You don’t need to be facing a major change or obstacles in your life to decide you want to become stronger and more confident.
Unexpected trials will always be a part of life … a lost set of keys, the stress of a botched work assignment, or the heartache of a full-blown health or relationship crisis. But what if you could identify and develop the skills that would empower you to minimize the effects of adversity and avoid getting sidetracked? What if you could even learn to use these experiences to your advantage, in the process creating a stronger more fulfilling life?
Think about this … how it is that two people can be faced with the same crisis and while one becomes hopelessly mired in a web of negativity and feelings of helplessness, the other is able to overcome adversity and bounce back stronger than ever?
Emotional Resilience is the Answer
When we make the choice to not be defined by adversity, to look at all experiences as stepping stones for growth and greater long-term resilience, we are able to approach life on a whole new level, and in the process realign ourselves with what is really important in our lives.
Stepping Stones to Emotional Resilience will help you identify the areas that need attention, and show you the way to cultivate greater emotional resilience in life than you ever thought possible.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I’ve been fascinated by the concept of resilience since I was a kid and have made it a lifelong study which I’ve been able to share in my work as a writer, life coach and resilient living specialist.
Emotional Resilience: How it Works – Why it Matters
We are the creators of our own experience – remembering this, and living our lives from this perspective empowers us.
Run a quick search for the term “emotional resilience” online and you’ll be presented with a couple of hundred thousand hits, most of which describe emotional resilience as one’s ability to recover from crisis situations. While this is surely an important part of it, the bigger picture is that the capacity for emotional resilience empowers you to determine the quality of your own life experience on a day-to-day basis.
Consider that every day we face challenges that require a balanced outlook and stamina … a lost set of keys, unrealistic deadlines at work, striving to achieve goals, health issues, divorce, passing of a loved one, or loss of a job. Even joyous occasions such as marriage and pregnancy include a whole range of stressors and how we handle them either enhances or detracts from these life-changing events.
The bottom line is you don’t need to be facing a major life change or crisis to decide you want to become emotionally stronger and more confident, in fact … the reality is it’s too late to do much of anything other than learn from the experience once you’re in the middle of a crisis.
Resilience and Recovery: The Kauai Study
A great deal of the research on resilience is based on the foundation created by a 40-year study of native Hawaiians on the Island of Kauai that began in 1954. Researchers Emmy E. Werner, from the University of California at Davis, and Ruth S. Smith, a clinical psychologist followed nearly 700 individuals from birth through middle age.
Many of them grew up in families driven by poverty, alcoholism, domestic violence, disease, and mental illness. While some of the children in the study did grow up to lead troubled lives, about one in ten managed to develop into what the researchers described in their 1982 book Vulnerable But Invincible: A Study of Resilient Children as “competent and autonomous young adults who worked well, played well, loved well, and expected well.”
What helped these kids rise above their circumstances? Werner and Smith identified four basic behaviors that many of the successful survivors shared: an active approach to problem solving; a tendency to perceive their experiences (even traumatic ones) in a positive light; the ability to gain positive attention from others; and a strong social support system … if not a parent then a neighbor, friend, or a relative.
Mental flexibility is one of the common denominators of psychologically resilient people. To see the benefits of flexibility, just look at the difference between an oak tree and a blade of grass. The oak tree is large and massive, with a strong but rigid trunk and a system of roots and branches. The blade of grass is slight and has a very shallow root system. Yet, in the face of hurricane-force winds, it’s the oak that is destroyed because the blade of grass is able to bend, deflect and return to form.
~Dr. Douglas C. Johnson, co-author of the Resilience Scale (used to measure a person’s capacity to live a full and rewarding life)
Why Does Resilience Take So Much Work?
Today we live in a world that is filled with overflowing schedules, endless stressors and change (often unexpected and sometimes not so pleasant), which supports the consensus that there has never been a greater need for resilience. While few would disagree with that supposition, what is rarely openly addressed is the reality that true resilience takes a lot of work to achieve.
For one thing cultivating emotional resilience requires a fair amount of internal work; that is the willingness to get to know who you are and what really matters to you, to understand your emotions and how they affect you, and to be honest with yourself about your strengths and weaknesses. And of course there’s the issue of embracing change, something most people work very hard to avoid.
But the biggest challenge may be that emotional resilience isn’t a single skill that comes complete with a set of instructions like learning to ride a bike or drive a car. In fact it isn’t a skill at all; it’s a set of key habits (behaviors) that combine to create the capacity for resilience.
To better illustrate this point let’s take a look at some of the factors that contribute to the capacity for emotional resilience.
* Confidence in one’s problem solving and decision making capabilities.
* The ability to manage attitudes and emotions.
* Driven to explore and strengthen self awareness.
* Strategically developing a reliable support system.
* Self nurturing to maintain morale and cope with stress in healthy ways.
* Able to see opportunities in change and life transitions.
* Capable of finding strength through a sense of purpose.
Cultivating these habits, especially the ability to see the opportunities in demanding situations, enables you to learn from your experiences and grow stronger – not in spite of the challenges, but as a result of the way you responded to them. This is that bounce-back-ability we all long for!
It means having the willingness to pursue stretch goals, the courage to get up when you’ve been knocked down, and the tenacity of spirit to embrace all that makes life worth living, even if that means turning around and going the other direction when you suddenly realize you’ve somehow ended up on the wrong path.
Make no mistake about it, this is powerful stuff!
To truly understand the capacity for emotional resilience it may be helpful to address a few of the common misconceptions.
Myth: Resilience is something you’re born with. Either you have it or you don’t.
Research has shown that, while it is true that some individuals seem to come by the ability to weather adversity naturally, with personality characteristics that help them remain unflappable in the face of unexpected challenges, we are all born with the ability to develop these behaviors.
According to the American Psychological Association resilience can be strengthened over time, but to what extent depends on the individual’s commitment and effort to develop the capacity for greater resilience.
Myth: Attempting to become more resilient is like spending your life preparing for a crisis that may never happen.
Life is filled with stressors of all shapes and sizes. Even the most longed for events, such as a promotion, the birth of a child or marriage are rife with unexpected challenges and stressors. We can either choose to face these experiences unprepared and simply hope for the best, or we can learn to minimize the effects of change and bumps in the road and in doing so enjoy greater peace of mind and self confidence.
Myth: Resilient people experience fewer problems.
It’s not that some people experience fewer of life’s hard knocks; it’s that people who are emotionally resilient do not let adversity define them. They find resilience by moving toward a purpose beyond themselves, transcending stress and uncertainty by perceiving hard times as temporary.
Research has shown that people who intentionally develop the ability to successfully manage day to day upsets, challenges and obstacles are also far better at handling crisis on a larger scale.
Myth: Adversity makes people stronger.
It is not difficult to find stories of people who have experienced positive change in their lives after struggling with a crisis, a process called post traumatic growth. But the important thing to understand is that this growth did not come about as a result of the adverse situation, but from how they responded to the experience. In other words, it’s not what happens to you, it’s what you do about it. We gain strength and confidence by how we choose to overcome life’s challenges.
A Shocking Story of Survival
In November, 1986, 20 year old construction worker Cliff Meidl was in a pit at a work site trying to break up a concrete slab with a jackhammer. He did not know that the concrete housed an unmarked power line carrying thousands of volts of electricity. When the tip of Cliff’s jackhammer punctured the power line 30,000 volts of electricity exploded through him with a charge that was three times more powerful than that used for capital punishment in an electric chair.
The blast was so strong it exploded out through the back of his head, his shoulder, his knee caps, and his foot and blew him out of the hole. He laid dead on the ground, his heart stopped, his clothes smoldering, and his entire body singed and burned.
Amazingly, a firefighter quick to arrive at the scene was able to revive him using CPR (cardiopulmonary resuscitation). Cliff’s heart stopped twice more in the ambulance on the way to the hospital, but the paramedics resuscitated him each time.
Cliff spent the next several months in the hospital while his body healed from the terrible burns. “One-third of both my knee joints were burned away and two toes were burned off,” says Cliff. “I had such extensive injuries that the doctors said they would have to amputate my legs.” Fortunately, one surgeon was able to save his legs with a special operation.
He left the hospital in a wheelchair and began the long process of rehabilitation, which included ten more surgeries. Before his accident, Cliff had been a runner. “I was heartbroken because they said I would never walk again.” Cliff finally had to accept that he couldn’t be a runner, but he didn’t give up. He worked hard to build his strength and was eventually able to walk with braces on his legs. “It was pretty tough,” he says.
As part of his rehabilitation, he began to canoe and kayak. He explains that he took up kayaking after being inspired by seeing Greg Barton, a man born with two club feet, win two kayak gold medals in 1988.
Cliff’s hard work and determination led him to become one of the best kayakers in the world. He competed at the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta, Georgia, and qualified to represent the United States at the 2000 Olympics in Sydney, Australia.
Cliff’s courage and spirit led to him being chosen to be the United States flag bearer at Olympic Opening Ceremonies, an honor that normally goes to multiple Olympians or gold medalists.
Meidl led the U.S. athletes into the Olympic stadium in Sydney carrying the American flag. He walked proudly showing almost no sign of a limp from his damaged knees.
Meidl did not win a medal at the Olympics in Sydney, but he believes he is a winner in other ways …
“I have enormous physical limitations in my legs. The damage is done, and there’s no coming back from that. But the accident changed the person I am. It made me stronger mentally and physically. I don’t think I would have had the will and determination to make it to the Olympics without going through an experience like this.”
Today Chris Meidl lives in Southern California and is an asset manager and successful motivational speaker. His speaking presentations focus on the universal topics of courage, hope, and achievement through adversity.
We can let circumstances rule us or we can take charge and rule our lives from within.
How Resilient Are You?
How do you respond to adversity? Are you ruled by your emotions? Does your stress level skyrocket when faced with unexpected change? Do you ignore problems in the hope that somehow they will fix themselves or simply disappear?
Or are you someone who is willing to take charge of your life experience by learning to become a confident problem solver, facing problems – big and small – head on and in the process remaining open to opportunities for growth?
It’s not that those with the capacity for emotional resilience experience fewer of life’s hard knocks; it’s that they choose not to let adversity define them. They find strength by moving toward a purpose beyond themselves, transcending pain and grief by perceiving hard times as temporary, in the process looking for opportunities for growth in the experience.
According to the American Psychological Association emotional resilience can be strengthened over time, but to what extent depends on the individual’s commitment and willingness to build capacity for resilience. In fact research has shown that people who intentionally develop the ability to successfully manage day to day upsets, challenges and obstacles are also far better at handling crisis on a larger scale.
As an added bonus, the same attributes that lead to building emotional resilience are the keys to developing greater self-confidence, mastering change, achieving greater success in work and personal relationships and living a bolder, more inspired life!
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Marquita Herald is a resilient living specialist, author, publisher, and creator of the Emotionally Resilient Living website. She tells stories to inspire readers to embrace the ability we each have to create our own life experience by developing greater capacity for emotional resilience.
Her professional experience includes 20 years traveling the world on behalf of the Hawaii tourism industry, followed by a decade as an award winning life and small business coach. She is the author of 6 books and 2 new books scheduled to be published in fall, 2014.
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