I don’t know what it is like to have cancer. I do know what it is like to be on the floor and feel the ground beneath me start to crumble under the very weight of my own fear, anger, and disbelief. A free fall with nothing to grasp while voices swirled around me. The disorientation ending with a deafening silence after there were no more tears to shed. It is in these moments when no matter what anyone says, nothing makes a difference…until something happens, and a shift occurs.
It is a strange notion that it can take one moment to shift one’s perspective. We spend a lot of time studying what is wrong in the world around us. We ask why me? Why is this happening? Perhaps another potential question to ask is…why not me?
Resilience is defined as, “the capability of a strained body to recover its size and shape after deformation caused especially by compressive stress; an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change” (Merriam-Webster, 2018, para. 1). This definition does not work for me. Two issues are problematic. The first is that the human experience is one of forward motion. The Greek philosopher, Heraclitus said, “No man ever steps in the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he’s not the same man”. The idea that we can return to who we once were does not work. The second is that often times being resilient is not necessarily an easy process; it is a process of reflection, however long or brief, acceptance or negotiation, and then integration.
For the purpose of this article, I would like to take the liberty of saying resilience is the act of not bouncing back, but rather it is the act of bouncing forward. Taking an event, integrating it into our experience so completely that we are able to transform the self we once knew ourselves to be, into a new self that has to look back in order to recognize themselves. Getting from the emotional free fall to a paradigm shift takes resilience. Here are some ways to cultivate resilience.
We are the author the interpretation of the events that occur around us. For example, there are very few truths in life. I like to use the Law of Gravity as one example of a truth. No matter where I am on the planet if I drop my pen, it will land on the ground. It will not float up in the air or stay frozen in the air until I pluck it from the air. That is a universal law; it doesn’t matter who drops a pen, it will fall on the ground. Our realities are very different from a universal law. Our reality is largely an interpretation of an event from our standpoint. An event happens and we add meaning to that event. So, I can walk into a room look around and say this is the best team I have ever worked with. Is that true? I don’t know. I can walk into the same room and say the very opposite, this is the worst team I have ever worked with. Is that true? I don’t know.
The truth of life is very much based on my interpretation. So why wouldn’t I choose to say, this is the best team I have ever worked with. Choosing the more positive interpretation of any experience has tremendous benefits. Not only does it make us happier, it makes us healthier. Shawn Achor cites a study in his book The Happiness Advantage a study where subjects were injected with a cold virus (Achor, 2010, p. 43). Individuals who had been identified as being happy prior to the start of the study, “had fought off the virus much better than the less happy individuals. They didn’t just feel better, either; they actually had fewer objective symptoms of illness as measured by doctors-less sneezing, coughing, inflammation and congestion” (Achor, 2010, p. 43).
Train the Brain to Scan for the Positive:
We can train our brains to start scanning our environment for the positives, enhancing our ability to increase our resilience and happiness. Set the goal of every day writing three things down that you are grateful for, this assists the brain in starting to create a habit of scanning for positive events so that when you do sit down later in the day to write these items down you have several to choose from.
Find something to look forward to even if it is something simple like, Achor says in his book, your favorite movie. Studies found that “people who just thought about watching their favorite movie actually raised their endorphin levels by 27 percent” (Achor, 2010, p. 42).
Use the 5 Second Rule:
The 5 Second Rule is not about the time one has to grab food that has had an unplanned fall to the ground. The 5 Second Rule, written by Mel Robbins, is about understanding that when it comes to creating a paradigm shift, motivation will fail you. The premise of the book is that no matter how committed we are to an outcome inevitably, we will, if not immediately then, eventually, hesitate and in that moment our brains will provide us with a list of reasons why we should not……fill in the blank. For example, you read an inspiring quote on Saturday about living every day to the fullest. You commit to getting up on Monday morning at 5 am to start your new routine of exercise. Monday morning the alarm goes off. I promise you are not thinking about that inspiring quote. I also promise that if you are not moving in less than 5 seconds the chances of you getting up and going for a run have decreased significantly. Robbins offers a solution. Count back from 5. “5-4-3-2-1-move”.
5-4-3-2-1 Get out of bed.
5-4-3-2-1 Take a shower.
5-4-3-2-1 Make an appointment.
5-4-3-2-1 Open the mail.
Why does this work? “The counting backwards does a few important things simultaneously: It distracts you from your worries, it focuses your attention on what you need to do, it prompts you to act, and it interrupts the habits of hesitating, overthinking, and holding yourself back” (Robbins, 2017, p. 50). Having a strategy that keeps you moving forward enhances your resilience; waiting until we feel a certain way to shift our perception is when we are in danger of not shifting at all.
It is the small decisions in life that make the biggest difference; that set our trajectory. Life is a series of decisions. Resilience is a decision. Decide that no matter what, to continue to bounce forward. Life events are going to happen, good, bad and ugly, how we interpret them and bounce forward from them is up to us.