WRIGHT-PATTERSON AFB, Ohio — Comprehensive Airman Fitness defines “Social Fitness” as the ability to engage in healthy social networks that promote overall well-being and optimal performance. We have often heard that resilience essentially means the ability for one to bounce back from challenges and adversity.
Often times we primarily focus on individual resilience. However, what is less talked about is that resilience is also found through social connections with others. The more connected one is to others in their social network, the stronger and more resilient one is likely to become. For instance, if you were to pick up a pencil or maybe even five pencils, you could probably snap them very easily. However, if you were to try the same thing with a bundle of pencils (or a dozen pencils), the task becomes much tougher. If we remove a single log from a fire, the log will soon burn out on its own, while the bundle of logs that are together will burn much longer.
In the Air Force, we send out fighter squadrons as flights to carry out critical missions and gain air superiority. The more connected we are, the stronger the bond and strength to withstand the pressure and accomplish the mission. The benefits of healthy social connections has been linked to vast health benefits overall. In addition, the bonds we build help guard us from feelings of isolation or that we may be a burden to those around us. The more connected we have socially, the more likely we are to find sources of strength to help us during difficult periods in our lives.
Several of the primary factors associated with building quality social connections include:
• Having a Clear Mission/Purpose: “What is my role in the world, in my job, in my family? How do I fit in?”
• Taking Personal Responsibility/Making a Choice:
Ask: In what ways can I evaluate and improve on my belonging in the community, at work, at home?
Act: Commit and follow through
• Learning Healthy Skills: communication, stress management, growth mindset
• Belongingness: Integration, friendships, including participation in spiritual/faith-based organizations, protocols, ceremonies, social services, and schools
• Cohesion: The bonds that bring people together in the community, include shared values and interpersonal belonging
• Connectedness: The quality and number of connections with other people in the community; includes connections with places including commitment, structure, roles, responsibility, and communication.
• Collective efficacy: Group members’ perceptions of the ability of the groups to work together
We know that we are all different and bring different strengths to our relationships. Some individuals may find it more difficult to establish and maintain social connections.
Those who do not connect socially may have a more difficult time when facing stressful situations or adjusting to new environments. There may be a sense of isolation, thinking, and feeling as though they don’t belong to a unit or community. Further, while they may feel connected to families or relationships in a fulfilling way, they may feel isolated or alone even though they come to work every day and have family and friends. When we don’t feel as if we belong, it can often be a result of internal feelings rather than external circumstances. Moreover, some may feel as if they are a burden to society or those around them and thus they disconnect or unplug from the network of life. Again, this is mostly an emotional worldview where one may feel as if they are a liability to those around them and thus their social connections wane. Those who feel as if they are a burden will often not see their essential role to the Air Force mission or the lives of others. May I challenge the reader to be bold and turn to others for help when you are feeling isolated or as if you were a burden! We must be willing to turn to other people in the community, turn to leaders in the unit, and turn to support agencies and organizations for help and assistance. There is strength in unity.
Social Fitness is developed when we recognize that each of us play a critical role in mission accomplishment. Each of us has a purpose and is needed to complete the mission. Our roles are critical to the defense of our nation. I encourage you to recognize that you are uniquely gifted and make a difference every day. The more we connect to others socially, the greater our resilience and the stronger our mission accomplishment. The empirical evidence shows that social bonding and connection is a force multiplier in our personal and professional lives. Decide today that you will plug in socially and make a difference. Get Connected and Stay Connected!