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Four Pillars for Resilience

When things get tough, we are left with what we have grown inside ourselves. 

We are resilient when we can manage the day-to-day stresses in our lives and still stay focused on our day-to-day goals as well as the larger ones, and when we can recover from the worst day in our life. 

Not being resilient means that we are in the grips of our childhood input and whatever might be going on around us.  Of course, there are huge things like the death of a loved one that swoop us up and keep us suspended for years and when we finally land, we find that the new version of life we have includes a burning wound in the heart.

There are some key principles though when it comes to resilience.  We can start to build resilience at any time, and there is nothing like when the sh.. hits the fan and we realise that we have the goodies in the backpack to not fall apart.

Over the past couple of years, I have had some challenges on the relationship front.  My long-term marriage has broken up.  Yet I have observed that in the background of the upheaval I had a knowing that I would be ok.  I also observed that even when it was all crumbling, I could still enjoy things like the sun on my face, good food, a good film, a good conversation, and so on.  Knowing that I was going through a challenge meant the commitment to the basics like good sleep, daily exercise, healthy food, and relaxation time was even more important than ever.

I later came upon Dr. Rick Hanson’s key points on resilience and could only nod!  So, I thought I would share them here as the next moment open to possibility – either to cultivate more resilience or the opposite. It is in our hands – not what happens but how we sit in relation to it.

  • If we are dependent on the external world to be just right for us to be right, then we are vulnerable to falling into misery potholes.

For you to say you have a good day what would need to have happened? Do you need good things to have happened? A deal gone through, lovely compliments, finalising a project, being really productive, or having booked the holiday?  Or can you have had some small potential irritations or things that have not gone to plan yet feel you have had a good day?

For resilience, we need a capacity for self-regulation. This might mean some deeper work on trauma and childhood wounds so that we get less triggered.  It might mean a mindfulness practice so that we can catch ourselves out and come back to calm.

With self-regulation, we reclaim our equilibrium after being triggered.  From a brain perspective, the more we sit in the experience of misery, the more we are training the neurons associated with misery, and the more they will in future come to the forefront of our experience.

Another practice that is useful for recalibration is ‘Dear Body’ – simply placing the hand over the heart and reassuring the system that you are safe and all is well, and knowing emotions as temporary visitors that can never define you.

  • If we have not cultivated a bigger-picture understanding of things, an ability to zoom out in time and space, again we are vulnerable to falling into misery potholes.  When we know that there is no straight road to anywhere, that various things occur all the time, we might see challenges as potential opportunities to learn or accept them as just part of life.  And when we remember the biggest picture – that we were promised nothing – then things fall into place a little easier.

Seeing the big picture means being less reactive and having better self-regulation.  That is when we in the moment have the ability to zoom out when things happen and see different perspectives in both time and space.  You know yourself some things that seemed dreadful at the time work out to have more than one silver lining. 

Bigger picture thinking requires strong executive functioning.  It helps us to not drop it all during difficult times.  It enables us to keep taking the necessary steps towards goals, small and large, without sacrificing our values.  That means in times of difficulty still picking the kids up from school, cooking dinner, paying the bills, and meeting the work project deadlines.

Just today we had a glitch in our system that meant that many people received an email welcoming them to the Bali Mindfulness Retreat when they had not actually signed up.  If we get consumed by the ‘mistake’, we might dwell unhelpfully on thinking that we are seen as unprofessional, that we are being a nuisance, that people might unsubscribe etc.  We might lose sight of this potentially being a helpful prompt for someone. We could accept that such mistakes just happen – we will work on it not happening in the future, but in the big scheme of things, it is ok.  

  • If as soon as we get ‘wobbly’, we drop exercise and good sleep and instead eat more junk food and drink more, then we leave ourselves vulnerable to endless fluctuations in how we feel.  But we also leave ourselves open to depression, anxiety and low resilience.

Capacity to maintain a practice of well-being throughout a difficult time is essential. And also a function of the previous point, in that we are not just giving into what we feel like but rather we look at the big picture.  When we stick to our healthy exercise routines, good sleep and 80/20 balance of healthy versus over–processed food, then we have in place one of the four cornerstones for resilience.  And probably the most important.  But they are interdependent.

  • If we rush through life, not being present to the delights before us, if we are so task-focused that during the day we don’t see the sun shining, taste the food, see the love in someone’s eyes, or feel the delight of a pet’s love, then we are in effect Teflon for future delight moments while we will be Velcro for the negative ones.  

It is important to internalise the healthy, lovely experiences that we have so they are laid down in our psyche for a rainy day as a little larder of goodness, of optimism, of knowing the gifts of life.

The four points:

  • Don’t sweat the small stuff. Find your equilibrium.  Use Five Magic Breaths and Dear Body
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff. Remember the big picture.  Use Five Magic Breaths and Dear Body to get the Pre-Frontal Cortex back on line.  Then zoom out to big picture seeing.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff. Stick to your commitment to your dear body.  Maintain your good routines even if you don’t feel like it.
  • Don’t sweat the small stuff. Open the eyes to the magic of life.  Be aware of the good, the beautiful, the kind, and at night practice the Taking in the Good meditation

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