Resilience: Build “Muscles For Life”
Albert Einstein once said that our problems cannot be solved at the same level of thinking at which they were created. It’s a powerful quote because, let’s face it, life is one long stream of “problems.” And in our increasingly uncertain and pressure-laden lives, building the resilience to handle them well is increasingly indispensible.
Of course, some people seem to be covered with ‘Psychological Teflon’ – always cool in crisis and able to take any size challenge in their stride. But none are. Resilience doesn’t come from some ‘tough gene’ that only few are endowed with. It’s something each of us can build and strengthen at any age by consciously engaging in ‘resilience-building’ reframes and rituals that expand our capacity for life and enable us to process our circumstances in the most constructive and courageous ways. I share five below (though you can read more in all of my books.)
Stress often gets a bad rap, as though it’s something to be avoided. But stress is not the enemy. It’s stressful thinking we need to be vigilant about. That is, it’s how we interpret events and what we tell ourselves about our circumstances – from client deadlines to difficult people – that triggers our stress response far more than the circumstances themselves.
There’s a very distinct difference between having big problems and making problems big (and unnecessarily stressful.) The irony is that talking about how much stress you’re feeling only amplifies your stress levels. Then as your stress barometer goes up, your ability to cope with other events (and find your keys!) goes down, and the toll on your body, health, work, relationships and life mounts! It’s a vicious cycle.
So rather than focus on the event itself, focus on how you are processing it. What is it about how you’re thinking about that’s creating the stress? How could you process it better?
Mastery of life is not the absence of problems; it’s mastery of problems.
Give up your fight with reality
Yale Psychologist Charles Morgan found that people who embrace adversity as a natural part of living are less likely to exhibit symptoms of PTSD and more likely to experience what is called ‘post traumatic growth.’
The reality of life is that people we love sometimes fall ill, the best laid plans fall apart, promises get broken, curve balls hit us from nowhere and sometimes, despite our best intentions and efforts, we fail to create the outcomes we want.
Such is life.
Mastery of life is not the absence of problems; it’s mastery of problems. Fighting against what you cannot change is a waste of energy that could be far better channeled toward improving what you can.
Invest in rituals to renew and recharge
Resilience is far less about what you have, than what you do. Just as a car that gets regular tune ups goes further on less gas and handles slippery roads better, so too you’ll handle life better when you invest in rituals that enable you to reconnect to what matters most, reframe the ‘small stuff’ and recharge your batteries – body, mind and spirit.
Needless to say, there is overwhelming evidence that shows that people who regularly unplug and disengage to ‘sharpen their saw’ are far more effective and productive than those who tell themselves they’re too to indulge in such ‘unproductive’ pursuits. For instance, regular exercise has been proven to increase cognitive speed, improve sleep quality and stamina. Likewise, taking a long bath or listening to music can be a smart investment of time as it helps to restore calm, reframe the small stuff and shift perspective onto what matters most.
Focus on what you can do
We cannot solve our problems by complaining about them yet too often people waste inordinate amounts of energy doing just that. In my latest book Brave I wrote about the day I sat beside my brother Frank in a spinal unit as the consulting surgeon told him he would never walk again following an injury from a bike accident. As he processed the brutal prognosis, he looked over at me and declared that he would not give his injury the power to ruin his life. ‘There may be 5,000 things I cannot do any more but there are 10,000 I still can and I want to do them all.” Seven years on and I am happy to report he’s well on his way!
But too often those of us whose legs work perfectly well spend far too much time stuck in ‘mental wheelchairs’ focused on what we can’t do or what we don’t have or what isn’t right, rather than on using the resources we do have to make things better, grateful for all that is right in our world.
Whatever you put your attention amplifies in your reality. So focus it on things that put you in the drivers seat; on whatever you can do to make things better.
Reach out for support
Studies show that people with a strong support network not only handle adversity better, but emerge from it better off. Yet often when the chips our down, or we’re just going through a tough patch, our tendency is to withdraw from the very people who would most love to help us. We hate to appear weak or needy and most people are loathe to want to put others out at their expense.
It takes courage to confide in friends, share a struggle and simply to ask for help. But it’s through revealing our vulnerability that we connect most deeply with others and in doing so, help them to be more open with us as well. I know over the years that the strongest bonds I’ve forged with people have not been when life was easy, but when it was tough. So don’t deprive others of the opportunity to help you. It enriches their lives as much as it does your own.
It’s easy to believe that life would be easier and more fun if all the things we called problems didn’t exist. But the truth is that it’s in learning how to handle our ‘problems’ and rising above adversity that we learn the most about ourselves and tap into resources that would have otherwise remained dormant.
So before you start thinking about all the problems you wish you didn’t have consider that maybe your problems – from that difficult client. to your daily juggling act, to that encroaching deadline – are not the problem. Maybe you are exactly where you need to be to learn what you need to learn to grow your ‘muscles for life,’ your wisdom to live it more deeply and your mastery of the challenges that still lie ahead.