Building Resilience 10 Ways - Part 1
2. Self-controlSelf-control is where the rubber of self-awareness hits the road; having self-awareness on its own is not really very helpful. You may know a lot about how you tick, but if you don’t do anything with that knowledge, you’ll just tie yourself up in enlightened knots! Once you have identified a behaviour you want to change or a habit you want to break, self-control is the ability to make yourself do the new way and not the old. The process of writing this article has required me to practice self-control. Through self-awareness, I identified that when I sit down to write, I am drawn to a silly word game on my iPad that I’ve been playing for seven years (it’s not even that fun). I also identified that after playing a few rounds, my motivation for writing goes right down. So, the fact that you’re reading this now means that I was able to recognise the impulse to play it, say “No!,” in my head and redirect myself to the laptop. This is a technique based in Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or CBT, which I use a lot in my work, but if there is a problem behaviour that is really sticking, it can be helpful to explore it in more depth through psychotherapy. 3. GratitudeBeing grateful for all the things, large and small, that you have in your life gives you a sense of perspective. This applies to all the wonderful things as well as the difficulties – I think there’s a lot of truth in the saying “If everyone threw their troubles in a pile, you’d take yours back.” When I was suffering from chronic depression in my mid-20s, my psychologist instructed me to buy a journal. Every night I was to write in it three things I was grateful for that day and three things I was looking forward to the next day. Given my mood and outlook on life at the time it was an extremely hard task, but I pushed myself to do it and it played an important part in my recovery. I didn’t know at the time but this was a technique developed by renowned American psychologist Martin Seligman. Widely known as the founder of Positive Psychology, Seligman showed that this practice helps to retrain our brains so we feel more content on a day-to-day basis. 4. OptimismThis is the skill of seeing the positive side of a situation or believing that things will turn out ok. Optimism is closely linked to gratitude because, when we regularly practice appreciating all the good things we have, it reminds us that a lot of things have already turned out ok. When we remind ourselves of good things, we naturally expect more good things. There are many old sayings that remind us this is a skill that has been valued for hundreds, probably thousands of years – “Every cloud has a silver lining,” “Rose-tinted spectacles,” or Maria in The Sound of Music: “When the Lord closes a door, somewhere he opens a window.” However, my personal optimism hero is Sonny Kapoor, the hapless manager of the Best Exotic Marigold Hotel (from the film of the same name). Throughout the story, as chaos reigns down on his elderly guests, Sonny constantly reassures them, “Everything will be alright in the end; and if it isn’t alright, well then it isn’t the end.” 5. ProactivityResilient people take action on the things they can control. Doing small things that make a small difference, on a day-to-day basis, gives you a sense of personal agency: that you have power over many of the things in your life. When I’m running wellbeing seminars, I always tell people to start with the small obvious things: what you put in your mouth, whether you take the stairs or the elevator, whether you pick up your phone (or iPad!) or don’t pick it up. When you’re feeling run down or overwhelmed, these things seem like they won’t matter, but when you seize the opportunity to control what you can control, you build confidence in your own decisions. Your sense of personal empowerment becomes stronger so that you start trying to change and influence things you would have just accepted in the past.
If you can grow your skills in these first 5 building blocks of resilience, you will find that your personal resources become stronger. For instance, Gratitude and Optimism help to build up your psychological and spiritual resources. Self-control is crucial for avoiding behaviours which drain our psychological and physical resources, and for successfully forming new, healthy habits. Proactivity enables us to change a situation that is causing us psychological or spiritual distress, and to take charge of our physical wellbeing. Finally, self-awareness helps us map the path we want to take and provides the radar that tells us when we’re straying from that path. When we face difficult times, it is our personal resources that we draw on to find the strength to recover and carry on. Resilience is needed for those day-to-day problems like your manager criticising your work, an angry customer or your threenager having a tantrum, but there will also be times in your life when bigger crises or tragedies hit. A client of mine once told me about when her brother was paralysed as a result of a skiing accident. When she first went to visit him in hospital, she braced herself for the anger and despair she expected to see in him. As she walked into his room, the first thing he said to her was “I’m so lucky.” This made her angry, and she asked him what on earth he meant. He said he had been looking around the ward he was in and realised he was the only patient who still had the use of his arms. In the weeks and months following, I’m sure anger and despair did surface, but I also know the gratitude he displayed that day would have formed a crucial building block in his recovery. If you practice these 5 building blocks of resilience, you will notice your personal resources strengthen. And while you will be building resilience, you’ll probably notice that you feel more content as well. In Part 2, we will look at the remaining 5 building blocks: a sense of purpose, self-worth, flexibility, sense of humour and a support network. Until then, see if you can work out what separates that last one from the other nine! Author: Sarah Cross