Resilient people are generally optimistic. Resilient people don’t have an absence of fear — they understand that fear, like other emotions, is a signal that we can work with to our benefit. They don’t deny when things are hard. Instead, they frame obstacles not as impossibilities but as challenges that have an answer that can be found. They recognize obstacles as opportunities in disguise.
Resilience has been described as the ability to withstand adversity and bounce back from difficult life events. Times are not easy now. How do we develop greater resilience to withstand the challenges that keep being thrown at us? In this interview series, we are talking to mental health experts, authors, resilience experts, coaches, and business leaders who can talk about how we can develop greater resilience to improve our lives.
As a part of this series, I had the pleasure of interviewing Alyssa Patmos.
Alyssa Patmos is a life coach and the host of the Make it Mentionable show and podcast. Her weekly newsletter, The Peel, keeps readers hooked with fresh perspectives to help you pivot in life. She’s been featured in Thrive Global, Authority Magazine, the International Journal of Business Communication, and the Systems Saved Me Podcast.
Thank you so much for joining us! Our readers would love to get to know you a bit better. Can you tell us a bit about your backstory?
Well, in a not-so-distant former life, I was a communication consultant helping people share their stories with the world. Now, I’m a life coach helping people rewrite the stories they tell themselves so they can create more of what they want and less of what they don’t.
I’m obsessed with helping people demystify change so that it’s something they run towards instead of running away from it as if it were a bear in the middle of the park. The small pivots are what lead to the big breakthroughs.
Can you share with us the most interesting story from your career? Can you tell us what lessons or ‘take aways’ you learned from that?
I have never held a position that requires me to sit under crappy office lighting, and I plan to keep my career that way.
I learned early on what motivates me to show up and serve, and I’m unabashedly fueled by natural light and the ability to breathe in fresh air whenever my lungs crave it.
Knowing what we want is the often skipped first step to getting what we want.
What do you think makes your company stand out? Can you share a story?
I help make change simple for people. And since change is scarier than encountering a snake on a hike to most people, my company and approach stand out.
Change can be overwhelming when we feel like we must overhaul our entire lives at once or go on an elaborate healing journey that requires lots of couches and talking.
When you identify patterns that aren’t serving you, reflect on the root of them, then design pivots that help you relearn new ways of operating, change suddenly feels doable.
None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story?
Many people have helped me get where I am today. Since we’re talking about resilience in this interview, I’ll tell you about one person I’m grateful for — my former OCD therapist, Jonathan Grayson. He forced (I guess we can call it encouraged) me to do something I never thought I would do.
In a therapy session one afternoon, he told me to get a shoe I had recently worn walking downtown and bring it back to where I was calling in from my computer. I obliged; I grabbed a red high heel I had worn while walking on sixth street in Austin the day before. Back in front of the screen, he told me to put the bottom of the shoe on my face and mouth. I gasped in shock. If you know anything about Austin, sixth street is not known for being clean.
What he was guiding me through is a type of therapy known as Exposure and Response Therapy. At that moment, it felt more like exposure and response torture. I didn’t want to do it. For someone with contamination-based OCD, this might as well have been my personal hell. But I was committed to loosening the grip of OCD over my life, so I did it. I swore the whole time leading up to it, but I did it. And not only did I survive, I learned that I could bounce back from an intense emotional state rather quickly.
While it didn’t lead to the dissipation of OCD in an afternoon, it helped me substantially wrangle the obsessions and compulsions I was dealing with and create more calm in my life for creativity. For that, I am incredibly grateful.
Ok thank you for all that. Now let’s shift to the main focus of this interview. We would like to explore and flesh out the trait of resilience. How would you define resilience? What do you believe are the characteristics or traits of resilient people?
When I talk about resilience, I define it as our ability to bounce back from challenging situations or intense emotional states. I like to think of it as our ability to return to a calm inner state when we’ve been knocked off-center or pushed to what feels like the brink.
When talking about emotional resilience, I define it as how quickly we can return to our baseline state after being bent out of shape, like after a conflict with a loved one or getting triggered by something a co-worker said.
I believe resilient people tend to share these five characteristics:
1). Resilient people are flexible.
This characteristic is a big one, so I want to unpack it a little more. When we think about flexibility, we think about stretching, being limber, and being able to move and adapt easily. Resilience and flexibility go hand-in-hand.
Being behaviorally flexible means being willing to adapt our behavior given the situation. Resilient people are willing to switch up their actions when something doesn’t appear to be working.
Emotional flexibility allows us to move fluidly between emotions and experiences. Resilient people recognize we’re not meant to be happy all the time. They don’t resist negative emotion and instead allow it to move through them. As a result, they can return to a neutral state quicker and communicate more clearly.
Mental flexibility refers to our ability to change our thought patterns and not overidentify with every story or thought that pops into our heads. We’re wired for fear, but it doesn’t mean fear should be in the driver’s seat. Resilient people know how to mind their minds and hop off the hamster wheel of unhelpful thoughts.
2). Resilient people are self-aware. They can separate what is happening now from what has happened in the past. They can reflect on their role or actions, see how they played a part in the situation’s unfolding, and adapt.
3). Resilient people are courageous. It’s not always easy to persist. It often takes a dose of courage to keep going in the face of discomfort, uncertainty, or fear. Resilient people are willing to act.
4). Resilient people recognize what they can and can’t control. They realize trying to control what they have no control over is a futile effort. Instead, they focus their energy on taking charge of what they can directly influence.
5). Resilient people are generally optimistic. Resilient people don’t have an absence of fear — they understand that fear, like other emotions, is a signal that we can work with to our benefit. They don’t deny when things are hard. Instead, they frame obstacles not as impossibilities but as challenges that have an answer that can be found. They recognize obstacles as opportunities in disguise.
Bonus: Curiosity is a beneficial trait for resilience. Getting curious about what happened, what went wrong, and what went right opens us up to see more possibilities and move from resistance or despair to resilience.
And the good news is that these skills can be learned, honed, and developed.
Courage is often likened to resilience. In your opinion how is courage both similar and different to resilience?
I love this question! Many people think of courage as an absence of fear or uncertainty. It isn’t.
Courage is the willingness to act in the face of uncertainty. Resilience refers to bouncing back after a mental, emotional, physical, or spiritual challenge.
Fear and uncertainty are usually lingering nearby when we’ve been thrown off-kilter or facing an obstacle. We often need a dose of courage to take the resilient route instead of opting for the path of despair.
When you think of resilience, which person comes to mind? Can you explain why you chose that person?
I’m going to describe a few different people because I’d love it if readers felt a connection with one of the examples and recognized a deeper sense of resilience in themselves. When we can tap into our resilient spirit, it becomes easier to choose the resilient route quicker when the next challenge arises.
There’s a greater chance of that if I share a few quick examples rather than talk about one person in depth.
When I think of resilience, I think of the author who has sent query letter after query letter with no response (yet) but sends out another round anyway. A dozen publishers turned down J.K. Rowling before Harry Potter was accepted.
Or the single mom who feels the weight of providing for her two kids but gets out of bed every day and looks for opportunities.
It’s the college athlete who gets injured his senior year but keeps the faith he’ll make it back on the field.
It’s the wife that feels herself starting to get defensive in a conversation, stops to breathe and check in with herself, and then makes an ask — immediately changing the nature of the conversation.
It’s the boyfriend who feels himself wanting to walk away from a conflictual conversation but instead asks for a 10-minute break and comes back refreshed and ready to listen.
The thing these six people have in common is a willingness to bounce back from a challenge and act again.
Has there ever been a time that someone told you something was impossible, but you did it anyway? Can you share the story with us?
The person who has said it’s impossible to me the most is actually me. Fortunately, I’ve grown up around and subsequently surrounded myself with possibilitarians, so I’ve rarely been told something was impossible. However, a voice inside my head occasionally grabs a megaphone and tells me something I’m doing is not possible.
That voice piped up last year and told me there was no way I could be a runway model in my thirties. But I went to Denver Fashion Week casting anyway. I sat in the chair for hours, waiting to see if I fit a designer’s creative vision. I was passed by designer after designer until Keti Vani, an established designer in Denver, asked to see me walk and gave me a spot in her segment. I’ve now walked the runway five times and have another show booked. I love it!
Did you have a time in your life where you had one of your greatest setbacks, but you bounced back from it stronger than ever? Can you share that story with us?
When I think of the big stuff, the summer of 2020 comes to mind.
That summer, I ended a long-term relationship, quit a 6-figure coaching contract, and moved cities within a few months of each other during a pandemic. It was quite the emotional rollercoaster. Starting over felt like a setback, like I had taken ten steps back in success in multiple areas of my life — but I knew there was more in store.
I pivoted my company to offer services that absolutely light me up while providing high value to my clients and met my loving significant other while on a walk in the park.
But the moments I’m most proud of are the smaller ones — the daily setbacks that inevitably pop up but are turned around quickly. Like when an inevitable dose of miscommunication or conflict comes up between my significant other and me, and instead of defensiveness leading to days of disrepair, it’s a few minutes. Then we’re right back on track.
When we bounce back quicker in the small moments daily, we spend less time derailed and can better direct our energy to creative endeavors, relationship building, passion projects, and whatever lights us up.
How have you cultivated resilience throughout your life? Did you have any experiences growing up that have contributed to building your resiliency? Can you share a story?
The challenges I faced from needing to learn to manage obsessive compulsive disorder from a young age led me to develop a strong sense of resilience early on.
Whenever I would get catapulted into OCD land where obsessions and compulsions seemingly took over my brain, I had to work to return to a neutral state. Learning to do that quickly became not only a time-saver but a sanity-saver.
I remember one moment in particular resilience saved me from going deeper into darkness. I was in grad school, and the stress was high. (Stress and OCD are like frenemies — toxic friends to each other).
I was in the bathroom getting ready to meet some friends for happy hour, but something snapped, and I hit a breaking point. After trying to count the right number of strokes of my mascara wand for what felt like (and probably was) the 20th time, I fell to the floor sobbing. It wasn’t the first-time despair had crept in, but it was one of the more intense times.
Something had to give. I couldn’t go on like this. The amount of time I spent tapping, checking, or trying to perform some task the “right” amount of times was obnoxious.
I had been to therapy, tried anti-depressants, done EMDR, and more — all the things I was told might help. None of it was helping.
At that moment, while sobbing on the floor, I picked myself back up. And while it took a good 30 minutes and a phone call to my friends saying I’d be late, I also knew I’d be alright.
Though that despair didn’t dissipate right then and there, my relationship with OCD was different after that.
Over time and with an ever-increasing toolkit of self-coaching skills, the time it takes to bounce back from intense OCD moments has gotten shorter and shorter.
I learned I could bounce back even in the most intense of moments, which has given me the courage to face uncertainty with more peace.
Resilience is like a muscle that can be strengthened. In your opinion, what are five steps that someone can take to become more resilient? Please share a story or an example for each.
To become more resilient, people can focus on five things:
1). Emotional regulation
Regulating our intense emotions is one of the most valuable skills we can develop for when life throws a curveball.
You can start to practice emotional regulation by checking in with your body, emotions, and mind separately. By separating the three, you can better explore how you’re arriving at your perception of the situation.
- What am I noticing in my body? How’s my breathing?
- What am I feeling? Where am I feeling it?
- Then check in with your thoughts. What thoughts are coming up? How do they feel familiar?
Bye emotional rollercoaster, hello calm and clarity.
2). Look for the choice points.
Resilient people recognize there is always a choice. To become more resilient, look for the options that are available to you.
For example, suppose you’re in the middle of a nasty divorce, and your phone has become more like a terrible message delivery system. In that case, choice points can look like this: Using email as the only means of communication, so you’re not on alert whenever you get a text. Or set a dedicated time for dealing with messages related to the divorce and turning your phone on “Do Not Disturb” until that time.
Remember, there’s always a choice.
3). Tune into the present moment.
As humans, we’re really good at focusing on the past or worrying about the future, but our power lies in the present moment. To build resilience, build these questions into your arsenal, “what is happening right now?”
We often leave the present moment in times of conflict — at home or at work. Maybe your wife says something that reminds you of your mom, and suddenly you feel like a little kid again, stop listening, and walk out of the room. Or your boss sounds like your ex-husband, and you respond more harshly than you would’ve liked.
Tuning into the present moment will set you free. You’ll be able to bounce back quicker when you can differentiate between what is happening right now and what has happened in the past.
Subsequently, you’ll be able to see more choices. So instead of storming out of the room, maybe you take a deep breath, remind yourself you’re looking at your wife instead of your mom, and respond in a way you’re happy with that moves the conversation along.
4). Focus on what you want.
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of focusing on what we don’t want.
If you find yourself saying things like, “I don’t want to date another girl who flakes on me last minute,” or “I don’t want to take on another tedious project,” or anything else that starts with “I don’t want…” it’s time to flip the script and start focusing on what you do want.
By doing so, you train your brain to look for opportunities, and the next time a challenge comes up, instead of solely focusing on the problem, you’ll be better able to see possibilities and take action toward what you want.
Start directing your attention to what you want to build your resilience muscle.
5). Uncover the root cause of your patterns, limiting beliefs, and decisions.
This is the Holy Grail of resilience building because when we shed emotional baggage, it becomes much easier to adopt an attitude of resilience. When we understand our patterns and how they are helping or hindering us, we’re better able to rewire them and choose new strategies for coping with life’s challenges.
Two people can encounter the same situation but have very different attitudes towards what’s happening. This makes interactions unpredictable at times. You might hear the word “aggressive” and think of your trip to California in college when every other woman at the bar seemed to be saying, “That’s so aggressive!” Whereas someone else might hear the word “aggressive” and relate it to an ex or family member who was harsh and dismissive.
When we recognize how our past experiences have conditioned us to react, we can reclaim our responses and rewire old decisions. When we do this, we become less emotionally volatile and it becomes easier to make decisions, think clearly, communicate effectively, and take action in the direction of what we want.
You are a person of great influence. If you could inspire a movement that would bring the most amount of good to the most amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂
This is an easy one for me. It’s Make it Mentionable, which happens to be the name of my podcast.
I dive deep into how we can put the phrase into practice on the show each week. Mister Rogers first said, “Anything that is human can be mentioned, and anything that can be mentioned can be managed.” I shortened it to, “Whatever we can mention, we can manage” and have made Make it Mentionable my rally cry.
When we hide behind masks, suppress our emotions, or hold back our vulnerability out of fear, we isolate ourselves from our humanity and connection.
People are desperate for authentic connections and meaningful relationships. When we operate from the premise of “make it mentionable,” those things become possible.
I’ve seen it completely turn relationships around.
We are blessed that some very prominent leaders read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them 🙂
You’ve actually interviewed one person I’d love to sit down with, Tracy McMillan. She completely embodies the Make it Mentionable philosophy, and I would love to talk about all things relationships with her.
How can our readers further follow your work online?
Subscribe to my show Make it Mentionable on their favorite podcast platform or YouTube and sign up for my newsletter, The Peel, where I send out fresh perspectives to help you pivot to your best life weekly at alyssapatmos.com. I’m @alyssapatmos on Instagram.
This was very inspiring. Thank you so much for joining us!