Day 14: Becoming Resilient

January 14th, 2010

resilience“Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall.”-Confucius

One of the personality traits that I most aspire to is resilience. I have long admired the people who face seemingly unbeatable circumstances with some magical blend of inner confidence and an abiding trust in things to work out. They don’t worry about things that can keep some of us up at night and in fact, they usually sleep well because somewhere they learned to deal with things as they come. Resilience shows up in laboratory tests as both a faster physical recovery time after dealing with stressful situations and an emotional flexibility in dealing with changing situations.

The wisdom of mindfulness and learning to be in the present moment is at the heart of resilience. Learning to catch ourselves when we start spinning out on “what if’s” and replacing these thoughts as soon as you notice them with an awareness of “what is” is a good daily practice for building resilience. Cultivating an attitude that lets you wait and see can reduce the drama and the emotional and physiological reactions that go with it.

As I was writing this, my youngest daughter, who is 11, crawled into bed with me visibly shaken and weepy. What happened in the last 30 minutes to instigate the emotional meltdown? I inquired. Her mood swings are wide and fast these days, as exhausting to witness as to live. In a matter of minutes, she can slide from carefree into an emotional trainwreck. Following the tracks of a single frightening thought and flirting with the endless what ifs, is enough to bring her to tears.

Emma’s fears in this time of early adolescence center on her rapidly expanding awareness of the impermanence of things. Many of us never fully get over and learn to live peaceably with the discomforting awareness that things are changing all the time and that many of the changes aren’t really in our hands.

A close cousin to resilience is open-mindedness, one of the easiest positivity practices to adopt. Several studies show that just by encouraging some test subjects to be open-minded and to think of the stressful task as a challenge that they had the skills to meet and overcome, was enough to allow them to tap into their own positivity. All of the test subjects showed increased resilience to the task.

Oddly we rarely hear the action verb “resile” to describe a way of dealing with adversity. Instead we often think of resiliency as something we either have or don’t. So let me tell you here and now, it is a skill that develops over time and with attention. There are opportunities to practice and increase your ability to be resilient everyday. Creating the space to respond instead of react to the situations that happen in and around you gives you the only kind of real control we have — the ability to choose how to think and feel about yourself and the things that happen to you. Being positive makes you resilient. Developing resiliency makes you positive.

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