2020 has been an eye-opening year—a reminder of how quickly and radically the world can change. The rapid spread of Covid-19, the pervasive rise in white supremacy, the steep decline of trust in government officials, and the growing threat of climate change has lead to a global state of alert, with many living in survival mode. Even with government aid and proposed action plans, it has been made clear that we all need to take collective responsibility to look after ourselves and our communities. But in order to do so, we must learn to be resilient.
What is Resiliency?
Resilience is a psychological quality which determines our ability to adapt to difficult situations. How resilient we are as individuals determines whether we forge ahead or fall apart when faced with stress, adversity, or trauma. Resiliency isn't about being stoic or thick-skinned, but rather, it is determined by a number of factors such as genetics, early life experiences, and luck. While these things cannot be modified, decades of research suggest there are specific, resilience-building skills we can learn.
The Science Behind Resilience
Norman Garmezy, a developmental psychologist and clinician at the University of Minnesota, spent four decades travelling across the United States interviewing children with low socioeconomic status and challenging home conditions to learn more about resilience. He is widely credited with being the first to study the concept in an experimental setting, but not the only one.
Through a thirty-two-year longitudinal project, involving six hundred and ninety-eight children, Emmy Werner, also a developmental psychologist, found that several elements predicted resilience. Perhaps most importantly, was what psychologists call an “internal locus of control”, meaning the children who demonstrated the most resilience believed that they, and not their circumstances, affected their achievements. Werner also discovered that resilience could change over time—some people who weren’t resilient when they were little somehow learned the skills of resilience as they grew older, and vice versa.
George Bonanno, a clinical psychologist at Columbia University’s Teachers College, has been studying resilience for over twenty-five years. His theory of resilience starts with an observation: even though all of us possess the same fundamental stress-response system, some people use it so much more frequently or effectively than others. Why is this so? Bonanno believes it has to do with perception. Some of us conceptualize an event as traumatic while others view it as an opportunity to learn and grow. But the beautiful thing about perception is it can be changed. We can all learn to have a more positive construal, and therefore, become more resilient to the difficulties which lay ahead.
5 Strategies for a More Resilient Brain
1. Make Connections
In the research mentioned above, it was found that children who displayed more resilience had at least one supportive relationship with an adult. Though it becomes more and more difficult to create and sustain relationships the older we get, the support of community is immeasurable. Having a tight-knit group of people to lean on can help us navigate trouble when it arises.
2. Learn to Regulate Your Emotions
Stress and negative emotions don't always have to be harmful. Although they can turn toxic and lead to negative outcomes, they can also be useful motivators—pushing us to resolve problems or strive for better opportunities. With proper support systems and coping techniques, over time, our bodies and minds can begin to manage stressors and perceived threats.
3. Change the Narrative
While forced positivity can be toxic in its own way, changing our perspective can offer new ways to approach challenges. Life isn't static. It ebbs and flows, for better or for worse, but accepting and even anticipating change can make it easier to adapt. When new challenges arise, changing the narrative to one that is more hopeful can reduce anxiety and help us think in a more productive, optimistic way.
4. Be Proactive
Being resilient means facing problems head on rather than letting them pile up. Though difficult, figuring out what needs to be done, making a plan, and taking action, instead of ignoring the issues at hand, will lead to resolve rather than further stress. Although it can take time to recover from a major setback, traumatic event or loss, you can improve your situation if you continue to work at it.
5. Practice Empathy
When faced with a difficult situation, it is easy to get lost in self-pity—fears and adversity can make us feel alone, like we are the only ones who have ever felt pain or sorrow. But that is never truly the case. Practicing empathy helps us recognize that everyone suffers, some more than us, and teaches us to cultivate compassion, for others and ourselves.
Cultivating resiliency as an Entrepreneur with Sirocco Fan's CEO, Abdul Ahmed