R is for Resilience
Updated: Aug 15, 2021
“Like tiny seeds with potent power to push through tough ground and become mighty trees, we hold innate reserves of unimaginable strength. We are resilient.” Catherine DeVrye
What is resilience?
“Resilience is very different than being numb. Resilience means you experience, you feel, you fail, you hurt. You fall. But, you keep going.” Yasmin Mogahed
Resilience is about our ability to shift our perspective (opposition thinking) and use hope, willpower and practical skills to face potentially difficult scenarios with intentional, deliberate determination knowing that they are opportunities for learning and will make us stronger.
“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.”
Adversity affects us all it doesn’t discriminate and is unavoidable; it is how well we manage and respond to adversity that determines whether it has an adverse or beneficial effect in our lives. We cannot prevent adversity, but we can learn to use it to make us more resilient and protect ourselves from any potential negative affects by creating good habits.
“What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters compared to what lies within us”. Ralph Waldo Emerson
Resilient people don’t feel discriminated against and don’t have a “Why me?” attitude or feel a sense of entitlement for a perfect life, they acknowledge life for what it is then seek to live optimally with the cards they are dealt or changing their cards when they can.
We do not develop resiliency by living in our comfort zone and ignoring difficult situations. Life is full of ups and downs and we all have personal struggles to face along the way. We can choose to accept responsibility and rise up to the challenges we face or stick our heads in the sand and consider ourselves a victim and act accordingly
“Persistence and resilience only come from having been given the chance to work through difficult problems.” Gever Tulley
Resilience is associated with well-being. It is something that can be learned and it is a resource that can grow within us. It is possible to use our will-power to think and act in certain ways to help us navigate through tough times and difficult emotions thereby becoming more resilient and developing a growth-mindset.
"Unlike other emotions that arise out of comfort and safety, hope springs out of dire circumstances, as a beacon of light. Deep within the core of hope is the belief that things can change, turn out better. Possibilities exist. Hope sustains you and motivates you to turn things around." Barbara Frederickson
Why develop resilience?
“When we learn how to become resilient, we learn how to embrace the beautifully broad spectrum of the human experience.” Jaeda Dewalt
ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy) was developed by Stephen Hayes, Kelly Wilson, and Kirk Strosahl and aims to help develop ‘psychological flexibility’ so we can embrace our lives fully. We can't expect to live a whole life if we try to fight, replace or avoid bits we don't like.
ACT is not based on finding new techniques to be happy but instead teaches ways to be present and live a rich, full, meaningful life whilst facing the various struggles that come our way and encompassing the wide spectrum of our emotions.
“In ACT, our main interest in a thought is not whether it’s true or false, but whether it’s helpful; that is, if we pay attention to this thought, will it help us create the life we want?” Russ Harris
Stress is neither good nor bad; stress itself is neutral. ACT Techniques such as defusion can help us create a space between ourselves and our thoughts/ feelings so that they have less of a hold over us and we don’t blindly accept them as reality. By creating space it enables us to realise that just because we think something it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s true; we don’t need to react immediately or automatically and we can take time to ask ourselves whether these thoughts are helping us towards living a rich, meaningful life of value or are they causing us needless pain and suffering?
“Think of it like a fire. When the fire is in the fireplace, it is beautiful and relaxing, and in the winter it keeps one warm. But if the fire gets out of control, it can burn down the house. The fire is neither good nor bad, it just exists. It is how the fire is contained or controlled that determines whether it is going to have a beneficial or harmful effect.” Tieraona Low Dog
Although situations are neutral, we live an ‘on-demand’ life and demands are constantly being made for our attention and energy. It is impossible to have an experience without having a reaction/emotion to that experience. It is these emotions that we attach to an event that make a scenario a negative or positive experience i.e. can lead to stress or growth.
“It’s your reaction to adversity, not adversity itself that determines how your life’s story will develop.” Dieter F. Uchtdorf
So how do we make the most of our opportunities to create resilience?
It is important to cultivate positive emotions so we are better equipped to deal with the negative. By so doing, we increase resilience and as resilience increases we increase our positive emotions thereby creating an upward spiral. Positive emotions not only neutralise negativity but undo it and allow us to broaden our mindset, build our internal resources which in turn makes us more resilient and leads to change and growth.
Instead of narrowing our focus like negative emotions do, positive emotions affect our brains in ways that increase our awareness, attention, abilities and memory. They help us take handle more information and understand how different ideas relate to each other so we are more able to learn and build on our existing skills.
To build resilience we need to proactively work to increase our positive emotional experiences.
We need a 3:1 ratio of positive to negative in order to have a good life because of man’s natural human tendency to pay more attention to negative emotions than to positive ones. Negative emotions are needed to survive, they call our attention to problems that we might need to respond to quickly. The negativity bias has a downside, though as we can feel that we have had a bad day even if we have experienced equal amounts of positive emotions that day. Studies show it takes at least three times as many positive emotions to tip the scales and make the day seem like a positive one!
“Courage doesn't always roar. Sometimes courage is the quiet voice at the end of the day saying 'I will try again tomorrow'.” Mary Anne Radmacher
Positive emotions help us to flourish not only within the present moment but over the long term as well. Positive emotions are worth cultivating, not just as end states in themselves but also as a means to achieving psychological growth and improved well-being over time.
If something makes you feel uplifted, it makes you feel encouraged, energised, happy and inspired. It isn’t realistic to expect to feel happy every moment of every day but there are a myriad of simple every day things that we can incorporate into our lives to uplift ourselves and keep our momentum in a positive upward spiral.
What we focus on creates our reality. We have a natural tendency towards a negativity bias e.g. We have done something good but rather than focus on our achievement we focus on the one thing that could have been better. We need to train ourselves to shift our perspective so we don’t miss opportunities to experience positive emotions. We need to consciously develop the ability to notice and appreciate the positive and then focus on it and intentionally move towards it.
By focusing on the positive, it cultivates our capacity to deal with things i.e. it creates a strong, psychological immune system which helps us bounce back more quickly. It is similar to our body’s immune system when it is strong we still get ill but we do so less often and recover more quickly.
"Investing in things that bring us more positive emotions is an investment in our future. Choosing hope over fear." Barbara Frederickson
We cannot feel uplifted if our attention is directed towards negative things, so it is important to focus on edifying, instructive, informative, positive things to improve our thoughts and uplift our mood and equally important is the relationships that we have.
“Life is partly what we make it, and partly what it is made by the friends we choose.” Tennessee Williams
It is important to surround ourselves with those that encourage us and enhance our lives not those that depress us and drain us.
“Your network will determine your net worth.” Tim Saunders
Learning to live a more resilient life has numerous health benefits too including
an increased sense of emotional well-being, decreased symptoms of depression, improved immune system function, better sleep patterns, improved relationships, improved concentration and working memory and it improves our ability to cope with the vicissitudes of life.
“Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.”
How can I become more resilient?
"Resilience isn't a single skill. It's a variety of skills and coping mechanisms. To bounce back from bumps in the road as well as failures, you should focus on emphasizing the positive." Jean Chatzky
“Successful people demonstrate their resilience through their dedication to making progress every day, even if that progress is marginal.” Jonathan Mills
Resilience is rooted in self-care and self awareness.
Practising self- care, which is unique to each person, is essential so we can live optimally and function effectively not only in the present but it is also concerned about setting ourselves up positively for the future. (i.e. “Doing things my future self will thank me for” e.g. going to bed early, drinking enough fluids, preparing multiple meals, checking the oil and water in a car before a journey etc etc) Self-care includes all the things needed to take care of our emotional, physical, mental and spiritual health.
By actively seeking to become self-aware we allow clarity of thought re. our beliefs, emotions and motivations and we gain a clear perception of our personality and our strengths and weaknesses thereby making the tools we have available to us more clear. Self Awareness can also help us understand how other people perceive us.
Intrinsically linked to self-awareness and self-care is mindfulness i.e. living in the moment in a state of active and open attention without judgment. By living mindfully we learn to become aware of ourselves and develop the ability to reflect on our responses and reduce the likelihood of us doing something that affects us detrimentally. We give ourselves time to pause and reflect and the chance to ask ourselves "Will this help me or harm me?" "Will this bring me closer to where I want to be or create more barriers?"
“Resilience is based on compassion for ourselves as well as compassion for others.”
We all need connection with others. By investing in relationships that are positive and supportive and identifying positive role models, it helps us to feel healthier, happier and more satisfied and in turn we become more supportive and have better connections with others.
Developing a sense of awe and wonder opens our mind to new possibilities and helps us to see ourselves as part of a larger whole. Wonder and awe bring us into the present moment, connecting us with the resiliency of nature, which possesses the power to inspire and heal us. Why not listen to the talk by Louie Schwartzberg, about the importance of Wonder, Awe and Resilience accompanied by a selection of beautiful images from the natural world.
We all need a sense of purpose and recognition that we belong to something bigger than ourselves to re-enforce our sense of our place in the world. When we act altruistically, and help others, we experience positive emotions like satisfaction and relief.
To flourish and become resilient we need the negative and positive just like a boat that needs sails for the wind to blow it along but also a keel to stabilise and steer it. Resilient people do not ignore the negative rather they learn to hold both the negative and the positive simultaneously but make a deliberate ongoing effort to switch attention to the good rather than dwell on the negative. To be resilient we need to dial up our positive emotions and look for the benefits in a situation and be grateful for what we already have to counter the fact that we are evolutionary hardwired for negative emotions and responses.
In short, resiliency for me is about optimistically embracing the vicissitudes of life with self-awareness, focusing attention on the positive and things that we can change, looking for opportunities for learning and growth and surrounding ourselves with a supportive network.
Some questions to think about/or discuss below:
Where are you on the resilience spectrum? Are your moods pretty consistent or do you go from one extreme to the other?
How do you react when things don't go as planned?
What things make you feel positive?
Think about a difficult situation that you find stressful. Can you find things to be grateful for or positives in this situation despite the circumstances being not of your choosing?
"Investing in things that bring us more positive emotions is an investment in our future. Choosing hope over fear. " Barbara Frederickson
If you want to find out more on this subject, here are a few links to get you started: