Just Keep Swimming: How to be more Resilient
How, after extreme hardship, can people retain their optimistic outlook? And were they born that way or did they develop resilience?
I have been thinking a lot about resilience lately. That ability to recover from what life throws your way and remaining engaged and even joyful has interested me for decades. It was a “hot topic” for a while in the leadership arena in the late ‘90’s and early 2000’s and back then I read about research conducted with survivors of the Holocaust. These survivors had been subjected to the worst that mankind could inflict on human beings and some, as we might expect, came out of the experience bitter and angry. Fascinatingly, others came out of similar experiences with their optimism and joy intact. How, after such extreme hardship, can people retain their optimistic outlook? And were they born that way or did they develop resilience?
What researchers have learned is that although some people are born with this ability, thankfully it is a skill that can be developed in the rest of us. In fact, many ancient traditions talk about resilience and how to develop it within ourselves.
In my yoga teacher training, I learned about the much-misunderstood concept of non-attachment. My yoga teacher taught that non-attachment does not necessarily mean sitting on a mountaintop and meditating or forgoing all human contact. It can mean embracing life with enthusiasm – being as alive as you can be every moment of every day, even if aliveness that day means pain or discomfort. Feel everything, attach to nothing. A useful analogy is to think of yourself in a movie theater watching a great movie. Perhaps you laugh, cry, feel joy or pain through the images on the screen. But while you watch and are involved in the story, you realize that you are not IN the movie, not a part of the story, merely an observer. Feel everything, attach to nothing.
So, what relevance do these esoteric concepts have for our daily lives?
All of us are regularly presented with opportunities to develop our resilience. Changing jobs, moving, divorce, death of a loved one, or illness are all opportunities to develop our resilience. Part of my job as a coach is to help my clients uncover their own resilience. What can we do to build that resilience in ourselves?
Here are five practices I recommend to my clients and use regularly myself:
1. Revisit Your Successes
I find it helpful to remember how many times I have succeeded and how. As humans, we tend to focus on the things we need to “fix” about ourselves and in others. Sometimes, a focus on how many things we have done right and how many times we have succeeded can allow us to move beyond the current situation. Then, analyzing what innate or developed characteristics within us helped us to be successful can allow us to apply those characteristics to this new situation.
2. Practice Non-Attachment
Be engaged and dedicated to your work, whether it is presenting your project to your boss, attending your 700th networking event, or developing a new program – but refuse to attach to the outcome of that work. Know that you have given it your very best effort, and then let the outcome unfold as it will.
3. Cultivate a meditation practice
It seems counter-intuitive but sometimes the best way to get your work done and remain resilient is…to do nothing, think about nothing, and be still. Although meditation is, hilariously, now a “trend” (hilarious to me, since it is a centuries-old practice threading through almost every spiritual and religious tradition), don’t let that dissuade you from trying it. Also, don’t be intimidated by the thought of sitting still and trying not to think of anything for an extended period of time. Even a few moments of mindful focus on your breath can remind you that you are not IN the story, just observing it. Or mindfully spending time in nature, noticing and paying attention to all five senses, can be considered meditation. And, yes, there is an app for that! There are several apps for your smart phone that will guide you through meditations for various purposes and for various lengths of time. Whether you use an app or go it alone, meditation can be a great support for your resilience-building efforts.
4. Ask for support
Some of the most resilient people I know are members of vibrant communities. Whether they belong to a church, create an advisory board of their most supportive friends, or find that support through spiritual practice, resilient people are not afraid to ask for help. As Americans, self-sufficiency is hard-wired into us by our culture (picture that cowboy riding his horse on the range – alone) but the reality is that we do our best work and live our best lives as part of community. Find (or make) your own community.
5. Just keep swimming
And, if all else fails, follow Dory’s advice from the movie Finding Nemo and, “Just keep swimming” – because sometimes that’s all we can manage. Be relentlessly kind to yourself when this is the case and celebrate when you get to the other side of what you’re dealing with.
What are some of your resiliency-building practices?
If you’d like help or support in building your resiliency or need a thought partner to think through a decision, book a free, no-obligation strategy session with me.