Resilience is the ability to overcome adversity. Actually, it’s not simply the ability to overcome adversity it’s the ability to overcome adversity effectively. It’s the ability to navigate through difficulty so as to come out of it as you were or even better. We can overcome adversity in many ways. According to Dr. Lucy Hone, a well-being and resilience expert and associate researcher at AUT University, there are three strategies to help you be more resilient.
1. Knowing that suffering is part of life. According to Dr. Hone, knowing that suffering is part of life staves off a sense of entitlement. It keeps us from asking, “Why me?” Asking why me tends to make us feel worse, by making the person feel alone. Implicit in the question why me is thinking the person suffering is the only one doing so. This idea reminds me of one of the components of self-compassion – common humanity vs. isolation. Knowing that suffering is part of life ties us to the shared human experience. While suffering is grueling, feeling bad for feeling bad makes it even more grueling. Thus, having a keen awareness that suffering is part of the human experience allows us to be resilient.
2. Carefully choosing where you direct your attention. We are the arbiters of where we place our attention. We can choose where we decide to shine our mental spotlight. As I’ve said many times, the negative calls to us, we are hardwired to focus on the negative. Having said that however, we also know that with effort we can focus our attention where we choose. Again, I’m not advocating for closing a blind eye to difficulty, much less feeling its effects. What I am advocating for is being proactive. I’m advocating for choosing what’s best for you and subsequently placing your attention there.
As Dr. Hone says, resilient people have a way of tuning in to the good around them. This is called benefit-finding or hunting the good or focusing on the positive. Benefit finding is defined as experiencing positive outcomes following adverse life events. This means we have to choose to find the good in order to experience those positive outcomes.
3. Ask yourself: “Is what I’m doing helping me or harming me?” What a simple but powerful question! We don’t always act intuitively in our own best interest. Asking yourself this question gives you the ability to act in your own best interest. Asking yourself this question gives you control over your actions. It allows you to respond rather than react. It gives you the opportunity to take a beat and proceed thoughtfully. When we respond to a situation, because we are in control, we tend to feel better about ourselves. Asking yourself if what you are doing is helping you or harming you can be applied to every context. Is what I’m thinking helping me? Is what I’m doing helping me? Is how I’m behaving helping me? “
In conclusion, when life gets tough I encourage you to try these strategies. I also encourage you to have realistic expectations about the effects these strategies will have. The only way real change happens is gradually.
This week I’ve been thinking about hope and optimism. Hope and optimism tend to be used interchangeably therefore I’m going to make life easy and stick to the word hope. Hope is defined as believing the future will be a brighter one and knowing how to make that happen. Research is really clear – hope and psychological well-being are correlated. And I believe that at a time like this, hope is of the utmost importance for our survival, let alone well-being. Having hope is what will get us through!
I want to make something very, very clear. When I talk about hope I’m not talking about blind hope and I’m not talking about ignoring the difficulties in life. This is not an either/or proposition it’s an and proposition. I’m talking about feeling the entire spectrum of feelings AND including hope. However, I’m talking about a realistic hope, one that acknowledges the reality of the situation, enables us to deal with it and looks forward to making the future brighter. Usually this kind of hope is called realistic optimism (remember I’m using the word hope just to make things easier). And has a lot to do with our thoughts (See last weeks posting).
I know these are uncertain times. What’s the future going to look like, will the virus come back, will there be enough testing, will the kids go back to school in the fall, what will that look like, and on and on the uncertainty goes. Even though the future is uncertain it doesn’t mean we can’t have hope. The beauty of hope is, irrespective of what is happening around you, if you are a hopeful person you will always find things to be hopeful about. The beauty of hope that it can happen during the tough times. Actually, at least for me, when things get tough, is when I am most hopeful. Hope is what gets me up in the morning after having had a bad day – the knowledge and excitement that I can make the new day a better one gives me hope. Remember a lot about being hopeful is what you tell yourself, your thoughts.
The beauty of hope is that since it is a belief in a brighter future and in one’s ability to achieve that future, hope prompts a person to action. And action fosters a sense of self-efficacy and self-control and when we feel self-efficacious and in control we feel good. In other words, put in very simple terms, when you are hopeful you act and when you act you tend to feel better.
So how do we have hope? There are many ways to help yourself be hopeful. Your Best Possible Future Exercise was developed by Laura King and has been proven to substantially increase hope. Hope researcher Shane Lopez says that the best way to be a hopeful person is to have hopeful people in your life, according to him hope is contagious. And last but not least, Action for Happiness does a monthly calendar on actions you can take everyday to increase happiness. Their Optimistic October calendar is full of hopeful ideas.
One of the most important resilience skills is an awareness of our thoughts. Remember our thoughts are just beliefs we make real. Unfortunately most of us are sorely unaware of what we are telling ourselves – what our thoughts are, which can be problematic especially during times of adversity. Theory tells us that anxiety comes from thinking about the future and depression from thinking about the past. So, for example, when you start to think about what is going to happen tomorrow, next week, next month, or next fall, you will start to get anxious. When you start to think about what you should or should not have done, the regrets of the past, you will most likely start to get depressed. Where does that leave your thoughts, you ask? It leaves them in the present, in the moment, in the here and now. So when you find yourself feeling anxious or depressed the best way to help yourself out of those feelings is to pull your thoughts into the moment. How do you do this, well that’s where all the previous skills we’ve talked about come in as well as the title of this email. When you find yourself in need of diverting your thoughts, when you are anxious or depressed and don’t want to feel that way, use any one of the resilience skills you have learned about, to pull your thoughts into the present. Remember flexibility is critical to well-being and resilience.
So for example self-compassion is a great way to pull your thoughts into the present. When you are anxious or depressed being kind to yourself, as opposed to beating yourself up (which is what most of us tend to do), is a very effective way to bring your thoughts into the moment. Acknowledging your anxiety or depression, not judging yourself for feeling the way you do is a great beginning. Then instead of saying to yourself, “Why am I feeling this way!” saying to yourself, “I bet most people are(would be) feeling this way, I’m really not alone in how I’m feeling,” brings your thoughts further into the present. And finally being able to tell yourself I feel X right now but these feelings will not last forever, further brings your thoughts into the present.
Focusing on your character strengths is another great way to bring your thoughts into the present and to make good happen. So when you are feeling anxious or depressed deploy some of your signature strengths. Remember character strengths are the traits we all have which allow us to be at our best and being at our best makes us feel good and feeling good brings us into the present. So, when you are about to undertake anything, it doesn’t matter what, consciously channel some of your strengths to help you do it. Channeling a strength takes your mind off the past or future and brings it into the present, it allows you to attend to the activity at hand. So, for example, when I write these emails, sometimes I wonder, will this email be good, will it help, will it…, when I deploy humor, perseverance and kindness (some of my signature strengths) I am able to simply focus on writing the email at hand, no wondering about all the wills (the future) and I feel less anxious.
Now for gratitude. Gratitude is one of the most simple, elegant and effective ways to bring your thoughts into the present. Count your blessings, think about what life would be like without something wonderful, or just plain and simply give thanks to someone – phone a friend, grab an offspring, reach out to a family member, tell them how grateful you are to them for… Gratitude is an amazing way to bring your thoughts into the present, it’s a win/win for everyone.
So, in summary, when you feel anxious it is because you are probably thinking/worrying about the future. When you feel depressed it is because you are probably thinking about the past. If you drag your thoughts into the present, into the moment you will help yourself feel less anxious or depressed. Remember we aren’t going for elation we are going for less of what we are already feeling.
I believe one of the most important resilience skills is an awareness of our thoughts. Contrary to what most people think, in the face of difficulty, or any event for that matter, it is our thoughts not the event that cause us to feel and react. What we tell ourselves will either perpetuate adversity or stymie it. Our thoughts are our explanation as to why something happened. Our thoughts are our way of making sense of life, they are our way of understanding why X event took place. In order to effectively deal with life we must understand why things happen. For example, you have a fight with your best friend. How upset you get and what you subsequently do is based on what you tell yourself about that fight, how you make sense of it. Do you say to yourself, “Every close relationship has its ups and downs, I’ll just give it time. I think we were both in bad moods. I’ll call Jane tomorrow.” Or do you say, “Well there goes that relationship, she’ll never want to talk to me again and I don’t really want to talk to her. She is always getting mad. I’m never going to call her again.” If you explain the incident to yourself by saying every close relationship has its ups and downs as opposed to she is always getting mad and we’ll never talk to each other (both viable explanations) the subsequent behavior is very different. The results of these two different ways of thinking prompts two very different outcomes. Our explanations help us or hinder us. Our thoughts either allow us to deal effectively and go forward or not.
Our explanations of an event are based on a multitude of factors. However, simply put, our thoughts are just beliefs that we make real. If this weren’t the case then we would all hold the same beliefs and behave in the same way. If this weren’t the case we would all have the same explanation for the same event. But we don’t. Furthermore, more often than not, we usually aren’t aware of our explanations of events. For many, a large portion of their explanations reside in the realm of the unconscious. And therein lies the challenge to resilience. The more aware we are of what we say to ourselves in the face of adversity, the easier it is to be resilient. If we can hear our thoughts then we can make ourselves more resilient.
The beauty of this idea is, much like life, you can’t control the event however, you CAN control the thoughts that arise as a result of the event. So, if you are aware of what you are saying to yourself, let’s say for example during this difficult time, and what you are saying is not conducive to resilience then you can challenge your thoughts to help yourself become more resilient. This is not always an easy task, but it is one well worth the while.
In summary, when you find yourself feeling off, bothered, or just plain upset, search for your thoughts. Ask yourself, “What am I saying to myself?” Once you become aware of what you are saying to yourself, take those thoughts, one by one and challenge them. Ask yourself, “Are these thoughts accurate, would a jury of 12 of my peers say the same things, would my best friend say this?” Use any technique that works for you to break up the counterproductive thoughts. Remember our thoughts are just beliefs we make real. You can replace one thought for another one. Remember, you are not going to change radically, you are not going from upset to elated, you are going to go from upset to a little less upset.
Last week I wrote about character strengths and how they make us resilient. This week I’ve been thinking about the character strength of gratitude. I always love seeing gratitude in action, it warms my heart.
So what is gratitude? Gratitude is the action of noticing and acknowledging the good in one’s life. Gratitude is the act of affirming the good things in your life that come from outside yourself. Gratitude is the ability to notice and relish little pleasures. It’s the recognition that you have been the recipient of a benefit, of something good. Gratitude is not only the action of giving thanks, there’s so much more to gratitude than saying thank you.
There are two types of gratitude – dispositional gratitude and state gratitude. For dispositionally grateful people gratitude comes naturally, it is a stable characteristic of their personality. An attitude of gratitude comes naturally to a dispositionally grateful person, it’s the way they interface with the world. Dispositionally grateful people find ways to be grateful for the ordinary experiences of daily living. For other people, gratitude is experienced as a state. Something happens and they feel grateful. In this case gratitude isn’t a stable characteristic of their personality, it’s induced by an event. Either way, research is very clear, being grateful increases happiness and well-being. And the beauty of gratitude is that it is a learnable skill.
Practicing gratitude has many benefits. One benefit is that it allows us to be in the present. When we are grateful we are aware of the good that is happening to us in the moment. Also gratitude blocks negative emotions, actually it pulls our attention away from the negative. It’s very difficult to express gratitude and experience a negative emotion at the same time. Gratitude tends to cancel out negative emotions. Also, gratitude is a social emotion, it strengthens our relationships. When we feel gratitude we are acknowledging the other people in our lives. Gratitude makes us aware of other people and their kindness. Also gratitude makes us more likable, gratitude makes us nicer to the people around us.
According to Dr. Robert Emmons, one of the world’s leading researchers in gratitude, practicing gratitude during difficult times is essential. It might be harder to practice gratitude during hardship, however, the benefits make the effort well worth your while. Remember, gratitude increases happiness and well-being. According to research practicing gratitude helps us cope with stress more effectively and regulate negative emotions.
So, what are you grateful for? I’ll go first. I’m grateful for many things during this difficult time. First and foremost, I’m grateful for my family and friends, I’m grateful for my health, I’m grateful for Instacart, I’m grateful for so many things both big and small. What about you?
This week I’d like to talk about character strengths. First, I want to remind you that another variable that contributes to our resilience is a sense of self-efficacy. That belief that I can do what I want to do because I know how to get it done. When we feel self-efficacious we feel we can master our environment, we are confident in our ability to get things done. This feeling of self-efficacy tends to make us more resilient.
So our character strengths contribute significantly to a sense of high self-efficacy. According to positive psychology we all have 24 character strengths in varying degrees, however, we tend to commerce in anywhere between 5 to 8 strengths. These strengths are called our signature strengths. They are like our thumbprint, they identify us as who we are. If you were to ask someone who knows you well to paint a verbal picture of you, they would talk about your signature strengths. Our signature strengths have a few identifying qualities. First they come naturally to us, second they energize us and third when used they enable us to be at our best. When we use our signature strengths we tend to do things really well.
When we use our signature character strengths to help us do what we want to do, they help us do it really well. In other words when we deploy our signature strengths, because they energize us and enable us to be at our best, we tend to me more self-efficacious, thus we tend to be more resilient. Unfortunately most of us are more familiar with our weaknesses than we are with our character strengths, let alone our signature strengths. I would like to argue that now is the time to become very familiar with our character strengths and those of our family. Knowing what your signature strengths are allows you to use them intentionally and frequently. I know most people are busier now than before, but finding out what your and your family’s strengths are is a great family activity. It’s also a very nice topic of conversation. And most importantly it will help you to be resilient.
We are seeing people at their best during this time. When we bear witness to awesome acts, we are witnessing character strengths in action. I’ve seen love, kindness, perseverance, leadership, bravery, creativity to name just a few. What character strengths are you using to get you though this difficult time?
Remember, resilience is the ability to overcome adversity. It’s also the ability to accept what is beyond our control and work around it. There really isn’t much we can do about what life has sent our way, but there is a WHOLE lot we can do about how we choose to deal with it.
Remember when we talk about resilience and what makes us resilient, the ability to be mentally agile makes us resilient. The ability to see multiple options in order to solve problems makes us very resilient. When you face a difficult situation, when you need to solve a problem, the ability to be flexible makes solving the problem less difficult. You can choose to hold tight to how you usually do things (even if it’s not possible at the moment) or you can be flexible and do what is in your best interest – solve the problem as best as you can, for the time being. These are not normal circumstances and there is not much you can do about that, but you surely can choose to do something that’s in your best interest and good for your well-being.
So I have two proposals during this difficult time. #1 do things differently. Be flexible when you can. Now is a time to think about what is in your best interest and that of your family and decide accordingly. If you can continue to do things the way you have been, great! However, when you can’t and you have the option I encourage you to actively choose to do things differently. Remember flexibility makes us more resilient. It’s good for the brain. And it usually makes us feel good to be flexible.
Proposal #2 when you can, make good happen. On those days that you feel up to it, I’m proposing that you make lemonade out of lemons. I’m not suggesting, by any means, to deny the feelings of confusion, sadness and anxiety we all are experiencing in the face of these uncertain times. What I am suggesting is that a byproduct of doing things differently can be making the good happen. When actively choosing to do things differently, think about how you can make the good happen and go for it. Think about what you want to achieve and ALL the ways you can go about achieving it. And pick the way that will make your life better (for the time being, at least). Remember achieving your goals feels good. Make good happen every chance you can.
So if you need to do exercise and don’t enjoy nature, take a walk outside. If you like routines but find it difficult to stick to one because of the circumstances try to be more spontaneous. If you don’t like or have family traditions or rituals, start making family rituals. Do things differently. I guess in a way I’m advocating for upside down day. And above all hunt the good. Honestly, along the road of doing things differently you will most likely make good happen, I encourage you to acknowledge that good and celebrate it.
One last thing, once this pandemic is over no one is saying that what you do differently today will be the new normal. All I’m saying is make good happen now, by doing things differently during this difficult time. This pandemic will be over sooner or later and we will all look back and say…?
Resilience is the ability to overcome adversity. Now more than ever we must marshal those skills we know will effectively help us deal with these stressfully challenging times. Many are homeschooling children, while working from home, while taking care of elders, while worrying and wondering about the future.
Resilience is not only the ability to overcome adversity, it’s the ability to accept what is beyond our control and work around it. There really isn’t much we can do about what life sends our way, but there is a whole lot we can do about how we deal with it. The fact is we are facing a pandemic. Another fact is we can choose how we face this pandemic. As Dr. Randy Pausch said in his Last Lecture, “We can not change the cards we are dealt, just how we play the hand.”
The wonderful thing about resilience is that it is a teachable skill. No doubt some people are born more resilient than others. However, that is not to say that you can’t become more resilient. Actually, times like these are rife with opportunities to learn how to become more resilient and to teach your children how to become more resilient. For many children their parents are their most important role models. This is a perfect time to model for your children how to deal with the difficult situations they will inevitably encounter throughout their lives.