Just before the September 2001 attack on the Twin Towers in New York, positive psychology researcher Dr. Barbara Fredrickson concluded a study of resilient personalities. After the attacks, she sought out the participants of her study to see what she could learn about how they coped with the disaster.
Coping with adversity, after all, is what resilience is all about. It’s the bounce-back factor that lets us find our bearings again after misfortune strikes our lives.
In the light of the crisis unfolding right now in Japan, the world’s deteriorating financial systems, and the wars raging around the globe, we need all the resilience we can get.
The Positivity Connection
What Dr. Fredrickson discovered about resiliency is that, “Positivity matters. And it especially matters during trying times.” Positivity—the whole complex of positive emotions, meanings and attitudes—is, she found, inseparably linked with resilience. In fact, she concluded, “Without positivity, there is no rebound.” It’s the active ingredient, she said, that lets people bounce back.
How to Be More Resilient Now
When things go terribly wrong in life, the stress of the event and its aftermath drives us downward. Without the lifeline of positivity, we’re easily dragged toward hopelessness, helplessness, depression and despair.
Positivity puts the brakes on that spiral. It broadens our perspective so we can see that the problem we’re facing, however devastating it may be, isn’t the whole of reality. It allows us to see a bigger picture and to lessen our resistance to change. It helps us tell ourselves a more optimistic story that sees adversity as a springboard for personal growth.
The resilient people in Dr. Fredrickson’s study didn’t cope by denying the horror they were seeing in the world around them or pretending that it wasn’t a tragedy. Like everyone else, they felt anger, and fear, and sadness. But even more than those emotions, they experienced compassion. They saw opportunities to connect with others and possibilities for creating renewed community with their neighbors. They felt more optimism and fulfillment and hope as they dealt with the tragedy’s aftermath.
How to Develop Resiliency
The best way to become a more resilient person is to develop your positivity in general—and that is what this blog is all about. But here are some actions from “A Resilience Model” based on the work of researcher Timothy T. C. So at Cambridge University’s Well-being Institute and featured in the book Resilience: How to Navigate Life’s Curves (Positive Psychology News):
1. Take Care of Yourself Physically.
When you’re undergoing the stress of trying times, do you best to get enough sleep, to exercise, to eat as wholesomely as your situation allows. Exercise is particularly important. It’s more effective in overcoming depression than many of the psychiatric drugs currently being prescribed.
2. Practice Meditation.
Spend at least 15-20 minutes every day in meditation or prayer. Even quietly, steadily breathing for 15 minutes while repeating a phrase such as “Breathe in peace; breathe out love,” or simply repeating the number “one” will do you wonders.
3. Visualize Positive Outcomes.
Take five minutes at the beginning and end of the day to vividly imagine how things can work out for the better.
4. Find Ways to Help Others.
Extending kindness is a powerful positivity practice any time. During adversity, its value is immeasurable. Do what you can to help others, even if it’s no more than keeping them company, reassuring them, offering them your smiles or your shoulder, or holding their hands. Find ways to distract people from their difficulties. Share tasks and chores.
5. Accept the Support that Others Offer.
Allow yourself to take hold of an extended hand and to feel the warmth of encouragement that others offer. It will make both of you feel better.
6. Practice Self-Compassion.
Accept that you are going through a stressful time and be kind to yourself in your self-talk. Give yourself mental hugs and words of encouragement. Recognize that you’re doing the very best you can.
We live in a complex and stressful world, and it doesn’t hold much promise for turning into a paradise soon. But you can make your experience of it more meaningful, satisfying and joyful by continuing to include positivity practices like those you’ll find on this blog in your life.
Then, when adversity strikes, you’ll be equipped not only to cope with it, but to use it as an opportunity for finding even greater depth and beauty in your life.
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