Many of us don't bounce back after getting knocked down.
One of the consequences of living in a culture that’s very focused on planning, certainty and perfection is that we have no idea what to do when things go wrong.
When the job you thought you would love turns out to be a disaster. When your romantic relationship falls apart. When you realize that everything you’ve worked so hard for doesn’t make you happy.
We come crashing down. Then what?
Our potential to bounce back from life’s inevitable twists and turns determines our happiness and health. The ability to take mindful action rather than fall to pieces when things don’t go according to "plan" is a crucial skill.
So what to do?
Well, you might try turning towards your adversity with curiosity. I know... it sounds counter intuitive. Why would we intentionally choose to turn towards our troubles and pain, let alone with curiosity?
This is a question I could write a whole blog about and in fact I'm giving a talk on it shortly. Answering it in simple terms, when we turn away from our troubles, they have a remarkable way of finding their way back to us!
Overcoming adversity requires us to acknowledge that it is simply a part of life. When we soften and open to all of life's experiences both pleasant and unpleasant, we learn to accept them, which is key to strengthening our resilience.
Turning mindfully towards a work related challenge, a health issue or relationship issue is a way through them and can be achieved by following these 3 steps:
1. Practise compassion towards yourself.
It's a terribly hard thing to put ourselves first, when so many other priorities are pulling at us. Taking one minute to stop, take a breath and notice what's going on around us may seem like a huge effort. But this simple practice is a huge step towards building resilience. Try adding it a few times into your day, especially during difficult moments. Cultivating self-compassion and being kind to ourselves is really important. Not an easy thing to do, for those of us who are overly self-critical. Yet, treating ourselves with kindness and compassion during a setback rather than being overly self-critical is a highly effective way through it.
2. Get comfortable with a 'new normal'.
When our world comes crashing down, it's hard not to feel like an outsider. That somehow we've failed at life. A friend of mine asked me recently what 'new normal' really means? For starters, it's acknowledging that we can't go back to the way things were. Comparing ourselves to others or who we used to be or trying to restore our old normal is a recipe for stress. That's not to say that we shouldn't allow ourselves to feel sadness, which is hugely healing. A new normal is in fact a great opportunity to re-establish who we are, what we believe in and ultimately live a more fulfilling life.
3. Pay attention to your thoughts
We have very little control over most things, including many of our thoughts, emotions and sensations (which are all connected). The one thing we do have control over is our attention and where we choose to place it. When we find ourselves overwhelmed by constant churning thoughts, we can pay attention to those thoughts and say to ourselves: "How interesting...I notice that I'm having many thoughts today about [blank] and it's really curious." Observing thoughts and brining curiosity to them helps us dis-identify with them. You might ask why this is important? Because most thoughts are just that...they are stories with context and not necessarily facts. A great way to build resilience is to pay attention to our thoughts (especially ruminative ones) observe them without judgement and try to let them be in the background.
So there it is, resilience isn't really about putting on a brave face or ignoring what's going on. As you practise some of these resilience skills you'll find yourself becoming happier and more able to have a positive impact on everyone around you.
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