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The Psychology of Resilience Part 4

It is not the strongest of the species that survive, nor the most intelligent, but the one most responsive to change.–Darwin

This month’s edition is a continuation on the theme of resilience featured in the magazine over the last few months. It focusses on ‘coping’ and this article will make more sense if it is read alongside the previous articles.

Although we may wish not to have to cope with stressful demands, real life means that we do, and coping with these situations with resilience is important so that we can respond to life changes with courage and confidence. Coping is what we do to make a bad situation better or to make us feel better about the situation as explained below.

Being mindful about your experiences: people experience constant sensory input throughout their lives. This includes environmental input such as sights, sounds, smells, and sensations. Sensory input also comes from within ourselves as thoughts and feelings. Most of these can go unnoticed leaving us unable to figure out why we either think what we do or feel the way that we feel. Mindfulness is about becoming aware of these experiences. Noticing these experiences and doing something about them can help us to deal with difficult situations with resilience.

Being aware of the connection between your thoughts and feelings: the way that you think can impact on the way that you feel and vice versa. One way of coping better is to change the way that you think in order to influence the way that you feel. Let’s take an example.

You have been trying to save some money to ensure that you have a back-up resource when needed. You thought you were starting to make some progress but today you received some bills for large sums of money. The bills have all arrived at the same time and they will use up most of your savings. In this situation you could either have unhelpful thoughts or helpful thoughts. These will impact on you in different ways as shown:

Unhelpful Thoughts

  • I’m a hopeless person.
  • I’m no good at saving money.
  • I’m always going to struggle with my finances.
  • Associated Feelings
  • Sad.
  • Frustrated.
  • Following Behaviours
  • Give up trying to save.

Helpful Thoughts

  • Having the bills arrive in one go is not helpful so this is a setback but it is not the end of the world.
  • I need to plan for these types of bills in a better way for the future.
  • I could look into different options for paying bills in smaller amounts over a period of time.
  • It would be really helpful to have more money but I’m doing as well as I can at the moment with the limited resources that I have.
  • I am actually very lucky as I have this money to pay the bills because I started saving.

Associated Feelings

  • Feeling okay.
  • Hopeful that things will get better.
  • In control as future solutions are generated.
  • Relieved.
  • Following Behaviours
  • I need to work out how I forgot that those bills would be coming in and plan for them better in the future.

Changing your unhelpful thoughts to helpful thoughts is an effortful task but a task that is worth practising as it influences not only the way that you feel but also the actions that you take in the future. It can be helpful to practise this way of thinking for something that has happened to you recently so that you can prepare better for something challenging that you may have to manage in the future. So try the following activity and see how it helps you:

  • Write down one difficult situation that you experienced recently?
  • Write down the unhelpful thoughts that you had?
  • Write down how these thoughts made you feel?
  • What happened as a result of this / what behaviours did you show?

Now use the same situation and write down what helpful thoughts you could have had in that situation.

Imagine how you would have felt with these helpful thoughts and write these feelings down. How do you think you would have behaved differently if you had had helpful thoughts and associated positive feelings?

By practising the above, it can help you to respond more effectively to the constant changes that life brings you. As Louisa May Alcott (author) said:

I am not afraid of storms, for I am learning how to sail my ship.

Posted in Wellbeing Practice on Aug 01, 2016