Debunking 3 Myths of Resilience
Developing the right strategies on the resilience trail
A good half of the art of living is resilience.
– Alain de Botton
Welcome to the second part of a two-part series on resilience. In this part I will debunk three myths of resilience and share strategies to develop it. As promised, I will reveal one surprising group that may have particular challenges to developing resilience.
Let´s dive right into debunking myths around resilience:
Myth 1: Resilience is about being tough.
This myth is so prevalent you can even see it when looking into the word´s synonyms and antonyms: Listed among the synonyms are strong and tough; it´s opposite includes delicate and weak.
However, if you recall the first part of the series on resilience, you know that resilience is much more about flexibility: the ability to bend, without breaking. The more we understand the strains and stresses in our own lives, the greater our agility to respond before reaching the “breaking point.” (If you want to assess whether you or someone you love is at risk of reaching their breaking point, have a look at part one of the resilience series.)
Being tough is great. But tough to the point of being rigid is dangerous.
Myth 2: Resilience is about facing the bad stuff.
True – it takes resilience to cope during times of adversity and loss. The events in our lives that create adversity are not something we wish for when we fall asleep at night. This is “the bad stuff”. However, supported by research from Tugade and Fredrickson, the key to developing resilience is not just facing up to what is hard in our lives but rather using positive emotions to help you bounce back. By creating and experiencing positive emotions such as kindness, creativity, pleasure and gratitude, we create a frame of mind which enables us to see beyond our own circumstances. It is the ability to see and explore the world around us. When faced with difficulties, holding onto what is still positive serves as an asset to draw upon when times get tough.
Myth 3: Resilience is something you develop on your own.
Resilience is not developed in a vacuum – it is developed in community. Friends and family count among the resilient person´s most valuable resources. Drawing upon research from a PBS series called “This Emotional Life,” people with high resilience don´t hesitate to call upon their social networks for support, including telling others about their challenges and asking for help. The picture of the resilient person barring the storm alone is very far from reality. Resilient people are blessed to live within (or seek out) a community that is aware of their troubles and take the necessary steps to ask for or accept support.
Characters Along the Resilience Trail
When I imagine a person who buys into all three of these myths – I visualize a person who puts immense pressure on himself to be as tough, self-reliant and hardened as a lone cowboy. In fact, when I think about it – it plays into stereotyped notions of what it means to be a “real man”. Et voilà! I have now revealed the surprising group that may have particular challenges to develop resilience: Men. Or perhaps more accurately – the men out there that still somewhere deep down adhere to the notion that being tough, self-reliant and hardened is the honorable way to walk the resilience trail. (This applies as well to the lone cowgirls, I might add). By relying on mythical notions of resilience neither men nor women will develop sustainable resiliency. Anyone who works from these assumptions are at risk.
To make matters worse, if a “lone cowboy” does investigate how to cope when times are tough – he (or she) is encountered potentially with a “foreign” language. To illustrate what I mean, let´s take a look at some relevant advice offered among the top three Internet searches for “strategies to develop resilience”:
- Nurture a positive view of yourself.
- Develop a social network (i.e. connect with people who will listen as you share your feelings)
- Take care of yourself.
- Avoid indulging in unhealthy habits (such as turning to alcohol or escaping through work).
While these strategies have been tried and tested for their efficacy – my instinct says that they may not be readily embraced by the lonesome cowhands out there. Instead, I offer the following 3 strategies – guaranteed to work for the softest of softies or toughest of the tough.
3 Sure-fire Ways to Develop Resilience
It is time to put down those old myths and pick up a few strategies that will have a long-term impact on your resilience.
Step One: Take Stock of Your Resources
- Personal resources – What skills, abilities and traits do I have going for me? What has served me well in the past? What do I have to be grateful for?
- Professional network – Who can I count on in my professional network?
- Personal network – Who do I feel completely comfortable with in my social circle?
This list is like a mental safety net. It is easier to be positive when you know you won´t land flat on your face. And if you do – you´ve got someone there to help you up.
Step Two: Reduce your Stresses and Strains
Make a list of all of the (negative and positive) stresses and strains in your life. (Part one can lead you through this). Now examine this list and follow a variation of what Dr. Martha Beck calls “the 3Bs” below until your load is significantly lighter.
Better it – Ask yourself these questions: How can I improve an item on my list by adding or taking away something? What would make the item on my list more fun? You might consider playing music while you do your taxes. Try drinking wine while doing the dishes. (But please be careful if you drink wine while doing taxes!)
Barter it – Get clear on the following: What drains my energy? What could I offer in exchange for someone else to do this for me? Think creatively about the people in your social and professional network. Is there anyone who could use your skills? Do any of these people have the talent or capacity to take over something that is weighing you down in exchange?
Buy it – When considering this option – don´t lose sight of how much your health and well-being are worth. Ask yourself the following: What can I outsource that is currently weighing me down? What is one thing I could invest in that would significantly improve my quality of life? The times when you need to be most resilient are not the times to worry about whether you are saving enough for your 3-year-old´s college fund. When times get tough – you need to invest in your wellbeing. If you are not well, everything else will suffer. Your work, your relationships, your health – everything.
It is time to get serious about investing in yourself so you are able to weather life´s storms. For some, this could mean outsourcing two hours of cleaning a week or hiring a babysitter twice a month so you can attend to more urgent issues. For others this may be scraping together the cash to take the family on a much needed get-a-way. There are also times where the best move would be working closely with a coach to help you identify your top priorities or hold you accountable for making strategic changes in your life. Regardless of what is right for you, it pays to reflect on what you can outsource to bolster your resilience. You are worth it.
Step Three: Identify Whistle Blowers
Let´s be honest. Old habits die hard. That is why you will need to call in your personal and professional support network to help you save yourself from yourself. I call these people “whistle blowers.” You may have seen the fancy graph in my blog post Avoiding the Breaking Point. You get the mechanics of it. But who will be there to help you make sure you don´t tip-toe toward a fracture? Yes, you guessed it – your whistle blowers. Here is how it works:
- Identify 3 people within your personal and professional network that you can trust.
- Explain to them that you are looking for someone to catch your attention when they see signs that stress and strain are taking a toll on you.
- Solicit their ideas of what they have seen as tell-tale signs in the past.
- Ask them to make a commitment to “blow the whistle” when they see signs that you are on the fast-track to Fractureville.
- Agree on how they will blow the whistle and what steps you will commit to afterward.
Make it fun and set the stakes high in their favor. Promise a dinner out, a round of drinks, a karaoke machine – anything fun as a reward when they send the signal. Agree to up the ante significantly if you ignore their warning call. Keep it fun and be ready to follow-through if necessary.
So there you have it.
Developing resilience is not a journey of the lone cowboy weathering the storm. It is a path where you focus on what is positive, remain flexible, get creative about lightening your load and reach out in ways that feel good. And that is the art of living.