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The Psychology of Resilience

‘Success does not have to be measured by how high you climb but it can be measured

by how high you bounce up when you hit bottom’. (adapted from George Smith Patton Jr)

Mayday is an international radio distress signal used especially by ships and aircraft. Although a connection to the month of May might seem likely, it is actually an anglicization of the French m’aidez or m’aider, meaning ‘help me’.

With the ups and downs of life, it is normal to feel distressed and want to ask others for help, particularly in an emergency. However, there are times when it is possible to rely on one’s own resources and find that we can actually help ourselves without needing to use the Mayday signal. Psychologists use the term ‘resilience’ when describing the inner resources that people have to deal with life’s discomforts and adversities. Resilience is having the ability to recover and bounce forward from discomfort, adversity and hardships, feeling stronger and more capable to cope than ever before.

Over the coming editions, the five most powerful ways to develop resilience will be covered, starting with how we view hardships in our life.

One strategy is to pump up your positivity. Research found that the daily range of emotions of people who are highly resilient is amazingly different from those who are not. Resilient people have the ability to experience both negative and positive emotions even in difficult or painful situations.

When not-so-resilient people face difficulties all of their emotions turn negative. If things are good, they feel good, but if things are bad, they feel horrid. Resilient people, on the other hand, tend to find some silver lining in even the worst of circumstances. While they certainly see and acknowledge the bad they’ll find a way to also see the good.

Resilient people are not papering over the negative emotions, but instead letting them sit side by side with other feelings. So at the same time they’re feeling ‘I’m sad about that,’ they’re also thinking, ‘but I’m grateful about this.’

For some of us, this well-balanced emotional response doesn’t come naturally, but the good news is that we can develop our skills in this area. Here are a few tips on how you can develop a balanced emotional response.

Notice when you catch yourself thinking thoughts like: ‘This will never happen to me’ or ‘why does this always happen to me?’ Challenge your thoughts by asking yourself the following types of questions:

Why should this not happen for me, especially if I try to work towards making this situation better?

What real evidence do I have that this may ‘never’ happen to me? When are the times that this discomfort is not experienced by me? Am I really the only person this happens to or does it also happen to x,y and z. What is the silver lining in this horrible situation?

Our built-in survival mechanisms means that our brains are naturally wired to pay more attention to negative events than positive ones. But in reality, we experience positive events with much greater frequency. One key to building resiliency lies in your ability to notice and appreciate those positive experiences whenever and wherever they occur.

Research suggests that as a minimum we need a 3-to-1 ratio of positive to negative experiences not just to build resilience, but also to thrive, be optimally productive and enjoy our lives. This means that for every heart-wrenching negative emotional experience you endure, you have to experience at least three heartfelt positive emotional experiences that uplift you. So go on, give yourself a challenge for the month of May:

Write down at least three positive experiences you have each day before going to bed.

They can be as simple as seeing a beautiful blue sky, noticing the iridescent bluebells in our parks, noticing that someone smiled at you, watching the waves bounce up against the shore and then fall like sparkling diamonds or even acknowledging that our land needs rain. So even rainy days have a silver lining.

Posted in Wellbeing Practice on May 01, 2016