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How Do I Get Through This? Resilience

12 August 2011

I’ve been in situations in my life when the thought, “How Do I Get Through This?”  played my mind.  Sometimes it’s said in curiosity, other times it’s said in fear and there have been times when I’ve said it in anger.  No matter how awful the situation was at the time (and there have been some dreadful ones!) somehow I got through it and I’m so glad I’m here to write about it. 

The saying, “This too will pass” comes to mind.  I wondered whom could it be who so brilliantly summed up any situation, good or bad, in our lives.  A Wikipedia search gave me the answer.  The phrase appears in the works of the Persian Sufi poet, Attar of Nishapur  (who died long ago around 1221.) Attar recorded the fable of a powerful king who asked assembled wise men to create a ring that would make him happy when he was sad, and vice versa. After deliberation the sages handed him a simple ring with the words \"This too will pass\" etched on it.

Abraham Lincoln was also impressed by this fable and in the less distant past, back in 1859, he made an address to the Wisconsin State Agricultural Society.  This is what he said:

“It is said an Eastern monarch once charged his wise men to invent him a sentence, to be ever in view, and which should be true and appropriate in all times and situations. They presented him the words: \"And this, too, will pass away.\" How much it expresses! How chastening in the hour of pride! How consoling in the depths of affliction.”

We all know people who seem to manage themselves amazingly well through stressful times or are able to respond positively no matter what changes are imposed upon them in their lives.  What makes them so resilient? 

What do we mean by resilience?

The capacity to remain both flexible and strong in the midst of ambiguity and change.    

What is it about resilient people?  They are able to:

1.    Bounce back from physical and psychological stress
2.    Absorb high levels of change yet still remain effective
3.    Cope well with uncertainty and stress
4.    Adjust to disruptions in their life (and some even smile in the face of adversity)
5.    Maintain a high level of productivity despite the challenges

How can we develop these abilities and behaviours?  First of all, let’s take a look at those people whom we admire for the way they handle difficult situations whether these situations occur in the workplace or in their personal lives.  What are the personal characteristics and behaviours of those people?   There are many amazing individuals who have demonstrated incredible resilience and their stories continue to be an inspiration to all of us.  To name a few, Helen Keller, Oprah Winfrey, Lance Armstrong, and Aron Ralston .  This year the world has been dealt so many blows – the Queensland floods, the Christchurch earthquake, the Japan earthquake and tsunami, volcanic eruptions, global economic turmoil and uncertainty.  We all need to learn how to withstand this volatility in our lives.

What, in your opinion, are the essential behaviours that enable people to handle stressful situations and overcome adversity?  We all find out own ways to cope and to overcome however in the midst of dealing with change or adversity many of us fail to recall our own proven record of resilience.   Take some time to think about a stressful situation that you handled well and had a positive outcome for you.  It could be an unanticipated difficulty, having to deal with the unknown or an unwelcome change.  How did you feel during that situation?  What behaviours and actions did you use to get through it?  What were the behaviours that were not helpful?  What did you learn from this experience?  We all learn from our own experiences and expand our learning by understanding the experiences of others. 

Let’s have a look at the 4 components of resilience:

1.    Understanding yourself – know your capabilities, build on your strengths, compensate for your weaknesses.  This will help you to manage change in your life.
•    Know your purpose in life
•    Maintain an optimistic and receptive perspective, a sense of humour
•    Ensure you maintain your physical and emotional health and well-being

2.    Understand your situation – be aware of trends that have an impact on your situation.  This will enable you to recognize and acquire the knowledge and skills needed to get through the tough times.
•    Understand the big picture, what are the forces shaping your new environment
•    Discover the competencies, the skills required for the future
•    Prepare yourself short and long range goals plus contingency plans

3.    Connect with the community – maintain a personal support network, family, friends, organizational or community resources can be of assistance in times of stress and adversity.
•    Maintain positive relationships
•    Be resourceful, learn to be self-sufficient and well organized
•    Find out where you can gain assistance when required

4.    Take action – take persistent and determined action in order to get through changing and stressful environments.
•    Improve upon your self-knowledge, health and emotional well-being
•    Identify and connect with people and other resources
•    Expand your understanding of future trends and required competencies for any situation

The experiences we have had in our lives help us to deal with certain situations and if we choose to continue to develop and employ a variety of strategies we can prepare ourselves to become proficient in dealing with ambiguity and change.

If you are going through a difficult time right now, take action!  Start by asking yourself some questions:

•    How do I want to see myself when I look back six months from now?
•    What are the gains of going through this stressful time?
•    As a result of this situation what would you like to see happen?
•    What risks are you willing to take to build more resilience for the future?

“Adversity has the effect of eliciting talents, which in prosperous circumstances would have lain dormant.”  This quote is from Horace, the Roman lyric poet who lives 65BC – 8BC.  In adversity there are numerous stories of courage and resilience that remind us of the importance of community spirit.

Finally, to help us answer the question, “How Do I Get Through This?” an African proverb:  \"Smooth seas do not make skillful sailors.\"   The next time there are storms ahead, as daunting as they may seem at the time, remember they will prepare you well for challenges so that you can then appreciate the joy and privilege that is life.