How to Build Resilience, One Day at a TimeNone By Lesley Lyle
Why are some people better able to bounce back and recover from unpleasant or negative experiences than others? You may know people who always seem to be cheerful, even though their lives are challenging; conversely, you may know some who seem unable to cope with even the smallest of problems. The secret power of the former group? Resilience.
The Perception Creates the Reality
Resilience researcher George Bonanno explains that we need to experience adversity in order to discover whether we are resilient or not. But it's how we conceptualize an event that determines whether we consider it to be traumatic or not. In other words, what happens is not as significant as the meaning we attribute to it and what we subsequently think, feel, and do.
It is inevitable that we will face difficult and challenging times; our resilience will determine how well we cope and recover. However, we can use the minor annoyances, irritations, and frustrations that we are likely to face more regularly to increase our resilience.
Perhaps you are frequently upset and disturbed by things outside your control, such as:
• The weather
• Traffic jams
• Late buses or trains
• Neighbors having a late-night party
• Rude or unfriendly people
If so, know that you can choose to treat these mostly trivial events as "learning opportunities" that allow you to practice regulating your emotions to increase your resilience. Ann Masten has been studying the science of resilience for almost 40 years. She explains that resilience is not an extraordinary process, but "ordinary magic" created from behaviors and habits that can be learned and developed.
Put It in Perspective by Reframing
Research has shown that cultivating positive emotions may be a particularly useful method to build resilience to stressful events and experiences. With practice, it can eventually become an automatic coping strategy.
One way to change a negative experience to a more positive one is to change your views and thoughts about it. Thus, simply choosing to regard events as training practice may be helpful.
In the examples above, there may be nothing that can be done to change the situation in the moment, or at all. Considering alternative and different perspectives can help you engage in more helpful thoughts so you don’t get you stuck in negative thinking patterns. Here are some alternative viewpoints you might consider in the aforementioned situations:
• The weather isn’t constant, so it will change. The good thing about this sort of weather is....
• Traffic jams are almost inevitable nowadays, but they don’t usually last that long. This is a good opportunity to listen to the radio or a podcast. It gives me time to reflect on things.
• Late buses or trains aren’t always late. At least I’m not stuck in traffic. I’m lucky I live somewhere with public transportation.
• Neighbors having a late-night party: Perhaps this was an important celebration for them. They are usually very considerate. I hope they had a good time.
• Rude or unfriendly people: I wonder what’s going on in their life? I may have misunderstood them. They may have misunderstood me. Most people are not like that.
The Power of Positive Emotions
According to researcher Barbara Fredrickson’s broaden-and-build theory, positive emotions widen the repertoire of an individual’s momentary responses and actions, whereas negative emotions have the opposite effect. Experiencing positive emotions can lead to new and creative ideas and build physical, intellectual, social, and psychological resources. These resources can be drawn upon later to help you cope and manage in more difficult and challenging situations.
If you can overcome your initial response of irritation and manage to see things as funny, interesting, or curious, you'll feel better. And if you choose to be more forgiving, compassionate, and loving toward individuals who transgress, you just may find that life feels lighter, easier, and more fun as you become a happier, more resilient individual.
Lesley Lyle, MAPP, DipHE, is a positive psychology practitioner and associate lecturer on the MSc Applied Positive Psychology (MAPP) course at Buckinghamshire New University UK. She is co-founder and director of Positive Psychology Learning and The Positive Psychology People. Follow her on Twitter and Facebook.
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