Real Time Resilience

Hi!!! And Welcome Back to Motivated Mondays! 

We’re talking about beliefs, optimism, and resilience. 

A quick recap of last week before we continue.

We learned that optimism or the belief that things can change for the better positively impacts both our physical and mental wellbeing and is core to resilient behavior (1, 2). We examined optimistic and pessimistic explanatory styles and saw that optimistic folks typically do not believe adversity is permanent, pervasive, or personal while pessimists tend to believe adversity is permanent, pervasive, and personal (1). Then we talked about the different consequences these habitual beliefs have on how we feel and what we do.

Importantly, I explained that optimism and it’s benefits are not a panacea, that pessimism can be helpful in certain situations despite its costs, and that the accurate assessment of a given situation is still critical for resilience (1). Then, we set a goal to cultivate realistic optimism in an effort to reap the many benefits of optimism, remain accurate, increase resilience, and avoid the pitfalls of blind optimism such as repeating mistakes and/or underestimating risk (3).

In order to do this, I invited you to ask if your glass was half full? Or half empty? And we begin to utilize the ABCDE Model for Learned Optimism (1). 

Adversity —> Beliefs —> Consequences —> Disputation —> Energization 

Did you notice a change in your energy after you disputed an unhelpful belief?

I sure did! Last week, I noticed that I felt calmer after disputing an unhelpful belief in a moment of adversity where I was particularly stressed. My anxiety was not gone, but it was lower. With a lower level of anxiety and a more accurate assessment of my situation, I was able to think more flexibly and see potential solutions that were not visible to me even moments before. This made me feel capable and helped me positively adapt in the moment. I was using real time resilience (2). Did I feel great? No. I was not particularly pleased in the moment, but I was able to moderate my emotions and ride the wave more easily.

I experienced the ordinary magic of resilience (4).

Remember, our explanatory style matters, it impacts our resilience not just in the moment but long-term, and it can even create self-fulfilling prophecies (1)! We tend to act in ways that confirm our beliefs. Therefore, we often rise and fall to our own expectations. Talent and desire are not always enough to overcome a moment of adversity. Failure can even occur when talent and desire are present but optimism is missing (1). Think about that. You can have all the talent and desire in the world, but if you get knocked down and don’t engage with the world around you to stand back up - you may never reach your potential.

Life is full of bumps.

Being resilient helps us bounce back and positively adapt to adversity (2).

I hope you can see how the skills I presented over the last few weeks have built on each other. I hope the information I provided has increased your awareness of your inner monologue during moments of adversity and given you insight into how your personal beliefs impact resilience. I hope you have challenged unhelpful beliefs and aimed to cultivate flexible, accurate, and optimistic beliefs in order to build resilience. It’s a process, and I encourage you to continue working on these skills.

Because they are not always easy.

At times, it can be difficult to own accurate observations and dispute unhelpful beliefs without judgment. So, go easy on yourself. We are often our own worst critic. If this resonates with you, try to talk to yourself as if you were your best friend the next time you notice an unhelpful belief. It has helped me cultivate the self-compassion I deserve, but do not always give myself.

And like most things, it gets easier with practice. 

Even though we’ve worked on several techniques to increase our resilience and improve our flexible, accurate, and optimistic beliefs over the last few weeks, sometimes our emotions can be overwhelming and make it difficult (if not impossible) to observe our thoughts during moments of adversity. So, this week, I want to look a three alternate ways to help you keep calm and focus in moments of adversity. Ways to increase real time resilience (2).

The first technique is controlled breathing (2). It sounds so simple, but taking even, slow, deep breaths can be very helpful. When we feel stress in a moment of adversity, our breathing changes. It often gets fast and shallow. When this happens, we have less oxygen in our bloodstream and our body signals a state of alarm. This signal causes adrenaline to be released and the cycle of anxiety literally begins to build. Learning to intercept our physical reactions to stress with controlled breathing can be helpful (2)! It can calm the body and focus the mind in the moment and is a great way to practice real time resilience.

I invite you to sync your breath to this gif for one minute. Feel free to time yourself if you like.

Pretty wonderful, huh?

Another potential technique to intercept your physical reaction to stress is Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) (2). It draws attention to the body and away from the adversity at hand. It allows you to check in physically, locate muscle tension that occurs during moments of adversity, and actively release tension by contracting and releasing your muscles in sequence. I am not going to fully explain the process here today, but if you are curious, check out this video!

Or another one! There are countless videos online to guide you through this technique. Note: if this is your first time trying PMR it may be difficult to isolate particular muscle groups. Be patient. This technique is quite helpful once it is familiar. PMR can be a useful in the moment for real time resilience or as a great way to wind down at the end of a stressful day and prepare for sleep (2). 

The third technique I want to mention today is Positive Imagery (2). This can also help you to find a sense of calm and focus in a moment of adversity. Ask yourself the following questions: What helps you feel at ease? Is there a particular place where you feel relaxed? What do you do to relax? What do you hear? What do you see? In this way you can begin to build a personal positive image. Then let your imagination take over!

If my mind is off to the races, I close my eyes and imagine slowly descending a small staircase onto a beach. I picture removing my shoes and let my toes curl in the warm sand. Then, I walk towards the water soaking in the warmth of the sun, feeling the sand give way as I walk, and listening to the sounds of the waves gently crashing along the shore. Perhaps I hear a bird fly overhead or smell the salty air. I dig in and luxuriate in this image for a couple of minutes. By creating a vivid, detailed, positive image that I enjoy, I begin to relax. Note: If you use the same positive image over time, it becomes easier to access and dive into quickly offering a mental oasis to calm and focus yourself in moments of adversity (2). 

So the next time you feel like your emotions are starting to take over. Why not try one of these three techniques? It doesn’t have to take long and the more you use one, the faster your relaxation process will become. Keeping your body calm is another way to regulate your emotions in the moment and build real time resilience (2). 

I look forward to seeing you again next week as we continue our journey to resilience by looking at another new skill. Until then, I hope you enjoy your week!

Gratitude for the expertise of the following resources.

References

1. Seligman, M. Learned optimism. New York: Knopf; 1991.

2. Reivich, K, Shatté, A. The resilience factor: 7 keys to finding your inner strength and overcoming life's hurdles. Random House Digital, Inc; 2003.

3. Schneider, S. In search of realistic optimism: Meaning, knowledge, and warm fuzziness. American Psychologist. 2001; 56(3), 250.

4. Masten, AS. Ordinary magic: Resilience processes in development. American Psychologist. 2001; 56(3): 227-238.