On holiday this year I spotted this tree at Loch Lomond. Despite the environment trying hard to uproot it and wash it away, that tree has found a way to stay steady and to thrive, even in a tough location. It prompted me to think about resilience and how people manage to survive and even thrive despite the world sometimes seeming to be against them. Perhaps you will recognise yourself or someone you know in what follows, and if you do then I hope you find this blog helpful.
Life throws us challenges continuously, and often problems happen one after another. When some people face difficulties, particularly when they become prolonged, all of their emotions become negative. When life is good, they feel great, but when things turn bad, they feel terrible and don’t cope well.
Resilient people are able to find something positive in even the worst of circumstances. They definitely are aware of the bad stuff, but at the same time they find a way to also see the good. For instance, they will take the perspective that as bad as something may seem, at least they don’t have ‘such and such’ a problem. How do they do that?
How do you learn to become more resilient – more able to cope well with life’s problems?
Positive Mental Attitude
Oh I know, it sounds such a cliche – that PMA! However, it is helpful to recognise and acknowledge that the way you think affects the way you feel. In order to change unhelpful emotional patterns, you need to curb that habit of negative thinking and build up your positive thinking. You need to strengthen the neural pathways that support this more helpful way of looking at things, so that becomes your habit instead.
When you find yourself ruminating negatively, notice what’s happening and challenge your viewpoint – ‘What’s the real evidence that things will never get any better?’ All people have memories of success and of failure. Thinking that things will ‘never’ improve is an example of extreme, black and white thinking and not accurate.
We experience this negative type of thinking because our brains are naturally wired to focus more attention on negative events than positive ones. We have evolved to watch out for things that threaten us, so we are attuned to spotting them. So, even though positive events are happening, we have a natural tendency to filter them out. When you take time to notice and appreciate the positive aspects of experiences, you begin to build up a more balanced evidence base and this allows you to make better judgements. A consequence of this, is developing your resilience and enjoying the good things in your life.
Learn from experience
All good and bad experiences provide opportunities for personal growth. When you see events from this perspective – life as a learning experience – the more resilient you become. Resilient people look at a problem and say – ‘What will solve this?’ and ‘What am I learning from this?’ Problems provide an opportunity to learn and problem-solve – developing these skills allows your resilience to develop. Ask yourself questions such as – ‘What is useful in this?’ or ‘What available choices do I have?’, rather than focusing on ‘What’s going wrong?’ or ‘Who can I blame?’ It takes practice to shift your thinking in this way, but it is worth the effort.
This type of learning encourages you to think more broadly and to accept what is possible. Alternatively, focusing on the negative will impact on the way you communicate with others and possibly make problems even worse. Perhaps you have experienced this yourself?
Being kind boosts the serotonin or feel good chemical in your brain. Practicing kindness to others and also appreciating kindness from others, and being grateful for the good things in life (and yes, everyone has something!) allows you to see any difficulties from a more balanced viewpoint. Think about this as filling up your very own reservoir of resilience. Having a reservoir of resilience you can draw on, means you will be able to cope well when difficult times come along.
Treat yourself well
Stay mentally and physically healthy by eating a balanced diet and taking regular exercise. Spend time with people whose company you enjoy. Laugh and nurture the humour in situations – after all, gallows humour is a coping mechanism! Take time to relax – listen to your favourite music or go for a walk in nature. All these things relieve stress and allow you to top up your vital reservoir of resilience.
Finally, if all of this just seems too hard, then please do seek out expert, professional help. A good coach or therapist will help you – you are not alone.
I am Susan Tibbett, a Chartered Psychologist and Personal Development Specialist based in York. You can reach me at: http://www.mindmakeoveruk.com