I knew that I wasn’t ready to race again. Racing requires me to push myself to the very edges of my limits and to do that, I had to get back not just to myself but to the reality of where I was now.

To begin again, I started reading Matt Fitzgerald’s new book The Comeback Quotient. On the surface, it’s a book about how great athletes make seemingly impossible comebacks in the face of unimaginable obstacles. But it’s actually a book that teaches all of us the secret to our greatest comebacks in life. It’s an instruction manual we could all use as hope rises on the horizon, and we are all looking forward to a new beginning.

Here are the lessons that I have learned from The Comeback Quotient.

1. Acceptance is absolutely essential to beginning again. Why? Because true acceptance of our situations preserves our ability to make choices about how we want to move forward.

“When you’ve cultivated the ability to fully accept, embrace, and address any situation, you are no longer dependent on external circumstances. While you still want things to go your way, it no longer really matters if they do or they don’t." (Matt Fitzgerald, The Comeback Quotient, p.19)

2. Learn to lean into the discomfort. Getting up and walking uphill on a cold, rainy day isn't comfortable. But we are rarely given the perfect circumstances to begin again. It won’t be easy. It’s not easy for the plants to push through the frozen soil either. But they do it anyway because they are reaching for the light. We are too. “The less we choose to need, and the less we rely on comfortable, favorable circumstances for peace of mind, the more control we have over our thoughts, emotions and behavior." (ibid, p.32)

3. Be grateful by seeing the whole picture. There are so many things that I can think about that are scary or uncertain or frustrating. But I choose not to focus on them because there are so many other parts of life that inspire me to feel blessed and thankful and joyous. In a year when so many of us have been worried about the health of those we love, when so many of us have faced job and relationship and financial upheaval, gratitude is no longer an option. It is a necessity. Gratitude is an instinct that I try to hold onto for the rest of the day. “Gratitude entails putting a bad situation in a broader context, specifically a context that reminds you how much worse things could be.” (ibis, p.88)

4. Facing ourselves is the hardest task of all. Reflecting back on the past year has been hard for many of us. There are some parts of myself that I would rather not face. There are some beliefs that no longer serve us that many of us don’t want to let go because the familiar is comfortable even when it no longer fits who we have become. All of us have been changed by this past year. The question is what we are going to do now that we are given the chance to begin again. There is no finish line to facing ourselves. And there is no score or measurement of success. It’s the courage we find each day to make the best of who we are and what we have in front of us right now.

We often don’t get to choose our circumstances. Sometimes our paths get dark. Sometimes they get icy or covered in snow. Sometimes it is lonely trying to make our way through the rain especially when we don’t even know where we are going. But we are not alone on our paths. There are others climbing the hill beside us. God is always with us. And sometimes a smile and a wave are all we really need to begin again.

And remember: "Accept the reality that you are free and can make some kind of choice in every situation, without exception.” (Matt Fitzgerald, The Comeback Quotient, p.194)

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