According to conventional wisdom, every person on the planet faces challenges, even though it sometimes seems that a chosen few skate through life unscathed. The truth is, at some point or another, events — a broken heart, family conflicts, a health crisis, job loss, money problems, political upheaval — will bring us to our knees. The good news is that it is possible to survive (and even thrive) afterward as long as we are resilient, which is described as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, threats, tragedy, trauma or any extreme source of stress.
My favorite go-to source for boosting my personal resilience level is a terrific book that was published over a decade ago but is full of timeless wisdom and useful tools. "The Resilience Factor: 7 Essential Skills for Overcoming Life's Inevitable Obstacles" by Drs. Karen Reivich and Andrew Shatte is based on proven ways to counteract negative and defeatist thought patterns.
We all remember how Eeyore focused on pessimistic rather than optimistic possibilities (as opposed to Tigger), and how annoying that tendency was. Unfortunately, we humans have an "evolutionary adaptation" to focus more on bad life experiences than the good ones. Why? Because our brains want us to "over learn" from situations like betrayal, bullying, deprivation and disappointment so that we can program ourselves to avoid those events in the future or react quickly to them when and if they reappear.
The human brain tries to help us solve problems by 1) understanding their origin, 2) challenging the way we think about future problems and 3) helping us become more resilient in the face of adversity. According to Reivich and Shatte, there are easy steps to help us build our own resilience bank account:
—When faced with adversity, listen to your thoughts; pay attention to what you say to yourself in that situation; and then analyze how those thoughts affect your behavior and feelings.
—Avoid negative thoughts and self-talk that undermine your resistance.
—Identify your deep or hidden beliefs, and then measure how and when they help or hurt you.
—Avoid imaginary "what if" thoughts and the misperception that every failure or mistake is (or will be) catastrophic.
—If you feel emotionally overwhelmed or stressed, do your very best to remain calm and focused.
—Flip your counterproductive thoughts into more resilient ones.
While this is definitely not a traditional motivational book, it does have useful Resilience Quotient activities, charts and tests to help readers evaluate and improve different areas of their life. The goal is to help us understand our beliefs, improve our reactions and become better at overcoming adversity. The ultimate message is for us to minimize what has gone wrong in the past so that we can build, expand and improve the good things that are already in our lives.
One of the easiest ways to build resilience and begin being nicer to ourselves in troubling times is to ask what we would say to a friend who happened to be in the same situation. Chances are we would be kinder, not as critical and less judgmental to someone else than we would be to ourselves.
Marilyn Murray Willison has had a varied career as a six-time nonfiction author, columnist, motivational speaker and journalist in both the U.K. and the U.S. She is the author of The Self-Empowered Woman blog and the award-winning memoir "One Woman, Four Decades, Eight Wishes." She can be reached at www.marilynwillison.com. To find out more about Marilyn and read her past columns, please visit the Creators Syndicate webpage at www.creators.com.