DEVELOPING A PERSONAL STRATEGY FOR ENHANCING YOUR RESILIENCY
WHAT IS RESILIENCY?
Resiliency is someone’s ability to recover from and respond positively over time to difficult life-changing events, adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats and stressful situations. It means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences.
Things like the death of a loved one, family and relationship problems, workplace and financial stressors, the loss of a job, serious illness, terrorist attacks and other traumatic events are all examples of very challenging life experiences. Many people react to such circumstances with a flood of strong emotions and a sense of uncertainty. The troubles you face may be long-term, like having an addiction or financial struggles. It also may be a short, dramatic strike of tragedy—a life-threatening illness or a sexual assault. Without resiliency you find yourself unable and unwilling to continue on with living after facing these types of events.
Even small, first-world problems require a shot of micro-resilience, like when someone cuts you off in traffic and you’re already late. From minuscule problems to life-changing ones, resiliency is the way in which you respond.
Those with strong resiliency have what’s akin to a mental, emotional, and psychological elasticity where individuals are able to quickly spring back into sound shape after enduring hardship and are better for having gone through it. Those who lack resiliency quickly become trapped in a victim mindset, and fail to thrive in life, achieve very few goals, fall into an emotional mire and let time slip away.
RESILIENCY IS A SKILL THAT WE BUILD, NOT SOMETHING INNATE TO OUR CHARACTER
Being resilient does not mean being impervious to stress. Yet there are some people who are generally better able to adapt over time to life-changing situations and stressful conditions than others. What is different about those people?
Those individuals have developed a strong resiliency.
Resiliency is something anybody can build and achieve. The good news is that resiliency is not an inherent quality that you either have, or don’t have. It can be acquired through learned behaviors, learned thought processes and learned actions. Research has shown that resiliency is ordinary, not extraordinary. People commonly demonstrate some measure of resiliency. The strongest will hone their resiliency and grow it.
This is excellent news as the modern world we all face heaps stressors on us in measures and ways never before experienced. So whether we succeed or fail at resiliency, at a balanced response to trauma and stress, is actually dependent on a skill that can be taught and learned. That is very empowering!
Someone growing up in abject poverty and isolation is as capable of learning and possessing resiliency in equal measures to someone who grew up with the proverbial silver spoon in their mouth. Indeed, the first may have the upper hand on grasping resiliency. Emotional pain and sadness are common in people who have suffered major adversity or trauma in their lives and the road to resiliency is likely to involve considerable emotional distress.
RESILIENCY VS RESILIENCE
It may seem confusing, when you’re searching through psychology publications or online for information on the topic to find “resilience” or “resiliency” used interchangeably. Is there a difference?
According to Grammarist.com:
“Resilience and resiliency are different forms of the same word. Both nouns refer to the ability to recover quickly from illness or misfortune. But in today’s English, resilience is far more common than resiliency, especially outside of the U.S. and Canada. In North American publications, resiliency appears about four times as often as resilience. Outside North America, resiliency appears only rarely.
Though resilience is more common, resiliency is not incorrect. Both words are around five centuries old, and it wasn’t until the late 19th century that resilience prevailed by a significant margin. Still, there’s no reason not to use the shorter, more common form.”
MEASURES OF RESILIENCY
From minuscule first-world problems to life-changing ones, resiliency is in the way in which you respond. To take a measure of your resiliency you simply have to look at the emotional and mental state of your life.
Resiliency involves maintaining flexibility and balance in your life as you deal with stressful circumstances and traumatic events. Take a hard, honest look at how you handle your affairs.
Stressful and negative events aren’t unique or singular to you, they’re something every single person has to endure. Do you feel as though you’re the victim? Do you suffer under the crushing defeat of stress more often than not? Has your health, both physical and mental, suffered under the onslaught of life’s ebbs and flows? Do you dread one more negative event happening during your day in overblown ways? Do you hide away from life, and isolate yourself from others?
These all may be signs that your resiliency is lacking.
Don’t feel as though this fact is just one more thing that defeats you. Remember, resiliency is a quality that’s built and grown. If you find you’re not very resilient, feel emboldened and prepare yourself to grow in this new and useful way.
DETRACTORS OF RESILIENCY
If you find your measure of resiliency to be sorely lacking, remind yourself that you can and will work on building it back again.
There are, however, some things in your life that you can address now to remove that may be detracting from your resiliency.
Substance Use or Abuse – the chronic use of marijuana and alcohol has been proven to stunt emotional maturation, and mental resiliency. Sustaining your consciousness on a level outside of the “norm” defeats your mind’s ability to build neural networking that allows your resiliency to grow. If you wish to build true resiliency, and you have the habit of using or abusing substances regularly, that may be something you wish to address.
There are many people who rely on these types of substances as a pseudo-resiliency. Meaning they hide, or ignore, or push back against the stressors of life with the help of these things. It’s not true resiliency, and it’s short-lived in its efficacy once the substance wears off.
Chronic Depression – and its subsequent overgeneralization of thoughts, memories and experiences also stunts resiliency. If you’re caught in a negative emotional spiral, one of the ways that your mind responds is by overgeneralizing your memories, and experiences. By doing so you’re detracting from your mind’s ability to grow more resilient.
It’s not accurate to say that people who have clinical or chronic depression cannot build resiliency. There may need to be an additional step in their thinking along the way where they acknowledge the tendency of the depressed mind to overgeneralize, and will have to work harder to see through this shortcut of the mind in order to succeed. However, resiliency is absolutely possible, and will heap myriads of benefits that will bolster their fight against their depressed mental state.
DEVELOPING YOUR OWN PERSONAL PLAN FOR BUILDING RESILIENCY
When faced with the low points in your life, how do you make sure you come out on top? Let’s examine some ways in which you can develop your own personal plan for building resiliency.
Think of resiliency as similar to taking a rafting trip down a river.
On the river you may encounter rapids, eddies, slow water and hidden obstacles. As in life, these challenges you may experience will affect you differently along the way.
As you travel down the river, there are certain tools that will help you succeed and survive the journey. For one, it helps to have knowledge of the river itself, and what challenges you might face. It helps to have memories of past experiences you’ve survived in dealing with other rivers.
Your journey, much like your life, should be guided by a plan – a strategy that you consider likely to work well for you. Will you row your raft through the worst of the rapids, confident in your ability to survive and drawn by the quick outcome to the other side? Will you edge your way around in the shallower parts, hoping to avoid the rapids but mindfully aware of the hidden obstacles with a plan to quickly address them should the need arise?
Perseverance and trust in your own ability to work your way around boulders and other obstacles as you journey are paramount. Nobody survived river rafting who had no idea how to swim, or how to navigate downstream. You can climb out to rest alongside the river. But to get to the end of your journey, you need to get back in the raft and continue.
You can gain courage and insight with every success along the way, both tiny and large. Every time you navigate the white water successfully you learn something useful to bring to the next time you encounter more white water. Building confidence in this way will have profound effects on your journey through life.
Trusted companions who accompany you on the journey, and a myriad of other tools we’ll touch on shortly, can be especially helpful for dealing with rapids, upstream currents and other difficult stretches of the river.
You’ve taken the first step already, in that you’ve found this article and are seeking to build your resiliency. A pat on the back for your success.
Developing resiliency is a personal journey. People do not all react in the same ways to traumatic and stressful life events, and not all ways are healthy or productive. An approach to building resiliency that works for one person might not work for another.
But the river of life that we all face, and its inevitable difficulties, are the same for nearly all of us. Some or many of the ways to build resiliency in the following pages may be useful for you to consider in developing your personal strategy for success.
FACTORS THAT CONTRIBUTE TO RESILIENCY
A combination of factors contributes to resiliency. So let’s take a look at what a few of them are.
Many studies have shown that the primary factor in resiliency is having caring and supportive relationships within and outside of the family. This can be especially difficult for those of us who have isolated ourselves socially and emotionally from an increasingly stressful and difficult world.
However, relationships that create love and trust, provide role models, and offer encouragement and reassurance help bolster a person’s resiliency.
The temporary discomfort of stepping outside of your isolation and forging one or more strong, supportive relationships can pay dividends to your mental and emotional wellbeing and resiliency.
Several additional factors are associated with resiliency, including:
- The capacity to make realistic plans and take steps to carry them out.
- A positive view of yourself and confidence in your strengths and abilities.
- Skills in communication and problem solving.
- The capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses.
Don’t allow the magnitude of these factors to overwhelm you. Remember, ALL of these are factors that people can develop in themselves.
Your resiliency is never set in stone, in fact, very few things in life are.
So let’s look at some actionable ways you can start working to build your resiliency today.
STRATEGIES FOR BUILDING RESILIENCY
Even for the relatively self-aware and emotionally adept, life’s struggles can take us by surprise. But learning a collection of healthy ways to move through adversity can help us cope better and recover more quickly, or at least start heading in that direction.
As brutal as life can sometimes be, it is important to recognize that stress does not have to take a heavy toll. It may be hard to avoid, but its effects can be mitigated. The following are some actionable tools you can use to help do so.
Make Positive Supportive Social Connections
Good relationships with close family members, friends or others are important. We are, at the core, a social species who have evolved inside of social groups. Tight social communities historically meant survival, and so our minds and habits have evolved to facilitate those types of relationships.
The truth is that asking for and accepting help and support from those who care about you, and will listen to you, strengthens resiliency.
Some people find that being active in civic groups, faith-based organizations, or other local groups provides social support and can help with reclaiming hope. Assisting others in their time of need also can benefit the helper.
Our relationships are often among the first things to suffer when we are under stress. But good relationships are critical for mental and physical health.
In forging a strong resiliency into your life, building social and emotional bridges with those around you is the premier place to start.
Drawing From Your Past
Focusing on your past experiences and sources of personal strength and success can help you learn and understand what strategies for building resiliency have already worked for you. An adept river rafter doesn’t have to relearn the skill every time they get on a river. And having successfully dealt with stress and trauma in the past is a great place for you to draw from to do it again the next time.
By exploring answers to the following questions about yourself and your reactions to challenging life events you have already survived, you may discover how you can respond effectively to difficult situations in your life that are yet to come.
You may have learned when to allow yourself to experience strong emotions, and also realized when you may need to avoid experiencing them at times in order to continue functioning.
You may feel emboldened to step forward and take action to deal with your problems and meet the demands of daily living, and also the benefit of when to step back to rest and reenergize yourself.
You may have learned the importance of spending time with loved ones to garner support and encouragement, and also when to nurture yourself.
You may embrace the importance of relying on others, and also relying on yourself. Because you’ve come this far, which is further than some. There’s no reason you can’t succeed at anything you set your sights on.
So when combing through your memories and searching for tools that have already served you well in overcoming hardships and stress, consider asking yourself the following:
What kinds of events have been most stressful for me?
How have those events typically affected me?
Have I found it helpful to think of important people in my life when I am distressed?
To whom have I reached out for support in working through a traumatic or stressful experience?
If I didn’t reach out, who could I have reached out for?
If nobody comes to mind, is there someone in my life now I could reach for, or any way to embrace or grow a relationship with anyone to the point where I would feel comfortable doing so?
What have I learned about myself and my interactions with others during difficult times?
Has it been helpful for me to assist someone else going through a similar experience?
Have I been able to overcome obstacles, and if so, how?
If not, what are some things that would have helped me do so?
How can I put those tools into play in my life now, when the waters are calm, so they’re there to reach for when I hit the rapids?
What has helped make me feel more hopeful about the future?
Are there any beautiful moments in my life I can embrace and draw upon the memory of when the going gets tough to help get me over the humps so I can bounce back?
It is the tendency for most people that when something bad happens, to relive the event over and over in our heads, rehashing the pain. This process is called rumination.
Rumination is like a cognitive eddy in a river, where our mind spins the memory of the negative event around and around. Rumination does nothing to move you forward toward healing and growth.
The practice of journaling about our negative experiences is an excellent way to defeat rumination and can move you forward by helping you gain new insights on the challenges in your life. When you find your mind repeating the experience over and over again, it’s useful to spend time writing it out in great detail. This is a release mechanism to the mind, because it’s had its final say on what happened and can move forward once again.
Journaling productively in this way involves free writing continuously for 20 minutes about the issue, exploring your deepest thoughts and feelings around it. The goal is to get something down on paper, not to create a memoir-like masterpiece.
The benefit of journaling allows you to get the issue out of your mind, out onto paper, and out of your way.
A 1988 study found that participants who journaled in this directed and intentional way for four days were healthier six weeks later and happier up to three months later, when compared to people who wrote about superficial topics.
Researchers suggest that as you journal intentionally you are forced to confront ideas one by one and give them structure, which may lead to new perspectives. You are actually crafting your own life narrative and gaining a sense of control.
Finding the Silver Lining
Once you’ve explored the dark side of an experience through introspection and journaling, a sign of strong resiliency and something you may need to work on consciously in the beginning, is to choose to contemplate some of the upsides of your negative event.
Looking for the silver lining when faced with stress and dis-ease may mean that you reference a negative event you’ve experienced, and then try to list three positive things about it. For example, you might reflect on how fighting with a friend brought some important issues out into the open, and allowed you to learn something new about their point of view and experiences.
In a 2014 study, doing this practice daily for three weeks helped participants become more engaged with life afterward, and it decreased their pessimistic beliefs over time. This wasn’t true for a group whose members just wrote about their daily activities. It was particularly beneficial for staunch pessimists, who also became less depressed. But the effects wore off after two months, suggesting that looking on the bright side is something we have to practice regularly.
People often learn something about themselves and may find that they have grown in some respect as a result of their struggle with loss. Many people who have experienced tragedies and hardship have reported better relationships, greater sense of strength even while feeling vulnerable, increased sense of self-worth, a more developed spirituality and heightened appreciation for life. You just have to seek to find them.
Avoid Seeing Crises as Insurmountable Problems
An aspect of the mind’s tendency to over-generalize when feeling depressed or negatively impacted facilitates the tendency to see problems as insurmountable crises.
We lack the oversight in those moments and our negative emotions and predicaments feel like ALL THERE EVER WILL BE.
You can’t change the fact that highly stressful events happen, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events. Try looking beyond the present to how future circumstances may be a little better, knowing what you now know, having gone through it, and how you’ll do better next time.
Work consciously, in those moments of struggle, to remind yourself that this too shall pass. Life, every life, is a series of ups and downs. Every storm passes. Yours will as well.
Face Your Fears
The practices above are helpful for past struggles, ones that we’ve gained enough distance from to be able to get some perspective. But what about knee-shaking fears that we’re experiencing in the here and now?
Working to overcome your fears is a very proactive, and strong way to build your resiliency when not faced with calamity.
There is a practice, similar to the way that cowboys would sensitive their horses to fearful stimulus that works similarly to our own minds. This practice is designed to help with everyday fears that get in the way of life, such as the fear of public speaking, heights, or flying. We can’t talk ourselves out of such fears; instead, we have to tackle the emotions directly.
The first step is to slowly, and repeatedly, expose yourself to the thing that scares you—in small doses. For example, people with a fear of public speaking might try talking more in meetings, then perhaps giving a toast at a small wedding. Over time, you can incrementally increase the challenge until you’re ready to nail that big speech or TV interview.
In a 2010 study, researchers modeled this process in the lab. They gave participants a little electrical shock every time they saw a blue square, which soon became as scary as a tarantula to an arachnophobe. But then, they showed the blue square to participants without shocking them. Over time, the participants’ Pavlovian fear (measured by the sweat on their skin) gradually evaporated.
In effect, this kind of “exposure therapy” helps us change the associations we have with a particular stimulus. If we’ve flown 100 times and the plane has never crashed, for example, our brain (and body) start to learn that flying is safe. Though the fear may never be fully extinguished, we’ll likely have greater courage to confront it.
It is the literal translation of “facing your fears” in action. If done long enough, often enough, without negative consequences, those fears lose their hold on us and become just another normal part of our lives.
Accept That Change is a Part of Living
This may be hard to accept, when the change is something you absolutely did not want to happen. The urge to fight and rail against the outcome of some negative events can be all-consuming. But the truth is that there’s nothing so far away as a minute ago.
By that I mean that you cannot go back and undo what’s done. Certain goals you cherish may no longer be attainable as a result of adverse situations. Or they may only be attainable in the distant future. Finding a way within yourself to accept circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can change.
Fears and adversity can make us feel isolated and alone. It’s normal to wonder why we’re the only ones feeling this way, and what exactly is wrong with us. In these situations, learning to practice self-compassion—and recognizing that everyone suffers—can be a much gentler and more effective road to healing.
Having self-compassion means that you offer compassion to yourself no differently than you would offer it to someone else in need. Try confronting your own suffering with an attitude of warmth and kindness, without judgment. In one study from Berkley, participants in an eight-week Mindful Self-Compassion program reported more mindfulness and life satisfaction, with lower depression, anxiety, and stress afterward compared to people who didn’t participate—and the benefits lasted up to a year.
One practice, the Self-Compassion Break, is something you can do any time you start to feel overwhelmed by pain or stress. It has three steps, which correspond to the three aspects of self-compassion:
Step One: Be mindful. Without judgment or analysis, notice what you’re feeling. Say, “This is a moment of suffering” or “This hurts” or “This is stress.”
Step Two: Remember that you’re not alone: Everyone experiences these deep and painful human emotions, although the causes might be different. Say to yourself, “Suffering is a part of life” or “We all feel this way sometimes” or “We all struggle in our lives.”
Step Three: Be kind to yourself. Put your hands on your heart and say something like “May I give myself compassion” or “May I accept myself as I am” or “May I be more patient.”
If being kind to yourself is a challenge, think about the ways in which you would treat a friend under these circumstances. Compare how you respond to your own struggles—and the tone you use—with how you would respond to a friend’s. Often, this comparison unearths some surprising differences and valuable reflections: Why am I so harsh on myself, and what would happen if I weren’t?
Once we start to develop a kinder attitude toward ourselves, we can crystallize that gentle voice by writing a self-compassionate letter. Spend 15 minutes writing words of understanding, acceptance, and compassion toward yourself about a specific struggle that you feel ashamed of—say, being shy or not spending enough time with your kids. In the letter, you might remind yourself that everyone struggles, and that you aren’t solely responsible for this shortcoming. If possible, you could also consider constructive ways to improve in the future. Write it all down, and put it somewhere safe.
The next time you encounter the same negative situation or feelings, you can take it out and reread it. The chances are that the act of writing it down on paper has solidified your self-compassion in your mind as well and you will find the letter and its message of kindness will be readily available at the forefront of your mind without the need to read the paper version.
In the same self-compassionate vein, it’s important to let yourself feel lousy every once in a while.
Often, when faced with feeling negative emotions, our first impulse is to push down or fight against feeling those ways. The truth is that telling yourself it’s okay to feel sad today, or angry at times, gives your mind the space to acknowledge and process those emotions more quickly and effectively.
Pushing negative emotions down and pretending they don’t exist is a lousy practice, with only short-term benefits and many long-term negative complications on your health and wellness.
True resiliency doesn’t mean you never get discouraged. If you never encounter painful struggle, you never get to discover or grow your resiliency. This is why pain is almost universal among the resilient—it happens. From it we are forged into our strongest, noblest, best versions of ourselves.
Therefore, resiliency isn’t about masking your pain and pretending it isn’t happening. What matters most isn’t how you feel in the moment, it’s that you allow yourself to experience it, overcome it and get back up again after.
Persistently Move Toward Your Goals
The only true failure is when you quit altogether.
Rarely do the goals we plan for ourselves unfold how we imagine they will. We get knocked down, endeavors fail, and trains come off of the track. That is just how life is. Accepting the inevitability of things taking longer than we think they should will go a long way to easing stress from your life.
In the meantime develop some realistic goals for yourself that will lead you toward your biggest visions for your life. Do something daily — even if it’s just a 1% forward progress — that moves you toward your goals.
Efficacy, and especially the feeling of progress, are paramount to individual success. You grow your feelings of efficacy, of effectiveness in life, by giving yourself wins on a daily basis. Big or small, if you’re achieving something constructive, you will continue to achieve constructive things that are progressively bigger and bigger.
Instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, ask yourself, “What’s one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?”
Remember, even if you feel the air has gone out of your sails or like you’ve been knocked down, to keep working at it. Resiliency takes time to build, so it’s important not to be discouraged if you don’t see the effects immediately.
Instead, persevere with the strategies you find work best, and be assured that resiliency and success in life will come if you just keep trying.
As the Dali Llama has reminded us, our most depressed thoughts are usually about the past and our most anxious ones are about the future. We regret and ruminate on things that went wrong, or we get anxious about things that could still go wrong. When we pause and bring our attention to the present, to the exclusion of all else, we often find that things are…okay.
This is the underlying truth about the importance and viability of a daily meditative practice. Some of the strongest minds rely on a daily meditation to find and keep their emotional and mental balance.
One of the most popular techniques for meditation is the practice of mindfulness. It can be done anywhere, at any time, and has shown to permeate a more contended and balanced mindset through all facets of its practitioners lives.
Practicing mindfulness brings your mind into the present, and it offers techniques for dealing with negative emotions when they arise. It lifts your awareness above the ramblings of your mind to a higher perspective that allows you to witness and understand the way your mind works. Not always in your favor.
That way, instead of getting carried away into fear, anger, or despair, you can work through them more deliberately.
Mindfulness has wide-ranging health and psychological benefits for people in general, as well as those struggling with mental illness or chronic disease.
One meditation that might be particularly effective at calming our negative thoughts is the Body Scan. Here, you focus on each body part in turn—head to toe—and can choose to let go of any areas of tension you discover. Strong emotional feelings tend to manifest physically, as tight chests or knotted stomachs, and relaxing the body is one way to begin dislodging them.
In one study, researchers found that time spent practicing the Body Scan was linked to greater well-being and less reactivity to stress. Being more aware of our bodies—and the emotions they are feeling—might also help us make healthier choices, trusting our gut when something feels wrong or avoiding commitments that will lead to exhaustion.
When stress creeps in, good habits often creep out—and one of those is healthy eating. When we’re emotional, many of us reach for the sweets; when we’re short on time, fast food seems like the only option. Indeed, it seems the more hungry or tired we are, the lower we set the threshold for our food rules.
When you’ve reached those low points, and find yourself caving into your basest cravings, practice mindful breathing. This may help you regain one more step and the mental emotional fortitude you need to make your best choice.
Mindful breathing involves bringing attention to the physical sensations of the breath: the air moving inward through the nostrils, the expansion of the chest, the rise and fall of the stomach, the exhale and release of negative emotions or desires. If the mind wanders away, simply bring your attention back to the breath without judgement. This can be done during a full 15-minute meditation, or during a moment of stress with just a few breaths. The beautiful thing about your breath is that it’s always there when you need it. To reconnect, to reset, to recenter when life gets hard.
In one study, participants who did a Mindful Breathing exercise before looking at disturbing images—like spiders or car crashes—experienced less negative emotion than people who hadn’t done the exercise. Negative thoughts can pull us along into their frantic stream, but the breath is an anchor we can hold onto at any time.
Take Decisive Actions
Act decisively on adverse situations as quickly and as strongly as you can as they happen. Take decisive actions, rather than detaching completely from problems and stresses and wishing they would just go away. It may seem easier, in the moment of negative onslaught, to duck and cover and hope it passes.
The truth is that your life, the outcome, and your resiliency will all be better off if you take a stand and act in the best ways that you are able when the rapids come.
Having memory of past situations, and how well you responded and weathered them, makes this practice easier. Knowing your own personal strength and drive will embolden you to push back and make positive change when life’s hardships are coming at you.
People who are stressed often feel at the mercy of events beyond their control, but even initiating small actions against them can give you a sense of empowerment, which can give you the confidence to take bigger steps and rebound more quickly from their affects.
A key to resiliency is to keep yourself, and how you live your life, value-centered.
Nobody is dictating what those values are or should be, that’s completely up to you. But having an internal compass pointed at true north in your mind will help you regain your footing and make better choices when faced with adversity.
It’s all fine and good to make executive decisions, but if the right decision isn’t always clear it makes it easier to make mistakes if you don’t have a clear understanding of what you believe in. What you’re working toward, and what you want to achieve in life.
A handful of studies have found that having a strong moral compass—an internal system of values and ethics—goes along with higher resiliency. Strong ethics and morality gives purpose to our lives, which in turn gives rise to resiliency.
If holding a grudge is holding you back, research suggests that cultivating forgiveness could be beneficial to your mental and physical health. If you feel ready to begin the work of forgiving, it can be a powerful practice.
Begin by clearly acknowledging what happened, including how it feels and how it’s affecting your life right now. Then, you make a commitment to forgive, which means letting go of resentment and ill will for your own sake; forgiveness doesn’t mean letting the offender off the hook or even reconciling with them. Imagine yourself putting the burden of carrying their misdeeds, and the baggage afterward, down and walking away.
Ultimately, you can try to find a positive opportunity for growth in the experience: Perhaps it alerted you to something you need, which you may have to look for elsewhere, or perhaps you can now understand other people’s suffering better.
If you’re having trouble forgiving, it may benefit you to try spending a few minutes generating feelings of compassion toward your offender. They, too, are a human being who makes mistakes. They, too, have room for growth and healing. Be mindfully aware of your thoughts and feelings during this process, and notice any areas of resistance.
Not convinced this is the best approach? Researchers tested it against the common alternatives—either ruminating on negative feelings or repressing them—and found that cultivating compassion led participants to report more empathy, positive emotions, and feelings of control. That’s an outcome that victims of wrongdoing deserve, no matter how we feel about the offenders.
Nurture a Positive View of Yourself
Developing confidence in your ability to solve problems and trusting your instincts helps build resiliency.
In 1955, the psychologist Dr. Emmy Werner began a study that would last more than 40 years. She and her colleagues began to follow every child—almost 700 of them—born that year on the Hawai’ian island of Kauai.
Kauai in the 1950s was not a privileged place. Many of the kids were raised in poverty, had unstable, chaotic families, and had mothers who never got a high school diploma. But despite all this, by the age of 40, one-third of the group was, as the study said, “competent, confident, and caring.” They defied the odds—they all were employed, had stable lives, and never came into trouble with the law. Their accomplishments equaled or surpassed many of the kids who grew up in more privileged environments. The researchers itched to know: how did they beat the odds? What was the key ingredient to their resiliency?
Again, it’s complicated. Some of it was luck, some of it was having at least one emotionally stable and loving family member to look out for them, and some of it was finding an emotional home in a civic organization, at school, or at church.
But the most important thing the resilient kids had was something called an internal locus of control, meaning that these kids believed that they, not their circumstances, were in the driver’s seat.
They believed they were the controllers of their own future, and the circumstances they were put in were not a deterring factor. The researchers noted an example of this was that resilient kids with a dysfunctional family were good at “recruiting” surrogate parents, whether a youth minister, a trusted teacher, or even a friend’s parent.
How can you apply this to your life? In short, take decisive action. It’s tempting to use fate as an excuse for your future, but take control as best you can and most importantly find a belief in your own abilities to persevere.
Keep Things in Perspective
You may want to get rich, get famous, and spend little effort doing so, but part of resiliency involves not setting ourselves up for failure. Ours is not a Kardashian world, and the preoccupation of the young in believing everything can come from doing little to nothing, is simply unrealistic and setting themselves up for a life of hard lessons.
Indeed, in the Kauai study, one of the characteristics of the resilient adults was that they set realistic educational and career goals for themselves. If we set too many lofty goals, when we fall short of them we will blame that failure on ourselves. So keep the scale of your goals reasonable. Challenge yourself and aim high, of course, but be fair to yourself.
Maintain a Hopeful Outlook
An optimistic mindset will enable you to expect the return of the good things in your life even amidst the difficult times. You will seek out positive moments, even in turmoil, and will work more efficiently and quickly toward producing those positive events.
Focusing on how things could be better in the future, rather than the seemingly insurmountable problems in the present, can make them feel less daunting. Similarly, changing the way you look at a situation can take away some of its power to frighten you.
When all you have is a hammer, or a pessimistic defeatist attitude, every situation looks like a nail, or a crises.
Train your mind to express gratitude frequently, see the silver lining easily, and maintain a consistent and optimistic hope for the future.
Pay attention to your own needs and feelings daily. Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. There is something called the Funnel of Frustration. Whenever you feel stressed, it’s a natural tendency to narrow, or funnel, your focus onto that thing causing your stress. This is done by cutting out the things that you consider fun, or bring you joy. The thought is that if you focus more clearly on the problem you’ll be better able to defeat it and remove it from your life.
What actually ends up happening is that you concentrate the feelings and circumstances that are negative and stressful with no reprieve via positive happy distractions and you’re less able to defeat the stressor or accomplish any goals.
When feeling compelled to narrow your focus onto the difficult things in your life, remind yourself to pull back. Force yourself to get outside and do something fun. Schedule with intention your favorite activities. You’ll strengthen your resolve, you’ll diminish the impact of the negative event, and you’ll be able to approach that situation with a renewed and effective determination.
Hand-in-hand with self-care comes the importance of exercise. Not just for the benefits to your health but also because physical exertion helps counteract the effects of stress and can also lead to better sleep. Exercise heightens your mood and motivation levels, which directly relieves stress and puts you in a more positive mindset. It’s the ultimate recharge.
Exercise is often a mini metaphor for life’s larger challenges: We set short-term goals that build mental momentum to reach larger goals in the long term. Pushing through on both good and bad days is resiliency in action.
Relaxation is easier said than done when you’re stressed or going through a life crises, but setting aside some time to unwind in a positive way can ease your emotional and metal pressure.
Whether you turn to yoga, meditation, or even a walk in the park, time out of a normal busy schedule can help you get a new perspective and reset your emotional clock.
When things are really tense, even just finding an empty room and closing the door behind you can take the emotional pressure-cooker down a notch or two.
Laughter can especially reduce stress and help you feel more positive. Even if you’re ‘not in the mood’, making an effort to do fun activities, particularly when they are with friends, can mitigate the effects of stress.
Something as simple as Googling “laughing” or turning to YouTube for a funny video break can have huge benefits to your overall wellbeing, especially when you’re feeling down.
Open and Honest Communication
This works well with having positive social relationships. But even if it’s just with the people you work with or function around, being open and honest about your experiences, how you feel, and when you aren’t available to participate is empowering when you need to stand up for your time and space the most.
According to a study of student nurses doing emotionally exhausting work in a literal life-or-death environment, those who were able to 1) draw on support from friends and colleagues, and 2) genuinely express their emotions from sorrow to frustration to joy, were less prone to burnout. They were able to continue the tough emotional work their job required.
So tell people you trust how you really feel. Be honest and authentic rather than trying to please everyone and you’ll come out feeling relieved and sane. And allow yourself to enforce your boundaries and needs with everyone else.
Being a “yes” person all of the time can be exhausting, and can diminish your value to the people who are looking for honest and helpful insight.
WHEN TO ASK FOR HELP
The American Psychological Association publishes some useful advice on dealing with stress and building resiliency and are a super resource for all of us. If you’re suffering from low resiliency and a lot of stress you should also consult a doctor if it is affecting your mental or physical well-being.
Our modern world puts stresses on us like never before in the history of our species. The importance of resiliency cannot be overstated. The key is to identify ways that are likely to work well for you as part of your own personal strategy for fostering resilience.
Getting help when you need it is crucial in building your resiliency. Beyond caring family members and friends, people often find it helpful to turn to:
Self-help and support groups. Such community groups can aid people struggling with hardships such as the death of a loved one. By sharing information, ideas and emotions, group participants can assist one another and find comfort in knowing that they are not alone in experiencing difficulty.
Books and other publications by people who have successfully managed adverse situations such as surviving cancer. These stories can motivate readers to find a strategy that might work for them personally.
Online resources. Information on the web can be a helpful source of ideas, though the quality of information varies among sources.
For many people, using their own resources and the kinds of help listed above may be sufficient for building resiliency. At times, however, an individual might get stuck or have difficulty making progress.
A licensed mental health professional such as a psychologist can assist you in developing an appropriate strategy for moving forward. It is important to get professional help if you feel like you are unable to function or perform basic activities of daily living as a result of a traumatic or other stressful life experiences.
Stress and struggles come in many forms in life: adversity and trauma, fear and shame, betrayals of trust. The practices outlined today can help you cope with difficulties when they arise. They can also prepare you for challenges in the future.
With enough practice, you’ll have a toolbox of techniques that comes naturally—a rainy-day fund for the mind that will help keep you afloat when times get tough. Just knowing that you’ve built up your skills of resiliency can be a great comfort, and a confidence and happiness booster.
It’s only when obstacles arise that your resiliency skills are called on. Obstacles will arise, they always do, for each one of us. Have confidence moving forward that you’re capable of responding to these challenges, like the rafter on the river, with confidence and relative ease.
Let the flows of life move you in remarkable ways, and keep your life jacket on. Have a wonderful life adventure!
©Vital Living.Life 2018
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