Harnessing Your Resilience

Published: April 14, 2023
Category: Mental HealthMind/Body Well-Being

People are stronger than they imagine. These days, throughout the world, everyone is trying to do the best they can. My mentor and colleague Dr. Angela Duckworth—considered the leading expert in the world on grit—defines resilience as “passion and perseverance for long-term goals that are difficult.” What do you do to persevere when things are challenging? Resilience is a foundational attribute accessible to everyone and can bolster you during challenging times. But first, let’s unpack the myths about resilience and the science behind resilience so that you can know how to experience more grit in the weeks, months, and years ahead. 

So what is resilience? How can you strengthen your resilience? Resilience is about being open and vulnerable to our deepest feelings and then choosing to give our all to take the next right step, even in the face of adversity. I like the Japanese proverb that depicts resilience in action: “Fall down seven times. Get up eight.” This philosophy acknowledges that setbacks are a natural part of our life, and when we recognize and accept that, it’s easier to move forward with a more positive outlook. Resilience is not a short term endeavor. 

I’ve identified the three most common pitfalls that actually make people more vulnerable to suffering and setbacks. 

The first roadblock to resilience is thinking that we can just power through every situation in our lives. Resilience is not about using blunt force to tough it out to get through difficult challenges. When you stuff negative feelings it actually has the opposite effect. The body expends a lot of energy suppressing negative emotions and trying to control things that are out of your control. 

The second resilience roadblock is going through life on autopilot, zoning out, and not paying attention. This leads us to feel less energized and less creative. Rather than actively engaging in the present moment, we’re just coasting or simply going through the motions. Multitasking is the modern day synonym for autopilot. Multitasking is so pervasive—you might not even notice it as people constantly connect to their devices. Everywhere you look, people are always staring at their screens while on the subway or walking down the street, even when having a meal with colleagues or family members. The antidote for this resilience roadblock is learning how to increase your presence in the present. Think of three activities where you would like to be more fully present in the next few weeks. What are the specific benefits of being more present in these situations? How would you derive more satisfaction and connection to these activities? Take a few moments to write about how you can accomplish the goal to become more present. 

The third enemy of resilience is habitual negative thinking. Don’t worry it’s not just you. Negativity bias, the inherent evolutionary way our brains are wired to see threats first, helped humans survive from predators and perilous situations. One of the ways we weaken our fortitude is when we get lost in our thoughts, specifically our negative thoughts that bombard us in a continuous loop. Here is a fabulous analogy that illustrates the power of your thoughts. Think about two distinctive dogs. The first is a vicious attack dog foaming at the mouth and ready to bite you. Now think about a loving, cuddly Instagram-ready dog who always makes you feel loved and supported. Your thoughts are like these two dogs. So the question for you to ponder is which dog do you want to feed? Habitual, negative thinking is like a dirt road where trucks drive over and over, creating deeper grooves or indentations. When we have negative ideas, they tend to get entrenched in our minds. Just like those deep grooves in the road, the neural pathways of our brains get entrenched with this habitual thinking and we become stuck in the mud. 

There is a simple way to interrupt this habitual negative thinking that’s literally inside of you right now. It’s called the thymus gland, a built-in solution to help you stop negativity and stress in its tracks. It’s located in your sternum, near your heart, and it produces T-cells which are fighter immune cells. Take your fingertips and gently tap between your ribcage where the thymus is located to increase your immunity by stimulating production. This simple action creates an interruption and disruption in your negative thoughts and can help you shift back to the present. 

Another scientifically-proven solution to help you remember to stop your mind from traveling down the habitual road to negativity is as simple as learning your ABCs. In fact, it’s called the ABC model. Let’s unpack how this model works. Something happens that causes you to react. First there’s the Activating event. It could be that somebody does something annoying, you’re running late for an important appointment, you’re lost and the GPS in your car is suddenly not working, a person is complaining loudly about some trivial matter, you get a rude email from your supervisor, somebody who didn’t follow up on an important project, a person lied to you and you found out later. B stands for belief, which is closely linked to the activation. Our beliefs surrounding activating events determine both what we perceive as being activating and also how we process the event after we have been activated. 

Now let’s review a hypothetical example. You’re getting a daily barrage of emails, which feels overwhelming and unmanageable. That’s the Activating event. This triggers the following Belief: “I need to read my emails immediately. I can’t keep up with all these messages. I’m falling behind. If I don’t respond immediately, people think I’m just loafing around and not working.” The emotional consequences are feelings of anxiety as your body reacts to the emails that are flooding your inbox, frustration that you can’t keep up, and the fear of missing something important that might be buried in the stack of unread incoming messages. So your heart starts racing. Does this sound familiar? 

The last part of the ABC model is “C” which stands for connection between the beliefs and the consequences. By acknowledging the beliefs and taking a pause, you can choose the consequences rather than just going from activation to action, from being triggered to reacting. You can diffuse activating events by finding the interconnection between the activating events, the underlying beliefs, and the consequences. This is the first step for you to pause and to interrupt the habitual behavior so that you can actually learn how to have more awareness. And then you have a chance to replace the underlying beliefs with more positive, constructive beliefs that will lead to more productive and less reactive consequences. 

Take a moment to think of a recent example and journal about the ways you can break this reactive cycle in the future. By debunking the myths of resilience and experimenting with simple resilience-boosting interventions you will encounter less drama and have more energy to experience greater wellbeing. 

I’m sending you strength and love. 

Soaringwords is the power to heal.

Lisa

Soaringwords’ SOARING Into Positive Wellbeing Initiative is an eight-week program which provides your organization with a turn-key solution that bolsters your team by providing empirically based, proven solutions that build resilience, productivity, agency, and agility. Bring the SOARING Into Positive Wellbeing Initiative to your workplace by emailing lisa@soaringwords.org.

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