Understanding Resilience Through Open Water Swimming With Bhakti Sharma

Bhakti Sharma is a medal-winning long-distance swimmer. After devoting 25 years of her life to the sport, she’s come to understand not just the depth of motivation, but the importance of knowing herself. As she states, “it ceases to be just [a sport] and becomes a mirror.”

It is through the sport of swimming that Bhakti came to understand what resilience truly is. Swimming the English Channel took her nearly 14 hours, and that gave her a lot of time alone with her thoughts. This, she claims, is both a blessing and a curse.

Being alone for so long has led Bhakti to being incredibly self-aware. She is able to identify the voice inside her head that both motivates and challenges her. Sometimes, this motivation is what she needs to move on, but other times the challenging voice can be more of a hindrance than a help.

Understanding Resilience

What does Bhakti mean when she says the sport becomes a mirror? Simply put, she becomes a swimmer, and the sport becomes a reflection of who she truly is. Building her life around it means it’s a large part of her identity, but it’s not the only part.

It’s through swimming that she became able to understand her mind, and how important resilience is to overcoming challenges. The example she uses is when she attempted to break the record for the longest distance swim in the Antarctic Ocean.

The water was around freezing temperature, which is challenging on both the body and the mind. Our primal instinct would kick in and try to remove us from the situation. This is exactly what happened to Bhakti: she began thinking about how easy it would be to give up, get out, and get warm.

But a voice inside her urged her to carry on, one stroke at a time. After taking 4 strokes, she noticed a penguin swimming alongside her; a sign she took as the motivation needed to continue.

41 minutes later she broke the record for the longest distance swim in the Antarctic Ocean.

How Can We Use Resilience?

This might be an extreme example, but the lessons learnt can be transferred over to everyday situations. Bhakti has been able to harness this voice to help her through even seemingly mundane problems, such as facing depression and being unable to leave the house or do her daily chores.

After all, this is what resilience is. Resilience is the voice inside your head that tells you to just take one more step, and then another, and another. Eventually you’ll be exactly where you need to be.

Dealing with an injury isn’t an easy thing. It’s a significant mental and physical challenge that can seem impossible to overcome. But this is where resilience comes in. It allows you to face your inner demons and challenge your mind. It’s only by doing this that we can understand who we truly are and where our limits lie.

You can check out Bhakti Sharma’s full TedTalk here.