This article is an extended version of my editorial in the May 2018 edition of the Inerschools Advertiser Magazine
When it comes to being resilient, I think of the analogy that people are like a teabag, you never know how strong it is until it is dipped in hot water.
Being resilient is a quality we all possess and we draw on our resilience all the time, mostly without realising it. We don’t truly know the depths of our resilience until it is really tested. However, that said, we all want to ensure we are prepared to deal with setbacks and struggles when it is needed, a piggy-bank of personal resources to save for those times when we need a bit of grit. And this goes for our children too, we want them to be happy, healthy and not only successful but thriving as they navigate this world. How will we know if we have enough resilience to get us through the challenging times and how can we get some more?
Resilience means having an ability to recover easily from setbacks (commonly called bounce-ability), adapt well to change and keep going when we are under pressure or facing adversity. Whilst much research has defined resilience as an ability to ‘bounce back’ from major life disruptions, it’s also about how we flourish and continue to grow despite the challenges we face.
Being resilient doesn’t mean you don’t feel the pressure or have an absence of failure but rather the events themselves are less agonising to deal with. Regardless of the level of resilience you already possess, most people will survive adversity, however its the length of time it takes you to get through it and come out the other side unscathed that will be the difference. Building your own resilience bank and capacity will help you move through the process quicker, enabling you to move on with your life to the next chapter and for most without any negative effects on your mental and physical wellbeing.
There is generally a combination of factors which helps define our level of resilience, a little will come from genetic make-up (our personality and character), some will come from influences in our lives and how we were raised and the good news is most of it is learned as we experience and overcome challenges, big and small, across our lifetime. With this we can learn to be more resilient and teach our young people to be resilient too, building on our strengths and emotional intelligence. Here are 10 ways you (and your family) can keep your resilience piggy-bank topped up:
1. Understand yourself and how you react. Ask yourself, how do I react when something is going wrong? What is my default action in that situation? What do I say (to myself and out loud)? Which of these actions and thoughts are helpful in the situation and which are unhelpful? What would my best self like to do when faced with a challenge? How would I like to respond next time? When you start to notice your own reactions it’s hard not to do something about it and you can make adjustments and positive decisions to reflect who you really are. Apply focus on what you are good at and your strengths. Chances are you’ll have survived challenging situations in the past.
2. Build meaningful relationships – the social networks we build and by surrounding ourselves with resilient people also helps us to be resilient. But how do you know who is resilient? Look for people in your life who are positive thinkers, make you feel good to be around and you don’t feel like your energy has been zapped just by being with them. Now spend more time with these people than you do with others who are the opposite of these characteristics. This also applies to you, be that person others want to be around. Be a friend to others, be positive and give energy.
3. Name your three gratitudes – At the end of the day, write down (handwriting is better than typing) 3 good things that happened today and you are grateful for. Being grateful is about more than saying thank you. It’s about having a sense of appreciation about good things which happen to us, no matter how small. Research has shown that by writing down reflections on things which are positive and we appreciate at the end of the day can not only help us to sleep better but also to wake up with a more positive mind-set and better able to handle the day’s events and find solutions, from minor stressors to bigger challenges. You can also try this with your children and compare your lists.
4. Adapt to your current situation – do what you can with what you’ve got and explore all the options. Resilience is about having a flexibility, adapting to the situation and change that is occurring, with a growth mindset. Resilient people become resourceful, using the situation as an opportunity for growth and moving forwards. Learning to be adaptable when under pressure or strain and re-orientate yourself to a new situation can enable you to respond more effectively.
5. What’s your story? – When you experience a challenge or feeling stressed, what story are you telling yourself? What ending are you defining for this situation? Is it hopeless, ‘I’ll never be good at handling change’ or is it more optimistic, ‘it might be tough for a while but we’ll get through this‘? Learn to recognise the story you are telling yourself and change the language to more positive, forward looking perspective. Reframing the narrative we tell ourselves shapes our view of the world and how we see ourselves in it. A more positive and realistic narrative will strengthen your resilience and is critical for the all-important ‘bounce-ability’ characteristics.
6. Have compassion for yourself. This means being kind to yourself. We are often naturally kind to others when they are experiencing a challenge and can be the voice of reason for our friends when they need it most. However, we don’t do that for ourselves, making judgements about our responses to situations/events and often ruminating for long periods. If you feel you have dealt with a past situation badly and you were not your best self, what would your best friend tell you? Tell yourself “it’s ok, no big deal”, identify what you would do differently next time in your future best self and move on. Lower your levels of perfectionism and look at failure as an opportunity for growth. Dealing with setbacks with compassion is how we grow to be stronger and more capable.
7. Your wellbeing and looking after yourself is number one priority, that means eating as healthily as you can, adopt good routines for better sleep hygiene and be as active as you can. Even a small focus in each of these areas can help you think better and charge the emotional battery for handling tough times when they arise. You can also involve your family when planning wellbeing goals, something everyone can get involved in and you can support each other to stick to the plan. Remember to focus on setting small goals first and grow from there.
8. Perform random acts of kindness to others. Research has shown that helping others can improve resiliency by promoting feelings of happiness, peace, improving immunity and overall health. Cultivating happiness is particularly important which bolsters a sense of purpose and staying grounded during difficult times. The acts of kindness don’t have to be big gestures, anything from a hello to a neighbour you see on the street, holding a door open for someone, noticing if someone needs help when you are in the supermarket, bringing in a surprise packet of biscuits (or a healthy alternative) to work. Check out the Action for Happiness advent calendar (http://www.actionforhappiness.org/kindness-calendar) for ideas and even better to create your own with your little ones and family.
9. Practice Mindfulness. Being mindful means being in the present moment, without judgement. Younger children are very good at this practice, if you ever watch them help you with the washing up – they will look at the bubbles and what shapes they are making, feel the sensations on their little hands. Adults on the other hand will be thinking about the to-do-list and washing up at the same time. Mindfulness plays an important role in building our resilience. Often with a stressful or challenging time we develop an emotional rollercoaster, often ruminating over the situation, bringing on negative stories which can continue to proliferate anxieties and low mood. Mindfulness reduces this rumination and, if practiced regularly, creates physical changes in your brain so that you’re more resilient to future stressful events. There are many apps you can use to try out mindfulness, such as Headspace.
10. Have emotional agility – being able to manage our emotions is one of our core resilience skills. It means having the ability to notice and emotions fully, to respond to them appropriately, and to use positive emotion to build our coping repertoire, as well as our “bounce-ability” when life is hard. Notice what emotions you experience in a difficult situation (such as ‘that’ email from your manager making your blood boil), label it, ‘feeling sad, mad, bad, glad’, accept the emotion for what it is and how it is supporting you or stopping you from moving forward, and then act. Make a conscious decision to act differently, what would be more helpful to you to get a good result from the situation and progress, maybe think about creating some space to pause before acting, reframe your thinking before sending that email reply. Be honest about how you are feeling and don’t try to hide it away and lock it in a box. Confront that emotion for what it is and name it to tame it.
“Between a stimulus and a response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom” – Viktor Frankl
Building resilience takes practice, doing one or more of the above daily will support you to recover more easily from setbacks, adapt well to change and thrive in a modern world. Contact Mandy for more information on how you can achieve the above ways to Resilience. firstname.lastname@example.org