Cultivating Resilience

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Volatile and uncertain times bring trouble and setbacks, even for the most successful among us. Recently, I have noticed a theme in the issues that my clients and colleagues are facing. Change. Big change. Not an, “I’ve been looking forward to this growth and I’m glad it’s here,” kind of change. More like, “I can’t believe this is happening!” Jobs shifting, agencies closing, relationships ending, families fracturing, loved ones dying. Life events can seem to upend everything, like a storm blowing in and uprooting trees, flooding roads, and moving away, leaving a path of destruction.

Most of us have a survival story (or two) of facing adversity and rising from it. A betrayal of trust, the loss of a job, financial ruin, witnessing or surviving an act of violence, a serious medical diagnosis, the death of a loved one: these are difficult events that impact life. I’ve lived through four of the six in that list. A couple of them felt like there would be no coming back. But I’m here. And so are you.

How do we deal with these? How do we bounce back from events that change everything in a split second?

Resiliency. That’s how. We learn to bend so we wouldn’t break.

Research shows us that resilience is not extraordinary. It is ordinary. According to the American Psychological Association, “resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress, such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stressors. Being resilient does not mean that a person doesn’t experience difficulty or distress.”

Resilience is not something that we have or don’t have. It is behaviors, thoughts, and actions that are learned and developed. It is a process. It can be a painful, raw, sometimes long and involved process. It is a journey of many steps that starts within.

How do we cultivate resiliency?

Hope and optimism.

Martin Seligman cites years of scientific research which distinguishes those who will grow after setbacks from those who will crumble. One of the keys is optimism. Optimistic people who don’t give up tend to interpret setbacks as temporary and changeable. They believe there is a lesson in every situation and that tomorrow will be a brand new day. For me, a gratitude journal is a lifesaver. I jot down a few things each day, and then on a blue day, I can open it up, smell the flowers, and see the light all around me.

Shift negative thoughts.

Our normal response to trauma, failure, and fearful situations can include negative thoughts stemming from fractured beliefs about ourselves, others, and the future.  Well, “don’t believe everything you think!” Shift your limiting thoughts or beliefs with tools such as Thought Bridging or The Work by Byron Katie. I like to remind myself and my clients that things are not always “good or bad, right or wrong.” It’s really all just information. And it’s “good to know.”

Maintain connections.

Connect with those you trust. Close, strong relationships with family members and friends are important. Who is on your speed dial? I have a circle of trusted others … family, friends, and mentors. They listen compassionately and don’t try to “fix” the situation or tell me what to do. Confiding in others, accepting help and support, and allowing others to care will strengthen resilience.

Develop a growth mindset.

Psychologist Carol Dweck describes differences in performance between individuals who assumed their abilities were innate and fixed, and those who held a belief that their abilities were fluid and subject to change and growth. People with a fixed mindset spend more time tallying or proving their intelligence or talents instead of developing them. A person with a growth mindset will see challenges as opportunities, try different tools, and replace the notion of failing with learning or growing. Working through the exercises in Brene Brown’s Rising Strong helped me see that falling and getting up is a measure of my courage and strength.

Make time for self-care.

Sleep, exercise, journaling, self-reflection, and meditation are important during times of adversity. We need these in order to rest, recoup, heal, and get back out there. Quiet time alone, in nature or with animals, can be soothing. Spending time with my cats and my horses helps me come back to my center. 

Resiliency is so much more than “bouncing back.” It is about staying curious; noticing the critical thoughts or limiting beliefs; shifting our perceptions; changing our responses; believing in ourselves and writing our own endings to our stories. It doesn’t only have to be for the catastrophic, unexpected events, or the hard times. It is for these times. Now. Today.

Renee Sievert

Renee Sievert’s quiet wisdom and calm energy infuse her growth-based approach to coaching. A Senior Executive Coach at pLink Leadership, Master Equus Facilitator, behavioral health consultant, and speaker, she specializes in team building and helping clients improve communication skills and creative strengths. She lives in San Diego with her husband.