A roadmap for developing mental resilience skills
Resilience is defined as the psychological capacity to adapt to stressful circumstances and to bounce back from adverse events. Resilience is considered a process to build resources toward searching for a better future after potentially traumatic events. Some of these resources come from our inherent potential and some from what we learn about how to endure hardship. The ability to bounce back requires being empowered to make decisions that promote personal well-being. And like sobriety, they must be frequently reconfirmed (Southwick & Charney, 2012).
1. Pursuing a meaningful goal. Resilient individuals find a calling and dedicate themselves to what gives life purpose. Pursuing a meaningful purpose may involve stress and pain in the short run but over the long run brings meaning (e.g., raising children, seeking personal growth, training for a marathon). People with a sense of purpose feel less anxiety and stress (Hagerty, 2016). As Nietzsche remarked, “He who has a why to live can bear almost any how.”
2. Challenge assumption. Resilience requires creativity and flexibility. Traditional beliefs should be examined in the light of new experiences and ideas. Creativity requires one to consider many perspectives to avoid being imprisoned by one’s habitual thoughts. In the aftermath of major life struggles, where fundamental assumptions are seriously confronted, it can lead to positive psychological change (Terdeschi and Calhoun, 2004). In a sense, change represents the death of who we once were. For example, psychologist Lyubomirsky (2013) notes that a rewarding life after divorce requires not only leaving your spouse but also leaving your past self behind.
3. Cognitive flexibility. Resilient people tend to be flexible in their way of thinking and responding to stress. An important component of cognitive flexibility is accepting the reality of our situation, even if that situation is frightening or painful. Acceptance is a key ingredient in the ability to tolerate highly stressful situations. Avoidance and denial are the most common counterproductive coping strategies that can help people temporarily, but it ultimately stands in the way of growth.
4. Growth through suffering. Resilient people generally meet failure head-on and use it as an opportunity to learn and grow. Nietzsche famously remarked, ‘What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.’ In his book, Antifragile, Nassim Taleb (2012) writes, “Our antagonist is our helper (P39).” Thus, we can view any experience of emotional pain as an opportunity that will strengthen our ability to better deal with any future pain. However, when we medicate away our suffering we miss the opportunity to grow.
5. Acting despite the fear. Courage is an important aspect of positive psychology that allows one to overcome personal limitations and pursue a full life (Seligman, 2011). Courage is not a matter of feeling no fear. Courage is acting despite fear. Courage is the strength in facing one’s destructive habits. For example, the courage of an addict overcoming his or her addiction or the person abused as a child overcoming deep psychological traumas to become a loving and productive adult. Those who move forward in the face of adversity increase their inner strength.
6. Emotion regulation. A prominent view in psychology is that our emotional lives are shaped by our values and judgments (Solomon, 2007). It’s the basic premise of modern cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT). This is also one of the basic psychological principles of Stoicism (Robertson, 2019). Much, if not all, of our thinking, is up to us. We can liberate ourselves from destructive emotions such as anger and hatred by developing a capacity to choose how to interpret the situation. Our ability in managing the flow of thought and the capacity to visualize the future contribute to happiness.
7. The feeling of agency. Agency (the power of me) is an internal resource that often enables resilience. The sense of agency refers to the capacity of individuals to act independently and shape their life circumstances. By exerting free will, the person expands his options and freedom. When feeling free and self-determined, we generally flourish. Believing that things are beyond our control is a recipe for helplessness.
8. Social support. Resilient individuals draw strength from their social networks. They also provide social support to others. The availability of social support reduces anxiety and stress. After all, it feels easier to face adversity when you have a close friend that you can rely on. When you have strong social support, you don’t have to use as many of your own personal resources to cope with adversity. Those relationships give you a profound sense of emotional security and the feeling that someone has your back no matter what.
First posted May 11, 2020
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