“That which does not destroy, strengthens”
Guy: When the draft for this post arrived in my inbox a week ago, I thought to myself ‘love this!’ and was figuring out the best time to publish it over the next month. Little did I know it would take on so much meaning so quickly. I’m very sad to say my dad passed away a few days later and the relevance of this post has come to the forefront for me. So I wanted to share this beautiful written post for anyone who maybe going through their own personal challenges. Over to Eleasa…
All of us have been through tough times. Perhaps it was the loss of a loved one? Losing your job? Battling excess weight? Experiencing financial difficulties? Getting your heart broken? Being in the middle of workplace conflict? Suffering with symptoms of anxiety, or perhaps the “black dog” (Black Dog institute) is constantly nipping at your heels. The truth is that hardships are inevitable … they are part of life.
Are hardships such as bad thing?
In my opinion, definitely not! Speaking from personal experiences and those of my clients, hard times shape us like no other. They teach us lessons that good times never could. Horrible as they may feel at the time, the wisdom enclosed if you choose to find it, is worth the experience.
So what are those inner qualities that enable many of us to go through SOOO MUCH, yet happily pick ourselves’ up, dust ourselves off and get back on the horse so to speak? The answer my friends’ is resilience!
What is resilience you ask?
I think this is best explained with an example of a truly resilient person…
Dr Viktor E Frankl… Born in 1905, Dr Frankl practiced as a successful Psychiatrist in Vienna until 1942 when he was deported to a Nazi concentration camp, where he spent the next 3 years in conditions beyond squalor. Dr Frankl had recently married and around the time of deportation found out his wife was pregnant. By the end of the war Dr Frankl had lost his pregnant wife, unborn child, parents and brother. A loss I cannot even fathom.
Despite this experience, in 1947 Dr Frankl married and had a daughter. He went on to practice as a professor of psychiatry and neurology at the Vienna Medical School until his death in 1997. He wrote 32 books, translated into 26 languages. Academic and professional achievements aside, what makes Dr Frankl truly extraordinary is the meaning he chose to gain from his experience in the concentration camp. Rather than falling into a heap, Dr Frankl chose to use his holocaust experience to help others. Based on his own heeling, he established a discipline of therapy that emphasized man’s need to find meaning in even the most tragic circumstances. As a result he has probably helped hundreds of thousands of people find meaning and direction after tragedy.
As I see it, there are two major responses to hardships … Despair and hope.
Despair is when you wallow in your misery, multiplying the hardships… breeding shame, guilt and depression. Sound familiar? That guilt and shame associated with losing track of your weight loss or exercise program (again) because it was just too hard!!! You spend the next couple of weeks or months beating yourself up, thinking you’re weak and feeling helpless to evoke change. Despair is not a nice place to hang out for too long. Luckily there is another more helpful option – hope.
Hope is somewhat different to despair. It allows us to acknowledge negative circumstances with a realistic and mindful perspective. A wise view if you will. Hope is one of those wonderful emotions that broaden our outlook. In turn it acts as a springboard allowing us to experience a range of positive emotions that empower us to bounce back from hardships… or even better… to emerge stronger and more capable of accessing our resources. We tend to call these hopeful people resilient.
So back to our weight loss example. When a resilient person falls off track with their weight loss program, they don’t spiral into a state of despair and hopelessness. Rather, they view their experience through realistic eyes. They are mindfully aware of the circumstances which knocked them off track and make plans to prevent these barriers from impacting them the next time they try. A resilient person will acknowledge how much they achieved through the program and celebrate any successes. Most importantly, a resilient person will wholeheartedly believe that they can achieve their weight loss goals, which will provide them with sufficient energy to persevere. So back on the horse they get, with more commitment and determination than before. I hope you can see the difference in mindset here.
In essence, resilience is an individual’s tendency to cope well with stress; to smile in the face of adversity and see life’s hardships as challenges rather than obstacles. Worried that you are not one of the lucky few born resilient? Well don’t be, the good news is that we can ALL build resilience!!
Resilience is an inner resource that can grow and develop over time.
So what makes us resilient? How can we develop it?
Perspective – One of my lecturers used to say that we help our clients, “change the doing by changing the viewing”. Resilience truly stems from seeing challenges as learning experiences, which help us grow. To enhance your perspective taking capacity you can:
- Try to learn from your mistakes rather than hide your head in the sand.
- Do your best to face situations for what they are and learn to accept that certain circumstances cannot be changed… apply the serenity prayer: “God grant me the ability to change what I can, accept what I can’t and the wisdom to know the difference”.
- Try not to view problems as unbearable but rather something you can learn from.
- Seek support from friends or a professional who can help you develop different ways to view the situation.
- Look for the take home message in your experience. Find the meaning and move on. The past is the past, so make sure you let go of it, which will enable you to live in the present – live consciously.
Optimism - This is a must!! Resilient people have the ability to see the positives of most situations. To see the glass as half full if you will. If you are more of a glass half empty type of person you might want to consider:
- Consciously trying to maintain a hopeful outlook and expect good things will happen to you.
- Acknowledge that many possibilities exist – explore them in their entirety. Don’t be scared to wish for the future. Establish your dreams and goals and open yourself to the possibilities that will help you achieve them.
- Develop your optimism portfolio – recall times when you have felt hopeful and optimistic, encouraged by the possibility of a good outcome. Savor those experiences and bath in the feeling.
Humour and playfulness – Resilient people take a light-hearted approach to life and are able to laugh at themselves and their experiences. Life can be scary as hell if you take it too seriously. If you are not particularly playful perhaps:
- Find yourself a laughter yoga class or attend comedy nights.
- Be silly once in a while.
- Have a dress-up party (and go all out).
Social connectivity - Resilient people know the value of accessing social support. They truly bond with people and build high quality connections with those around them. You can build such connections by:
- Injecting time and energy into developing good quality relationships with friends and family.
- When you are in the presence of someone else, consider them the most important person in the world at the time. Provide them with 100% of your energy and attention. Be interested, ask relevant questions and actually listen to the answers.
- Say what needs to be said in the present moment. Now is the time to say: “I care”, “I love you”, “I’m sorry” and “I forgive you”. Don’t wait!!
Perseverance - Resilient people don’t give up easily. They have an internal locus of control and believe they can achieve their goals through sustained effort. You can enhance your ability to persevere by:
- Taking time to contemplate what your values are and what you want to achieve in your life (link to living Authentically article).
- Develop realistic and achievable goals that are in line with your values. Pursuit of these goals will be hugely rewarding and implicitly motivating. (link to SMART goals article).
- Don’t give up … when you come up against a roadblock, acknowledge how far you have come and look for alternate possibilities and solutions.
Spirituality - Research suggests there is a strong correlation between spirituality and resilience. I am not necessarily talking religion here, but rather having a sense that there is a greater meaning and purpose to life. Or perhaps it’s just a sense of connection to something beyond oneself. This sense of connection can come from many places and can be developed by:
- Regularly practicing yoga or meditation.
- Spending time in nature. For me it’s spending time close to the ocean, in the mountains or contemplating the stars.
- If you’re so inclined, spending some time in a retreat or ashram (I highly recommend this one).
- Finding a guru …
Resilience is clearly closely linked with our mindset and our mindset determines how we view the world, interact with our environment and the meaning we gain from our experiences. Remember that your mindset, whether resilient or not, is largely within your control.
So I will leave you with 3 questions to contemplate:
1) How resilient do you consider yourself?
2) How resilient would like to be?
3) What are you prepared to do to become more resilient?
In the words of Confucius “Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall”… so rest with the knowledge that you can fall, but you can rise also!!
Would love to hear your thoughts…