Adopting a Resilience Attitude
Although you might not have control over your immediate feelings or the occasional negativity, you do have the power to guide your mind toward holding attitudes that are more useful for responding resiliently. You probably won’t always feel these attitudes and that’s totally okay. Instead, just setting the intention to embrace these helpful attitudes more often, especially when times get tough, is enough.
This mindset, which I call the “resilience attitude,” consists of three key elements:
● 1. Maintaining optimism for the future
● 2. Having confidence in your ability to cope
● 3. Viewing adversities as challenges rather than threats
Optimism is crucial because it helps you imagine a brighter future, even during tough times. Imagining a brighter future motivates you to work toward that future, reinforcing your determination to overcome whatever obstacles you encounter.
Self-confidence in your ability to handle hardships is also vital. When you believe you can handle whatever comes your way, you’re more likely to try new things and take on challenges. Bonanno describes this confidence as “a self-fulfilling prophecy.” How you see yourself is typically how you behave.
The third component, viewing adversities as challenges, is another vital part of the resilience attitude. During tough times, it’s natural to feel threatened. But if you can shift your viewpoint to see these situations as challenges, you’ll be more proactive and start to strategize about overcoming these obstacles. This perspective shift can also directly influence your body’s stress response and your nervous system’s state. Viewing a stressor as a challenge primes your body for action: Your heart pumps more blood, and adrenaline helps keep blood pressure in check, preparing you for a more energetic response. In contrast, focusing on the threat can lead to high blood pressure and a less effective stress response.
The integration of optimism, trust in your coping skills, and the perspective of viewing adversities as challenges creates a powerful synergy that supports resilience across the brain and body. But this resilience attitude is not designed to dismiss or minimize the real pain, sorrow, anger, or difficulties you might be experiencing. Instead, it’s an approach that allows you to truly acknowledge these feelings and face your difficulties directly. There will be times when you need to yield to your pain and allow yourself to grieve or cry. After you’ve let yourself feel the pain, the resilience attitude gives you useful tools like hope, trust in your own strength, and the ability to see problems as challenges. These can help you face tough feelings and situations, things that may have seemed too big or frightening before.
A STRATEGY FOR COPING WITH ADVERSITIES
Although developing a resilience attitude is extremely helpful, having a specific strategy for confronting challenging situations is also critical for developing more resilience. The approach I suggest here has been found by researchers to be a common strategy among individuals demonstrating resilience. You can use this strategy for navigating any challenging or stressful situation.
Let’s explore the strategy’s three steps: (1) analyze your current circumstances; (2) expand your tool kit of coping strategies; and (3) monitor your results while continuing to correct course.
DO THIS – CULTIVATE A RESILIENCE MINDSET
- Bring to mind a mildly challenging, difficult, or annoying situation you’re currently experiencing. It’s best to stick to something relatively minor while you train this skill. If you go straight for the most challenging stressors, the experience may be too overwhelming to practice shifting your attitude.
- Optimism: On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being totally pessimistic that things will never improve and 10 being totally confident that things will get better, assess your current level of optimism about the situation you brought to mind:
- Close your eyes and imagine what it would feel like if this situation improved. Don’t worry about how that might happen, just focus on the felt sense in your body if the situation had already improved, even slightly. Would you feel more relaxed? More joyful? Relieved?
- Come back to your level of optimism and reassess it using the same scale. You may notice that simply by imagining the possibility of an improved outcome, you feel a little more optimistic about the situation, perhaps increasing your self-assessment by one or two points.
- Confidence in your ability to cope: On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being no confidence in your ability and 10 being totally confident in your ability, assess your current level of confidence in your ability to cope with the current situation:
- Close your eyes and bring to mind a time when you overcame some adversity, when you met a challenge and succeeded in overcoming it. It doesn’t need to be a large challenge. For example, maybe you passed a test in school that you were afraid of failing, or maybe you performed a challenging physical activity that pushed your abilities. Bring this memory to mind and invite the felt sense of that accomplishment into your body. Really feel it now for a few moments.
- Reassess your level of confidence using the same scale. You may notice that you feel a little more confident about your ability to cope, perhaps increasing your self-assessment by one or two points.
- Viewing adversities as challenges: On a scale of 1 to 10, with 1 being that you view the current situation entirely as a threat and 10 being that the situation feels like a challenge, assess your current level of challenge orientation toward the current situation:
- Now switch from dog mind to lion mind, while also imagining yourself as the powerful lion. Adopt the attitude of the powerful lion. Instead of asking yourself, “Why me?” say, “Try me!” Feel any intense sensations of stress in your body as energetic resources there to help you meet this challenge. For an extra boost, scream as loud as you can into a pillow (don’t worry, pillows muffle the sound well and no one can hear you) to increase the felt sense of challenge orientation even more.
- Reassess your level of challenge orientation using the same scale. You may feel a little less threat and a little more challenge, perhaps increasing your self-assessment by one or two points.
- Come back to the original situation. What does it feel like to approach the situation with this slightly different attitude? Do you see it differently with these shifts in your attitude? Do you feel it differently?
Analyze Your Current Circumstances
Step 1 involves noticing your current situation and asking yourself, “What is happening to me?” “What is the problem?” and “What do I need to do to get past it?” Recognizing the context helps you determine how to respond appropriately. You’ve been practicing noticing context since you started the 5-Stage Plan, beginning with stage 1, Awareness.
Use your awareness to take in your current circumstances.
To apply this to an everyday challenge, pause and take the time to understand the challenge fully. Just like you’re doing by reading this book to fully understand nervous system dysregulation, try to get a full picture of the challenge you’re facing before taking any action.
Albert Einstein said, “If I were given one hour to save the planet, I would spend fifty-nine minutes defining the problem and one minute resolving it.” Although it may seem obvious that you need to understand the situation before trying to fix it, you might be surprised when you begin to notice how often you neglect to fully take in what’s really happening before trying to move forward with a solution.