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The Ability to Respond Positively to Adversity

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Simply put, resilience is the ability to respond positively to adversity. If practiced, resilience leads to psychological well-being and objective performance.

The challenge with resilience is that, it’s only when faced with adversity that one’s strength of resilience or lack thereof is highlighted. Now, with the current onset of change and uncertainty, it’s important to understand and enhance these skills.

Decades of research has shown us that resilience is a skill that can be taught. There are three psychologists who significantly contributed to the knowledge we have regarding resilience today. Norman Garmezy, was the first to extensively research the subject. Emmy Werner described certain predictors of resilience, most notably, an internal locus of control, which refers to the degree to which people believe they have control over the outcome of events in their lives. Research by psychologist George Bonanno, was particularly interesting as he highlighted the importance of perception in resilience. It was Bonanno who said, “Events are not traumatic, until they are experienced as traumatic.” In other words, it is the way in which we internalise events which determines if we experience it as traumatic or not. Herein lies the potential or learning. According to Bonanno, “positive construal of events can be taught.”

We make ourselves more or less vulnerable by the way in which we think about things. As sophisticated and evolved as the human brain is, our stress-response system is still very much primal. Sometimes our brains let us down by taking a minor thing, blowing it up in our minds, running it through over and over, thinking about all the ‘what-if’ scenarios until we feel like the worst possible outcome is going to happen. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. However, the opposite is also true, if we can learn to positively reframe a potentially traumatic event, we feel more capable of handling it, as we feel a sense of empowerment or control. This, in-turn, makes our experience of the event less traumatic. We can then take action to move on, learn from it and grow, making us more confident in our ability to handle the next challenge.

Here are some tips and simple activities to enhance your resilience:

  • Practice a growth mind-set

Reflect on a past traumatic event or set -back that you endured.

Reflect on what you were worried about or afraid of at the time.

How did the event actually turn out?

Did anything positive come out of this event?

Write down 3 things you are grateful for today.

  • Practice positive-reframing

Identify one or two concerns or worries you have right now. Write them down.

What positive outcomes or opportunities could possibly come from these events? Challenge yourself to write down at least one positive potential outcome for each of the above concerns.

  • Acknowledge and let go of negative emotions.

(It’s vitally important that you do not supress negative emotions. Learn to let them come and go, but do not focus on them.)

Write down 3 negative emotions you are feeling right now.

Allow yourself to feel these emotions for 3-5 minutes.

Now using a mindfulness technique, let these emotions go.

by Hayley Kirby


Image from Jordan Cormack on Unsplash