What is resilience?
It’s often a word we hear bandied about, especially now and at times of challenge, but what exactly is it?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines it as “the ability of people or things to recover quickly after something unpleasant, such as shock, injury, etc.”
The best explanation I have heard about resilience and a great way to think about it is “bounce-back-ability”
People can be resilient, but also “things”. For example, the economy. You’ll have heard various leaders tell us recently that the economy will recover from this current crisis. Your career can be resilient too, or your health, or your education, or your relationships perhaps. So, you might suffer a setback, but you can recover from it.
So how do we do this, and what strategies can we put in place for the tough times? Here’s a few suggestions to help us at this time and during other challenges that we will all inevitably face.
The first is just that – to recognise that change is inevitable. Change is part of life. Change is constant in some form or another. The thing is to accept that changes will happen, and things will not, and indeed cannot, stay the same forever. So, prepare for and adapt for change by practicing stepping outside of your comfort zone sometimes and trying something new. Maybe it’s a food you never tried before, or a new way of working since you may now be working from home. If you have time on your hands these days perhaps you could try to learn something new or take up a new hobby?
Practice next-time-thinking. If you’ve had something you see as a setback or something negative, ask yourself “What can I learn here?”, “What is the opportunity?” “What would I do different next time?” In doing this you think more creatively rather than wallowing in the negative.
Be optimistic, or more realistically, practice optimism. Winston Churchill said “I am an optimist. It does not seem too much use being anything else.” What is the use in being pessimistic? None at all. And this type of thinking can spiral downwards leading us to despair. So be aware when your thoughts are leaning to the pessimistic side and try to practice turning them around, by pausing, recognising the thought and replacing it with something more optimistic.
Take responsibility and avoid the blame game. I’m sure you know some people who blame others for their own issues. Such and such put me in a bad mood, or ruined my whole day etc. You are responsible for your own actions and for your own choices. As Eleanor Roosevelt once said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” So, no-one can ruin you day either without your consent, you can choose not to let them.
Don’t catastrophise! Stop with the “what ifs” and the worst-case scenarios. This too takes practice, especially if you are used to thinking this way. Catch your thought and replace it with a more reasonable and realistic one. Look for the evidence. What is most likely to happen? And if it all still seems too negative remember this “This too shall pass”
Practice “success banking”. This is fun and you can do it in your mind or in a note book (writing is good and you can always take out your notebook later if you want to reflect) Think of scenarios where you felt successful and write them down. Maybe you did a great day’s work, you solved a problem for someone, you got a promotion, you aced an interview, you did well in a test, you made a friend, you stood up for yourself, you received a compliment. Write them down, bank them in your success deposit account and when doubt or negativity comes calling (which it no-doubt will) then make a withdrawal from your success account and draw on and remember your success. Concentrate on recalling the feeling that you had on that occasion and know that, where you were successful before, you can be successful again.
Become aware of your thoughts and thought patterns, especially phrases like “I can’t”, “I could never”, “I always”, “Just my luck”, “Why does this always happen to me?” etc. Recognise that these are just thoughts and thoughts are not reality. Try to practice flipping them around to a more positive thought. “I can’t yet, but I can start to learn”, “There is no such thing as bad luck, just the ebbs and flows of life”, “This does not always happen to me, its just a challenge at the moment and I can deal with it, like I have dealt with challenges in the past”.
Accept the situation, you cannot change things which have already happened, but you can control certain things. You cannot change the fact that Covid 19 is happening, but you can control your own actions in terms of following the guidelines etc. Perhaps your weekend away had to be cancelled, what can you do instead? Concentrate on what is within your control.
Practice “big picture thinking”. This thing that you are feeling anxious about, how does it figure in the larger scheme of things? Will it matter in 1 years’ time? Look at the bigger perspective.
Practice self-compassion. Ok, so you got upset at the prospect of losing your job. You started to catastrophise and lost sight of your resilience strategies? That’s OK. Give yourself time and space to process what’s going on and don’t beat yourself up for being “weak” or upset. It’s Ok to feel upset. Be kind to yourself and give yourself a break.
So, try putting these strategies into practice and the word PRACTICE here is key. I wouldn’t expect anyone to use all these strategies all the time or to start thinking in a completely new way. It is a practice, an awareness and, like a muscle, will get stronger with use. And if we all try some or all of these suggestions (and I am practicing too), we will become more resilient and improve our bounce-back-ability-factor.
We are all struggling at this difficult time and events are unprecedented in our lifetimes. It can be hard to keep going, but by doing our best to be resilient we can increase our chances of "bouncing back". Try putting these strategies into practice - and the word PRACTICE here is key. I wouldn’t expect anyone to use all these strategies all the time or to start thinking in a completely new way immediately.
It is a practice, an awareness and, like a muscle, will get stronger with use. And if we all try some or all of these suggestions (and I am practicing too), we will become more resilient and improve our bounce-back-ability-factor.
And remember to be kind to ourselves too - we're all doing the best we can. I'd love to hear your comments or observations and I'd really love it is you would share any strategies you have found useful.
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