October 22, 2014

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Major life disruptions are a “gotcha” moment we all experience at one time or another in our lives. We get fired, laid off, or passed over; a loved one dies, becomes ill, leaves, or gets into trouble; a project stalls or gets cancelled. The list, unfortunately, is endless.

For some, the impact of these hard times is overwhelming and creates lasting problems. Others show incredible resilience and are admirably able to glide through challenging times fairly easily. Resilience—the ability to recover quickly from difficulties—acts as our internal compass which drives our growth and recovery.

When unexpected events turn life upside-down, it’s the degree to which our resiliency comes into play that makes these “make-or-break” situations an opportunity for growth. The good news is that each of us has the capacity to re-organize our life after a disruption and to achieve new levels of strength and meaningfulness. Though it’s easy to feel vulnerable in the midst of chaos and uncertainty, life disruptions often help us grow and meet future challenges in our lives with a perspective we had not previously been awakened to.

So, how can you become more resilient? Here’s a look at seven key characteristics of people who demonstrate resilience during life’s unpredictable trajectories.

Feeling hopeful / Having Faith
Hope is not an action, but it is a belief that things will get better. Faith and hope are empowering beliefs that support a positive attitude. This positive attitude allows people to weather difficult times and to look for and accept the support they require. Faith and hope reduce the production of energy-zapping cortisol (the stress hormone) and provide the vitality to fuel recovery.

Interpreting Experiences in a New Light
The ability to look at a situation in a new way (a skill called “reframing”) can minimize the impact of difficult situations. Resilient people are able to redirect their focus from feelings of helplessness and hopelessness to personal, intentional, and productive “take-a-ways.”

Meaningful System of Support
One of the best ways to endure a crisis is with the support of friends, family, and the community. Knowing that others care, have been through similar crises before, and will come to our aid, decreases the feeling of isolation that comes with tackling a problem alone. Resilient people aren’t stoic loners. They know the value of expressing their fears and frustrations, as well as receiving support, coaching, or guidance.

Sense of Mastery and Control Over Your Destiny
You may not be able to predict the future, but you can address a problem instead of submitting to the mercy of forces outside of your control. Resilient people know that their survival and the integrity of their life values ultimately depend on their ability to take action rather than remain passive. Tough times call for you to tap into your own sense of personal responsibility. Ask yourself, “Where should I direct my focus? What is called for now? What small change can make the biggest difference now? What are my options? Who will support me?”

Self-Reflection and Insight
Life’s experiences provide fertile ground for learning. Asking yourself questions that invite introspection (“How do I feel? How has my perspective changed? What do I want to take away from the situation?”) can open a door to new understanding and appreciation of who you are and what you stand for. Giving voice to your thoughts and feelings leads to insight and helps transform the meaning of a problem into something useful. Resilient people learn from life situations and do not succumb to punishing themselves because of decisions made in the past.

Wide Range of Interests
People who show resilience in the face of adversity are those who have a diversity of interests. They’re open to new experiences and ideas. Because their lives are rich and varied, it’s easier for them to find relief from the single-mindedness and worry that often accompany a crisis. They may focus on a hobby, return to school, or spend more time volunteering in the community, thus creating new lifestyle patterns.

Sense of Humor
Have you ever had a wry laugh during a difficult situation? The ability to see the absurdity, irony, or genuine humor in a situation stimulates our sense of hope and possibility. Humor has both psychological and physical benefits in relieving stress because it encourages a swift change in your perception of your circumstances—and when your thoughts change, your mood follows.

This article is lovingly dedicated to my clients whose resilience has inspired me daily, as well as my mom and two sisters, each of whom have shown great resilience in their personal battles with MS and breast cancer.

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