These are difficult times with so much uncertainty surrounding many things we have until recently taken for granted. We need to find our resilience and get through this Covid 19 challenge with the same stubborn resolve we have used to tackle a previous experience of adversity or approach a series of difficult household chores.
In this curated post Chris Westfall reminds us that we all have inbuilt resilience but that it often takes different approaches to find it and use it.
Here are five examples that might work for you:
1. Knock on wood
Dennis Charney, Dean of the Mt.Sinai Medical School studied soldiers and survivors of POW camps. The survivors of these horrible conditions found that knocking on wood saved their lives. Trapped in solitary confinement, these POWs were not allowed to talk. Isolated from others, these prisoners would tap out messages in code – creating a sense of connection. In the midst of the worst possible conditions, at the Hanoi Hilton, they created community. The takeaway? “Everybody needs a tap code,” Charney says, “A way of developing a support system and communicating with other people that are going to help get through tough times.”
So, find your tap code in the current circumstances by reaching out to others in your network especially if you are feeling isolated.
2. Be a realist, not an optimist
You may have heard of the Stockdale Paradox . The story behind this is that Admiral James Stockdale was the highest-ranking U.S. official imprisoned during the Vietnam war. Held in shackles in a cell where the lights were turned on him 24 hours a day, he was tortured off and on for eight years—and lived to tell about it. What kept him going wasn’t being an optimist but a realist .
“I never lost faith in the end of the story,” he said. “I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which in retrospect, I would not trade.” Collins asked him about the others: who didn’t make it out? “The optimists.” What? “The ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”
“You must retain faith that you will prevail in the end, regardless of the difficulties, and at the same time, you must confront the most brutal facts of your reality, whatever they might be.”
3. Understand your factory settings
How are we wired to respond, when faced with difficult circumstances? Resilience—the ability to bounce back after stress—is built into the system. That’s why going to the gym works—your workout stresses your system. You might be tired when you’re done, but guess what: stress creates strength. Searching for resilience is like trying to find your thumb (yep, there it is). It’s useful to remember that resilience is built into the system. Resilience is there for you, whenever you choose to use it.
4. Own your past
When the shark attack happened, Micki Glenn nearly died. In a horrible incident near a coral reef, she lost the use of her right hand, spent weeks in and out of surgeries and endured incredible trauma. But in an interview with Susan Spencer from CBS 48 hours ., Micki shared a shocking retrospective on her past. Spencer asked her, “If you could magically erase this whole thing from your life, would you do it?” Without hesitation, Glenn replied with a firm “No.” She says, “You are who you are on the inside. It doesn’t matter how scarred you are on the outside.” The experience made her who she is—and she wouldn’t trade it for anything. What experience could you own, today, that would change the way you feel about difficult circumstances?
It’s easy to look at a situation or a relationship and blame yourself. But, is that really accurate? Did you make your spouse do what he or she did? Were you solely responsible for the financial crisis in 2008, or the way your boss treated you in the meeting? I’m not suggesting you play the blame game—but see what’s really going on instead.
Sometimes people try their best and the result is not as intended. Is that all on you? Resilience isn’t about blaming others—it’s about understanding how other people and circumstances don’t always cooperate. Stop, look and listen: is there someone nearby, who is “tapping on the wall” because they also feel isolated and stuck? You’re wired to respond, to confront your situation with a big dose of reality, and work towards making some new luck. Don’t blame your circumstances: accept them and believe you will prevail.
5.The way we think about a situation is often worse than the situation itself
Thomas Jefferson said, “I’m a great believer in luck. And I find that the harder I work the more I have of it.” But when disaster strikes it’s hard to work hard—because your mindset is filled with thoughts of disappointment, anger, frustration and more. The careful thing to remember is that, no matter what your circumstance, it’s never harder than it is in your mind . The fear and the challenge doesn’t come from our circumstance—it comes from the way we are processing our surroundings. In his TEDx talk, Why Aren’t We Awesomer, author Michael Neill explains that interpretation is the biggest challenge we face. We’re not stressed out by spiders—we are stressed out by the thought of spiders! “We’re afraid of what we think,” Neill says. Is that true, for you?
Are your circumstances what’s really holding you back? Or is the way you are viewing your situation that’s making it even more difficult? There’s an opportunity to follow Jefferson’s advice here. You can work hard to make some new luck, but first: can you see your thinking for what it is (just a thought) and what it isn’t (very useful).
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Paul Lyons is an experienced CEO who helps leaders and their organisations to improve their performance and wellbeing by measuring and developing their mental toughness.