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Resiliency is a Choice? I disagree.

A psychotherapist's response to one author's assertion: "The choice to accept that life is difficult is the moment one becomes resilient."

The author makes a incredibly valid point about our society’s illogical belief system of difficulty as abnormal, but I must disagree with the mentality of resiliency as a choice. 

Everything is a choice. So why are so many suffering from morbid obesity? 

Choices are not that simple. 

Resiliency is built up like a muscle. A muscle that makes it possible to be resilient in the face of the difficult nature of life.

In fact, there isn’t much of a conscious choice in the face of serious crisis – the kind of adversity where resiliency matters most.

When I get hit in the face by one of life’s always untimely curveballs, I don’t take three deep breaths and then weigh out whether to be resilient or not.

Our emotional reactions are instantaneous and it’s quite difficult to do anything but react until the world stops spinning out of control, especially when we’ve already set the tone.

The neural pathways that determine our automatic reactions are carved in advance, just like every other habit. 

Similar to choosing healthy foods, running every day, or reading a book instead of watching television, it is a struggle. 

You come back to the decision over and over and over again. And the more times you select the better option, the more you lay down a groove in the brain so that in your weaker moments, the choice begins to become easy.

And, let’s be clear: resilience is not just “meeting each moment and doing the work that is needed.” 

Resilience is grace and intentionality rooted in your core values in the midst of difficulty.

Truly, the way to “choose” to be resilient is to harken back to having accomplished something difficult before. 

We accept that life has painful lows and that it will come back up to joyful highs. 

We begin to recognize that we can and will survive the difficulties and no longer need to initiate the end of the world countdown when life becomes hard once again.

To be able to achieve that mindset, we must experience that reality. 

Each time we survive difficulty and find joy again, we become less reactive and are more resilient when difficulty inevitably comes knocking again.

We become more confident in our ability, our strength, to persevere. 

Each exercise in resiliency – whether planned or unexpected – trains our brain to go to a creative growth mindset when faced with challenge, rather than to a fixed, victim mentality.

This requires practice. This is why I intentionally take what I call “Resiliency Field Trips” and encourage them for my children and clients. It’s going to the gym, but to strengthen a very different kind of muscle.

One that kicks into action in the face of any challenge. Just like running in place on a treadmill and then using those same strengthened leg muscles to swim in the ocean. 

You can build up your resiliency doing any number of intentional exercises that are outside your comfort zone, and the benefits will trickle over into other hard things you must face.

If you find that you get thrown completely off course and become anxious or depressed when life throws you curveballs, it’s not just a simple choice to buck up, accept that life is difficult, and then it will suddenly become easier.

Life is indeed (wonderfully) difficult.

Life would lack abundance and joy without those times of scarcity and deep sadness. We could not and would not grow without a needling challenge that demanded it. Liberation is found in the struggle.

The resilient mindset is not just an acceptance that life is difficult. 

The resilient mindset is accepting that life is difficult and that life is also wonderful. It is both. Yin and yang.

We find evidence of what we look for. When we practice this awareness, we sense and appreciate the peace that comes only after a storm and reinforce the resiliency groove in the mind. Then, even and especially in the midst of difficulty, we notice and are renewed during the moments of laughter and gratitude.

Yes, practice accepting that difficulty is inevitable, and appreciating those times in life when you have relative peace.

Just don’t mistake acceptance for preparation.

Step into discomfort: Paint. Hike a mountain. Publish a poem. Volunteer at an elderly home. Travel solo.

The more you are present in discomfort without panic, the stronger your resiliency muscle become. You’ll notice that you are calm, or even excited, when the next unexpected difficulty hits.

You run out of gas on a date. You get a flat tire on the way to drop your kids at school. You miss your flight out of Sardinia because your passport is on the other side of the island.

All three are just a few real examples where a potential difficulty was transformed into immense joy and meaning. Memories I look back on frequently, shocked and reignited about how impactful resiliency is on our quality of life. 

Anyone can feel happy when life is going well. It takes resiliency to experience joy all of the other times. And isn’t that the key to unlock the greatest wealth of all?

You’ll begin to notice the change, as well.

Instead of reacting as usual (perhaps cursing, yelling at your spouse, shouting out: Why do bad things always happen to me?!), you’ll have practiced enough to respond, with grace and intentionality rooted in your core values.

So, get on that resilient treadmill, otherwise when a real crisis hits, you will once again be overpowered by the automatic stress response that darkens way too many of your days, weeks, or even years.

How we react or respond in crisis is truly what makes all the difference.

As the author pointed out, the next crisis is always coming. Life is difficult.

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