I have been thinking a lot about resilience this summer. In June, I found out that I had a large, benign tumor wrapped around my spinal cord and I had to have neurosurgery immediately to remove it. Thankfully, the surgery went well and I had no complications. But the recovery is long and requires a good deal of patience and physical therapy to get back to normal. I had a few bad days initially, feeling sorry for myself for not being able to do the things I had looked forward to doing during the summer (Shakespeare in the Park!), but overall, I was very positive about what had happened and I improved rapidly.
During this time, I started wondering how people handle adversity like major illness, disability, loss of a partner, job transitions, and other experiences that have significant emotional effects. Some people seem to bounce back relatively well, and others seem to get stuck and can’t move forward. What’s the difference?
Well, apparently the difference is resilience. What is resilience and how can you get some? It’s like a muscle- an emotional muscle- that can be strengthened if it’s weak. There have been many books and articles on resilience, but the latest to address it in a really accessible way is Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant’s Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy. In fact, they have a whole website devoted to it and you should check it out.
Here’s a few suggestions on how to build up your resilience muscle:
Practice being optimistic: there are people who are born negative thinkers and those who are born to think more positively. Regardless, you can train yourself to think more positive thoughts. I’m more of a positivist, but in my darker times, I pushed myself to think about the fact that I would be able go back to my yoga practice pain-free soon.
Rewrite your story: reframing your struggles into experiences that taught you something important and enabled you to empathize with or help others is part of developing resilience. I now understand better how pain affects people’s lives and can appreciate how hard that can be.
De-personalize things: try not to blame yourself for your situation. Things happen. Mistakes get made. Now let’s move forward. As President Bartlett used to say on The West Wing, “What’s next?”
Support others: look outside yourself for others who need help, and get involved in helping someone else.
Be inspired: look at how other people have overcome their adverse events and succeeded. I channeled the experiences of the many friends I have who have survived (and thrived) their cancers, and it really made a difference for me.
Speaking of friends, be grateful for the support and encouragement of your friends and family. Mine were instrumental in my recovery. Even reading their messages on social media was so important.
I wish you the best as you learn how to be a resilient person!