For fortitude in the face of adversity, flexible thinking and positive emotions are key. Here’s how to develop a little bit of both...
As we move further into 2021 and hit the one-year milestone of a life lived alongside Coronavirus, coaches, psychotherapists, HR professionals and, even, brand managers are mentioning the world ‘resilience’ more and more.
It doesn’t matter whether you’re an individual, a company or a culture, resilience in times of challenge is key to your wellbeing. And there is no denying that life has been, and continues to be, very challenging indeed. As we constantly adapt and readapt to an ever-changing series of personal and professional circumstances, resilience is not only an attitude or an ability, but also a protective factor. But what is it exactly and, more importantly, how do you build it?
Resilience is not that complicated a thing to pin down. It is defined as fortitude in the face of adversity, or the capacity of a system to adapt successfully. Resiliency researchers Michele Tugade and Barbara Fredrickson say it is “characterised by an ability to experience ‘bounce back’ from negative emotional experiences and by flexible adaptation to the changing demands of stressful experiences.”
Flexibility then, is integral to your mental health, your home life, and your work culture. It’s also a key component of both rational emotive behaviour therapy (REBT) and positive psychology. The following tips are borrowed from both.
1: Adopt flexible preferences
REBT’s central tenet is that rigid dogmatic demands disturb you, whilst flexible preferences keep you calm when life gets challenging. Let’s say you hold the belief that “things absolutely must be done the way I want them to be done, or else!” Here the ‘must be done’ is the dogmatic demand. With it, you are demanding one outcome and one outcome only: things being done your way. End of discussion! Not only is this unrealistic (there’s often more than one way to achieve anything) but also, this type of thinking will stress you out any time it looks like something isn’t going according to your plan. Contrast that with, “I prefer things to be done my way, but they don’t have to be done my way.” This is the very expression of flexibility. You are still saying what you would like to happen (you prefer things to be done your way) but you are also accepting that you don’t always get what you want (that they don’t have to be done your way). This attitude would make you calmer and more rational when things don’t go according to plan and more open to other people’s opinions and ideas.
2: Keep a sense of perspective
People who hold demands are more likely to make things worse than they actually are (using words like ‘awful’ and ‘catastrophe’). They’re also more likely to conclude that situations are unbearable and intolerable. People who hold preferences, meanwhile, are more likely to keep a sense of perspective, seeing things as bad, but not awful, or as difficult and challenging, but not unbearably so.
3: Adopt unconditional acceptance
When things aren’t going your way, it’s easy to blame yourself (I’m such a failure) or blame other people (you’re such an idiot). Neither of these attitudes are helpful or conducive to resilience. If you can accept that both yourself and the people around you are neither idiots nor failures, but worthwhile, fallible human beings simply trying to the do their best, you will feel much better and perform much better too.
4: Practice gratitude
Gratitude is a cornerstone of positive psychology. In fact, it’s a character strength (a positive part of our personality that impacts how we think, feel and act). People who express gratitude on a regular basis feel happier and more satisfied with life and are more adaptable to life changes. Writing down three things you are grateful for (and why you are grateful for them) every day will work wonders on your wellbeing.
5: Focus on what went right
All human beings have a biological tendency to focus on the negative. At the end of the day, we are very good at dwelling on what we did wrong, as opposed to reflecting on what we did right. You can reverse this bad habit by writing down one thing you did well at the end of each and every day. As an added bonus, as you go through your day, you can congratulate other people on what they have done well too (thereby giving them food for thought as they reflect on how their day went).
6: Challenge your attitudes
Both REBT and positive psychology make use of a tool known as ‘disputing.’ It’s a way of challenging your thoughts and behaviours. Disputing questions include “is this true?” and “is this helpful?” As an exercise it helps you revaluate the validity of what you are thinking and saying and come up with more helpful plans of action. For instance, let’s say something isn’t actually being done your way. Instead of concluding that it is awful for not being done your way, or that disastrous consequences will ensue, try the following exercise:
It’s not true:
It’s not awful if it isn’t done my way. I can think of worse things that can happen, no catastrophe has occurred, and the world has not ended.
A more helpful way of look at this would be:
Other people have different ways of doing things, I don’t have to like that, but I can certainly deal with it.
If something isn’t being done my way I will:
Take a deep breath, allow things to pan out and, if it looks like there is actually a problem, step in and ask for it to be corrected.
In summary then, adopting flexible preferences and challenging your rigid and negative thinking whilst focussing on the positive will help you bounce back quickly from whatever the rest of 2021 has in store.
Psychotherapist & Life Coach
Daniel Fryer is a mental health and wellbeing expert and the author of The Four Thoughts That F*ck You Up (and how to fix them) out now from Penguin Random House imprint, Vermillion.
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