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Building Resiliency

Resiliency is defined by the Merriam-Webster dictionary as, “the ability to recover from or adjust easily to adversity or change.”

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As most Americans wait for their turn to get one of the COVID-19 vaccines, resiliency serves as our collective shield against the mental struggles associated with the various tiers of lockdown.  If you are unable to get a vaccine or are in the last group like I am, then you can use your resilience to keep yourself mentally healthy and build resiliency to stay strong during the remainder of the pandemic.  Strategies and skills to build resiliency discussed here including “inner critic” identification, an optimistic attitude, and faithful prayer can propel you through the rough patches ahead or the rut that you are in right now.  As Thrive Global Founder & CEO, Arianna Huffington, states, “[t]he power to build resilience is within us; just as we can learn other skills through practice, we can teach ourselves to be more resilient.” Arianna Huffington, “And the Word of the Year Is… “Resilience”” dated December 4, 2020, available at:  https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/word-year-resilience-arianna-huffington/  

Identifying the problem:  The “inner critic”

First, we must take a breath and identify the problem.  This week, I started my efforts to meet the biannual requirement to achieve 30 hours of continuing legal education.  Every time I start climbing this hill, I am drawn to topics on attorney well-being.  The Illinois Supreme Court has a Commission on Professionalism that was originally developed to address civility in the practice of the law.  As the Commission has evolved though, the need to address the well-being crisis in the profession has led it to providing education to lawyers on resiliency.   The reason these courses are offered is because there has been a problem identified in the profession. 

The National Task Force on Lawyer Well-Being established by the American Bar Association published, “The Path To Lawyer Well-Being,” in 2017, identifying “Resilience and Optimism” as recommended continuing legal education topics for the profession.  The Commission reports that, “recent personality research focused on attorneys revealed that many scored in the 30th percentile when it comes to resiliency.  It revealed that lawyers can:

–              Have thin skinned tendencies

–              Take criticism personally

–              Be overly defensive

–              Be resistant to feedback.”

Source:  The Resilient Lawyer CLE course, Illinios Supreme Court Commission on Professionalism, available at: www.2Civility.org

However, these negative tendencies are not limited to lawyers; problematic mental characteristics flow through all of us.  To varying degrees, most people experience these negative thoughts and feelings at one time in their life.  According to Paula Davis-Laack, lawyer turned CEO of the Stress & Resilience Institute, “[y]our “inner critic” also drives other counterproductive thinking styles like catastrophizing, having a fixed mindset, perfectionism, and other thinking traps.”  Paula Davis-Laack, “Following Sheryl Sandberg’s Lead: How You Can Build Resilience,” dated: 05/31/2016, updated June 1, 2017, available at:  https://www.huffpost.com/entry/following-sheryl-sandberg_b_10213130

Compounded with the uncertainty and fears faced in 2020 and continuing into 2021, these negative thinking patterns can lead to exhaustion, anxiety, and stress.  That’s why we need coping mechanisms or skills to go to when we are facing situations that are stressful like the lockdowns during the pandemic.  Bryan Robinson, PhD., argues that 2021 is the year to invest our focus on building resilience skills in his article,  “Why The Word For 2021 Is ‘Resilience’ And How It Affects Mental Health,” dated December 6, 2020, available at:  https://www.forbes.com/sites/bryanrobinson/2020/12/06/why-the-word-for-2021-is-resilience-and-how-it-affects-mental-health/?sh=41862644bc84 

An Optimistic Attitude

Key to building these resilience skills is our attitude.  Specifically, we need to learn to practice having  an optimistic attitude.  In fact, Dr. Robinson cites in his article to psychiatrist, Viktor Frankel.  In his book, “Man’s Search for Meaning,” he underscored this need for optimism stating, “[w]hen we can no longer change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves… Everything can be taken from a human but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to chose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”  Id.  Viktor Frankel’s insight came at horrific cost, having lived through Nazi concentration camps.  However, given any circumstance where we cannot change the situation, his wisdom rings true; to survive and thrive, we must look to change ourselves.  We must adapt our attitude to one of optimism and belief.   

Taking captive negative thoughts is key to resetting our thoughts toward an optimistic outlook.  Paula Davis-Laack identifies this process and recommends changing your mindset:

“When you are stuck thinking in a counterproductive way, ask yourself one of these questions to help you reframe your thinking:

1. How will I feel about this a year from now?

2. Where do I have a measure of control, influence or leverage in this situation?

3. What would I tell my friend/partner/child if he or she was in the same situation?

4. What impact is this thinking having in my life?”

Paula Davis-Laack, “Following Sheryl Sandberg’s Lead: How You Can Build Resilience,” dated: 05/31/2016, updated June 1, 2017, available at:  https://www.huffpost.com/entry/following-sheryl-sandberg_b_10213130

Reframing thinking patterns is difficult.  To say the least, it requires conscious effort to identify and stop the negative thinking while taking the next step of questioning the thought pattern, and then replacing the negative with positive, optimistic thoughts.  This practice is not easy.  However, just the practice will build resiliency. 

​“Ultimately, practice is the path of mastery. If you stay on it long enough, you’ll find it to be a vivid place, with its ups and downs, is challenges and comforts, its surprises, disappointments, and unconditional joys. You’ll take your share of bumps and bruises while traveling – bruises of the ego as well as of the body, mind and spirit – but it might well turn out to be the most reliable thing in your life. Then, too, it might eventually make you a winner in your chosen field, if that’s what you’re looking for, and then people will refer to you as a master. But that’s not really the point.

What is mastery? At the heart of it, mastery is practice. Mastery is staying on the path.”

James Clear, quoting, “Mastery,” available at: 3-2-1 Thursday by James Clear: https://jamesclear.com/3-2-1/refer?rh_ref=9776b6b4

This depiction of practice leading to mastery can be interpreted more broadly and applied to the practice of optimism.  Underlying anyone’s accumulation of resilience is a practice of optimism.  We will all face challenges and big bumps on our life’s journey, but reaching for optimism in the face of adversity and then finding our way to the other side of that challenge gives us a strong sense of resilience. 

Faith as a Building Block of Resilience

Finally, faith in God or a higher power gives a keen sense of security whenever needed.  This concept has been shown to add to one’s resiliency.  “In an interview about her work on resilience, Emmy Werner talked about the role spirituality plays in cultivating greater resilience. It’s not about any one organized religion, but what “faith provides for you as an emotional support, as a way indeed of making sense of your life and your suffering, and also as a way to help you become a chain that you yourself give back something to others who have given to you. That’s a very, very important part of the community of faith that should be more appreciated by people that either want to foster resilience or study it.””  Arianna Huffington, “And the Word of the Year Is… “Resilience”” dated December 4, 2020, available at:  https://www.linkedin.com/pulse/word-year-resilience-arianna-huffington/

No matter the religious affiliation, having faith in God is as important as any building block of resilience.  Through faith, one can gain peace and belief that your path is right.  St. Ignatius can be looked to as a model.  There are five practices of Ignatian spirituality that lead to resilience: “flexibility in prayer, practicing the Examen, journaling, striving for balance of body, mind, and spirit, and observing the Sabbath.”  Rebecca Ruiz, “Five Practices of Ignatian Spirituality That Foster Resilience,” dated October 2, 2020, available at: https://www.ignatianspirituality.com/five-practices-of-ignatian-spirituality-that-foster-resilience/

Specifically, journaling can be a great practice that builds resilience.  The habit of looking to the word of God and then writing in a journal about a verse and what it means to you in that moment, for example, is one that can bring great peace and faith-filled security.  When faced with adversity, knowing that this practice is available and easily at-hand can be reassuring and calming.   

Resilience is the key to power through the ups and downs of 2021.  Building resilience takes effort:  take a moment to recognize any negative thinking, reframe your thinking in a more optimistic way, and practice your faith.  It will all lead you to resilience.

© 2021 Megan Davia Mikhail

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