Resilience

Resilience is part and parcel of being a TCK and an ex-pat, although I think it applies no matter where you live or what you do.

As per the Merriam-Webster online dictionary the relevant definition of resilience is “an ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change”.

I consider resilience a critical survival trait for being able to live  – happily – in today’s world.

Resiliency has two inextricably intertwined aspects to it. Physical and psychological.

Physical resiliency, regardless of your age (although I think especially as one gets older), is crucial. The healthier you are, the less likely you are to get sick or get injured in the first place, and if you do get sick or are injured, you will recover faster. There are a few basic tenets for that, and all of them have a direct impact on your psychological resilience as well. Eating right, not abusing your body to any great degree (alcohol, cigarettes, drugs, junk food), getting enough sleep, exercising regularly, etc. The main point here is that if you don’t maintain your body in a good state of physical health, your ability to be able to handle psychological stressors is severely reduced.

We all have stressors in our lives. Resilience is the ability to not let them get you down permanently.

Two of the most important attributes that one must have to be able to be psychologically resilient are adaptability and flexibility. People who have rigid mindsets and can only see one course of action or one possible set of outcomes, lack these traits and suffer accordingly. Living in today’s world, being moderately connected to all the things that comprise life, business, friends, politics, the economic situation, etc., being both adaptable and flexible is more than a survival trait, it is a success trait.

There are other character traits that I consider valuable, not least of which is the ability to exercise critical thinking and to not get stressed about that which you cannot control (Stoicism).

Part of being resilient is also the ability to live in the present, and not dwell on the past to an inordinate degree. I have made numerous mistakes in my life, and if you are unfortunate enough to be one of my close friends, you have probably heard about most of them. However, and I do feel good about this as regards myself, I don’t think I dwell on them to an extraordinary extent. Making mistakes is perfectly okay provided that one uses them as a learning tool, rather than as a metal flail with which you can scourge yourself at regular intervals to keep yourself beaten down.

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And although, to be sure, some people may be born with a high level of innate resistance resilience, it is nonetheless a character trait and skill that can be learned as well. You just have to know what to do.

The information below is from an e-book put out by www.artofmanliness.com called “Building Your Resiliency”. If you browse the website for a while you will get a popup saying they will send you five free e-books if you register with them. My experience is that they seem to be a fairly ethical website (I have not seen any spam as a result of registering with them) and there is a lot of good content there. They used (partially for the section I summarized below) Learned Optimism by Dr. Martin E.P. Seligman & The Resilience Factor by Dr. Karen Reivich and Dr. Andrew Shatte as sources.

Dr. Martin Seligman conducted a study in the 1960s on dogs, and the results were quite startling. It involved a trait called “learned helplessness”. And consistently through his studies, he discovered that in any group, two thirds of the subjects, once they had been in a situation where they suffered pain and had no control over the pain, they developed a trait called “learned helplessness”. This meant that even if they were later placed into a situation where they could escape the painful stimuli by doing something, they would not. They would just lay there. The other one third of the subjects, even if they had been in a situation where they had no control, once they were in a situation where they had control, would immediately take advantage of doing what they needed to do to escape the stimuli. When he carried his studies on to humans (presumably through questionnaires and not through electric shock experiments), he found out that the difference between the two groups lay in something called “explanatory style”. I.e. when something bad happens, what kind of a dialogue do you have with yourself? A book called “The Resilience Factor” splits this into some very easy categories to remember:

Me/Not me — the ME person thinks that it is always themselves that is the cause of the problem

Always/Not always — the ALWAYS person thinks that the situation or problem is forever

Everything/Not everything — the EVERYTHING person believes that the problem will affect everything in their life

An MAE person quite obviously is prone to learned helplessness, depression, and not being able to get themselves out of a bad situation.

An NNN person realizes that they are not the source of all the problems, and that it’s not going to affect everything forever – one can see the difference this can make.

Now being an NNN person to an extreme degree isn’t healthy either. It is not an excuse to not take responsibility for your actions. Of course, sometimes things are your fault. But even if a problem is your fault, that doesn’t necessarily mean to be that the problem will last forever or that it affects everything in your life. The idea is to be, as Dr. Seligman states, a “flexible optimist”. Be realistic, take responsibility for your actions always, but then look at everything in perspective, try to deal with it and move on.

So how can one address this issue of being an MAE type of person?

In any circumstance, you must look at the ABCs (as set out by Dr. Albert Ellis)

A. Adversity. A setback or challenge.

B. Beliefs. Our thoughts, feelings, and interpretation of the setback.

These beliefs lead to:

C. Consequences. How we act because of our beliefs about the setback.

You can’t change the ADVERSITY part, but if you can change your Beliefs, you should be able to change the Consequences (which is how you react to the Adversity, based on your beliefs)

I have to quote this directly from the e-book because it is SO true.

“Just because you have certain beliefs, even if you have held them for as long as you can remember, that doesn’t make them true.”

And if you can’t accept this possibility, there is no point in you reading any farther. Go home, stick your head in the sand, and wait for your existence to end. That sounds harsh no doubt. But the world is a changeable place. And I’m acutely cognizant that rarely do I know everything about anything. So, when new data comes along, okay I can take that, and thus my beliefs can change. And – something that can help? To the best of your ability, try to leave your ego out of it.

The Resiliency booklet that AOM put out is about 74 pages. Wonderfully succinct and really well written. If you are interested, I really advise you to go get it. It explains it far better than I can in a short blog article.

I realize, of course that it may be easy to write about something like this, but the actual implementation is sometimes not so easy. But I certainly am not writing this from an intellectual standpoint. I’m working on it now, and will continue to do so. For me, I have found that reading and researching about issues like this has been enormously beneficial to me. Because I don’t know everything about everything. And I think, at any age, it is easy to convince yourself that you already know what you need to know. I think NOT. As part of being adaptable and flexible you need to be willing to never stop learning.

A final parting quote from that book – “Just because a belief is true, doesn’t mean it’s useful.”

This has merit as well. A belief may be true – you may in fact have a chronic physical disability or medical condition, you may not be in the best job, you may not be handsome, attractive, rich etc. However, that being true may not particularly help your ability to deal with consequences in an effective manner. It may be necessary to set aside the useless belief, so that you can give your mind freedom to work on what you can change that will help you.

So how does resilience evidence itself in my daily life?

Well, first of all, I don’t stay in ‘alert’ mode, waiting for something to happen. That would be exhausting. When something does happen, yes, I allow myself a brief period in which to be surprised, shocked, whatever. But, and usually, within a very short time, a matter of hours if not minutes, I try to be looking at the following:

Why did it happen? (This is not of the utmost importance to me in some cases. It may be good to know so you can try to prevent it from happening again – but often dealing with the consequences is more pressing.)

But then almost immediately I will start looking at what are the possible options and courses of action once the problem has cropped up. And a lot of this is tied up in having a positive explanatory style as mentioned in the AOM article.

Finally, take action. Observe, analyze, and see if further or different action is needed. Lather, rinse, repeat. (Sorry – I was channeling a shampoo commercial).

Being positive, flexible, and adaptable is crucial to resiliency. As I’ve gotten older I have embraced essentialism. I do like my comfort, I do like my lifestyle. However, I have certainly found that leading a simple life makes it easier to be resilient. Now that’s me personally. Resilience will manifest somewhat differently for a guy with a wife and several children and a steady job someplace. But flexibility and adaptability, combined with a positive outlook on life, will carry you through a lot of bad times, regardless of your personal situation.

I think that one of my biggest hurdles to being resilient, is the part of my character that desperately wants to please other people. Not any people or all people, but those people who are closest to me, and whose opinions I value the most highly. And I have found that there are a few people, that when situations occur, and they get upset, I will get upset also just so that they feel I am showing solidarity with them. I wrote about this in some other articles, but this is something that I only consciously realized about a year or so ago. And it is something that I am working very hard to change. It takes time, but I am now at least taking note of it when I find myself doing it. That has been critical to changing that particular weakness. And I do regard it as a weakness. It upsets me, and it doesn’t help my friends. In fact, I can think of few situations where remaining calm isn’t the better course of action. And the more resilient way to go.

And … just for fun … Google “resiliency quiz” – there are numerous ones you can take online. The link for one of them is below.

http://www.resiliencyquiz.com/index.shtml