Throughout the pandemic, we began to appreciate the value of connecting with friends and family more than ever before. When we were cooped up in our homes and forced to build relationships through a screen, feelings of hopelessness and discouragement were far from abnormal. It became very easy to believe that — like Helen Keller said — “Alone we can do so little, together we can do so much.”
As Spartans do, we persevered. We doubled down on grit and learned that there is still SO much we can do alone. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t still strength in numbers. With social distancing restrictions continuing to ease, the opportunities to curate communities, find your tribe, and join a team are virtually endless.
It's easier than ever to build your Spartan team, and doing so keeps you committed pre- and post-race. You can create or join a team at any point, giving you ultimate flexibility but holding you accountable even before you pick your race date and location.
And even if you’re a self-proclaimed introvert who thrived on the security of staying at home and (like a lot of people) find yourself anxious about a rapid reincorporation into a social society, consider the science behind why joining a team — athletic, community-based, business-oriented, or otherwise — can skyrocket success and overall satisfaction.
Teamwork Enhances Your Capacity for Bravery
If you typically do difficult things — and if you’re a Spartan, you do — you’re familiar with the notion that talking yourself up to the task is more than half the battle. But according to Spartan’s Chief Mind Doc Lara Pence, building up the courage to take on tough challenges can be chemically expedited by getting others on board with you.
“Being a part of a team can stimulate the release of oxytocin, a powerful chemical that enhances the experience of trust and connection,” Pence, a licensed clinical psychologist, says. “When we trust others and feel more connected, we are more likely to try things that we may not typically try. So in essence, teamwork enhances our capacity for bravery.”
Feeling external encouragement from others during maximal exercise testing — a measurement of the maximum amount of oxygen an athlete can use while performing intense exercise — has been found to have tremendous benefits for individuals. It doesn’t decrease the feeling of being uncomfortable or make the task easier, but it does help participants feel more confident and capable in their ability to persevere.
Working With Others Forces You to Self-Reflect and Grow
Joining a team might sound like it’s all about other people, but it can also be an incredibly introspective process.
“When you are part of a team, you expose yourself to individuals who are stronger, faster, and fitter than you, and those that you are stronger, faster, and fitter than,” Pence says. “This is an excellent exercise in reminding yourself that all different kinds of people are capable of all different kinds of success.”
Sarah Goldman, Program Director for the North Carolina Outward Bound School's Professional and Virtual Programs, designs and facilitates day programs, wilderness expeditions, and virtual programs for adult teams — businesses, organizations, leadership groups, etc. — that utilize challenges to, in her words, “make them figure their s*** out.” Even though the programs are devised as group trials, Goldman says she sees Pence’s statement on self-reflection play out daily.
“Outward Bound courses — or any challenging activities — act as mirrors for us,” Goldman says. “They let us see ourselves in a very different light and, honestly, oftentimes that is a very objective, unforgiving light. You’re reminded of your strengths, but it also shines a light on blind spots and lets folks see where there’s opportunities for growth and to better themselves.”
Everyone has room for growth and change. So, if you feel like you’re at a stalemate in life or just strive to be constantly improving, join a team of diverse individuals with different skill sets and decide who in the group you’d like to be more (or less) like.
Teams Create Healthy Competition and Collaboration
Social facilitation is a concept that suggests that individuals are more likely to complete a task or perform better in the presence of others. Imagine you commit to running an Ultra by the end of the year. Are you more likely to get serious about your nutrition, train harder, and crush the race if you commit silently in your head, or if you tell the entire town? You can apply this principle to any area of your life.
“A few factors may contribute to the data on social facilitation,” Pence says. “Individuals often fear judgment in the presence of others and are more likely to work hard for success if their success — or failure — is made public. So, when individuals are in a group and encourage each other, they are more likely to experience the positive benefits of encouragement and succeed.”
Not only will the presence of other people likely optimize your own performance — as individuals within the team compete to appear superior or prove their capability — but Goldman stresses that even if your performance is faltering and you find yourself having an absolutely terrible time, that state will be more temporary in a team, as other members’ energy helps to balance out your own.
“There are times when you feel low, but that will pass and you will feel better,” Goldman says. “What’s amazing when you work in teams is that when somebody is at their low point and really struggling, often somebody else is doing great. Then they are in that temporary spot of feeling good, and they can lift others up.”
Doing Hard S*** Together Builds Unbreakable Bonds
If you run hill sprints with a friend four days a week, you probably have a much deeper bond with that person than you do with someone you spend time watching movies with. But do you ever wonder why that is?
“When you exercise, endorphins are released,” Pence says. “Endorphins are those chemicals that create that ‘runner's high’ feeling. But endorphins also help strengthen our connection to people around us. So when you engage in an activity as a group, you feel more connected to others and you are more primed for a positive social experience.”
Jon Levy, a behavioral scientist and the author of You’re Invited, says that the more time, effort, and hard-earned endorphins you devote to creating and nurturing human connections, the more you’ll value — and trust — those connections.
“Human beings have this characteristic that builds trust called the IKEA Effect, which is that we care disproportionately more about anything we put effort into or partially assemble,” Levy says. “When we participate in a team, it actually allows us to invest effort into one another and create deeper and more meaningful connections.
“As you’re going under barbed wire as a team and you’re doing all these difficult things, there are inevitably moments of vulnerability,” Levy says. “When we can express vulnerability and have it be reciprocated, that’s how trust builds. A Spartan team has a greater chance of forming deeper and more meaningful levels of trust faster, because they go through difficult situations together.”
Initiating vulnerability loops, then, doesn’t mean that your teammates accept your weakness each time that you declare it. It simply means that they are comfortable enough to say to you, “I know you’re stronger than that,” so that even when — not if — things get tough, those unbreakable bonds will get you through it.