You don’t believe there’ll come a time in your life when you won’t be asked to change, when you’ll be exempt from all adversity, struggle and worry, do you?
For those who know how to use life’s misfortunes and harsh conditions as fuel to change course in life, no need for more “RE.” You, no doubt, already have a fresh “inlook” on adversity, are forging close friendships and tackling novel challenges. It’s time for a fresh, humanizing perspective on RE-silience. It’s time for a real transformation that includes a stark awareness of what truly matters and of how adversity can bring a sense of meaning and wellbeing to your life.
In Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges written by Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney, Harvard University psychiatrist George Vaillant, wrote that “RE-silient” individuals resemble a twig with a fresh, green living core. “When twisted out of shape, such a twig bends, but it does not break; instead it springs back and continues growing.” The American Psychological Association is quoted in this same book as defining “RE-silience” as “the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats and even significant sources of stress – such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems, or workplace and financial stresses.” However you define this concept, it is complex, multidimensional and dynamic.
There’s been so much written and TEDx’d about “RE-silience,” that I thought it’d be the right time to flip it all up and consider the heart of the matter, “silience.” Why RE-do something when you can learn to do it right in the first place? This is more than word play. It’s real life improvement, not continuously bouncing back to something, but continually moving forward.
You see, a key understanding is the focus on “bouncing back’”. Sounds good, makes for a great blog, a hip TED talk, a sold-out webinar, or whatever else today’s self-appointed self-help gurus are selling. But “bouncing back” tends to lose the all-important gift that adversity brings for the bearer, understanding that misfortune happens FOR you move forward. The trampoline model of “RE-silience” is empty. “Silience” is not a back-leaning process, it is forward moving, not a “going through” but a “growing through” experience. We don’t “bounce back.” Yet, the most common definitions of “RE-silience” describe “RE-bounding” or “bouncing back” from short-term adversities or traumas.
We assimilate forward, searching for meaningful growth. Why bounce back to simply where you were, only to have to bounce back again when the next adverse situation comes along, as it surely will? That’s what “RE-silience” is, a bounding back and forward process, only to bounce back again. That’s not “adapting,” that’s recycling with no real change.
Change, transformation, is growth. Spinning? Bobbling? Recoiling? That’s for “RE-silient” among us. The path away from misfortune towards pleasure rests on finding meaning in every experience, not simply trampolining away from difficulty. Adversity, understood as a wake-up call to find deeper meaning, to see the benefit of the adverse circumstance, isn’t something to adapt to but to flourish from.
With the right set of lenses, with a commitment to changing the meaning of a situation, you can derive profound benefit from adversity. There is no need to “bounce back” from it, but rather to “bounce forward with it.” Your interpretation seems to be the hallmark of a “silient” person who shapes himself continuously for the better with a lens of positivity. The choice, yes, it is a choice, to view circumstances as fully worse than simply bad, only creates pain, self-disturbing upset and stalls forward movement. Regardless of what you do, there are many situations about which you can do absolutely nothing to change them…and absolutely everything you can do to change yourself, to learn, as a result of any given situation. Recall Viktor Frankl’s well-known observation, “If is not within your hands to change a situation that causes you pain, you can always choose the attitude with which you face that suffering.” No “bouncing back,” just assimilating forward.
In her essay in the Wall Street Journal several years ago, Meg Jay noted, “…RE-silience is an ongoing battle, a way of approaching life, not a restorative bounce.” She notes that coping with difficult situations is like exercise, “…we become stronger with practice.” We don’t bounce back with exercise, we advance, we move forward. That’s why I am de-emphasizing the “RE” element here.
What’s the GPS for that right lens? Yes, gratitude, positivity and sensitivity. Try these three simple questions and you’ll point yourself to “silience” rather than continuing to “RE-silience”:
1. “What’s this circumstance mean FOR me?”
(Not, ”What’s this circumstance mean ABOUT me?”)
2. “What can I learn through this circumstance?”
(Not, “Oh, how I can’t stand this situation!”)
3. “What if what I’m going through is simply preparation for what I’ve asked for in life?”
(Not, “This is making me into a human piñata and must be a punishment!”)
When we face a trauma, “about 65 percent of people are going to show minimal psychological symptoms,” says clinical psychologist George Bonanno of Teacher’s College at Columbia University. They are “silient.” The trauma researcher has found:
1. Two thirds of people follow a “silience” trajectory and maintain relatively stable psychological and physical health.
2. About 25 percent struggle temporarily with psychopathology such as depression or post-traumatic stress disorder and then recover–a pattern known as the “recovery trajectory.”
3. And 10 percent suffer lasting psychological distress.
Most of us appear to securely coevolve with stress, understanding it’s difficult, a hassle but not a horror, something we’d prefer not to live with but live with, we do. Those with “silience” have cultivated the ability to live with exceptional unconditional acceptance, a mind inclined with high frustration tolerance, an optimistically driven growth mindset not one that is fixed and rigid, with more curiosity than demand, and these people generally trouble themselves little over life’s inevitable struggles and hardships.
“RE-silience in the face of adversity is the most distinguishing characteristic of those who age gracefully and adapt well. And RE-silience is a function of optimism,” Michael Gelb and Kelly Howell tell us in their Brain Power: Improve Your Mind as You Age.
Building on this, Tal Ben-Shahar in his book, The Pursuit of Perfect, observes “It is only from the experience of challenging ourselves that we learn and grow, and we often develop and mature much more from our failures than from our successes. Moreover, when we put ourselves on the line, when we fall down and get up again, we become stronger and more RE-silient.” I believe Gelb, Howell and Ben-Shahar mean “’silience,” not “RE-silience.”
There are many “tools” that those with the ability to successfully navigate through crises and grow forward, rely upon. These are all learned. No one is born more “silient” than another. Of course, some are fortunate to have healthy, positive relationships early in life with parents and caregivers that serve as universal anchors for a life of adaptability. From drugs, gambling, food and shopping, to optimism, faith, dedication to a “greater good,” and close personal relationships, the choice of these tools varies greatly. Those with a strong based in faith, feelings anchored in trust and hope, find strength in adversity, allowing struggles to strengthen them instead of weakening them. That’s “silience.” When you use adversity to add strength to your life, you live with more freedom and less self-disturbingly.
So what are the most positive keys to a more “silient” life? Drs. Southwick and Charney found ten factors in their research that those with this mastery of “silience” have:
1. Realistic optimism
2. Face fear comfortably
3. A moral compass
4. Religion and spirituality
5. Social support
6. Silient role models
7. Physical fitness
8. Brain fitness
9. Cognitive and emotional flexibility
10. Meaning and purpose
The most common steps to cultivate adaptable healthy living, according to Dr. Jay, are as follows:
1. Own the fighter within – resist defeat in your own mind
2. Reach out to family, friends or professionals
3. Engage in active coping – control the things you can control
4. Remember past difficulties and how you overcame them
Nobody desires adversity as a teacher in life, at least nobody I’ve ever known. But for those “silient” folks they do appreciate difficulty as a teacher, as sandpaper that smooths out the rough edges in life. See every harsh condition in your life as something in front of you to help you gain valuable insights, to learn from, to be grateful for, to engage in self-reflection. Napoleon Hill, author of Think and Grow Rich, framed it this way, “Every adversity has the seed of an equivalent or greater benefit.” True “silience” is the ability to cuddle up to adversity and without bouncing anywhere, growing yourself and perhaps even the circumstance you’re facing. Use your next difficulty as energy for your personal growth and you’re fully “silient.”