Stretching or Snapping? Developing Resiliency

Last week I met a friend who had just completed his first triathlon. “How’d it go Scott?” I asked. “The biking and running leg was no problem. I can’t believe I was so slow in the swimming portion,” he told me. “Tomorrow morning I’m hitting the pool to start training for next year’s race.” While most of us get tired simply watching a triathlon, people like Scott demonstrate the power of resiliency. Rather than complaining about the temperature of the water or the race organization, Scott bounced back from his disappointing swimming time.

Dr. Norman Watt, a University of Denver psychologist, defines resiliency as “the capacity to respond ‘elastically’ to life’s trials.” Resilient people are often described as rubber bands. They stretch and stretch…then bounce back rather than snapping. Studies show that children as young as two years old display traits of resiliency. If a playmate takes their toy, the resilient child doesn’t scream or holler. Instead they find other ways of coping such as playing with something else or convincing the grabby playmate to give up the toy. But what happens when you are an adult and feel like snapping instead of displaying your capacity for resilience? The following are four ways to develop a resilient personality.

  1. Take risks. No, you don’t need to be candidate for Fear Factor maggot eating contests. Instead take small risks on a daily basis to s-t-r-e-t-c-h yourself. Listen to a different radio station. Try Thai food if you are normally a meat and potatoes person. Is your wardrobe made up of blacks and browns? Buy a hot pink blouse or a Picasso inspired tie. If you get used to moving out of your comfort zone, then you’ll be more open to bouncing back when adversity hits.

  2. Take control of your life. Dr. Phyllis Moen a Cornell University sociologist says “Resilience isn’t about reacting to negative events. It’s about making positive events happen.” Think of yourself as a trailblazer. If everyone at work is complaining about the increased workload, find a way to change the situation. Schedule a meeting with upper management or document the actual time people put into projects. Resilient people create their own change.

  3. Put the situation in perspective. When faced with adversity, resilient people ask themselves “How will I feel about this situation in two weeks. In two months? In two years?” Is the situation merely disruptive or life-changing? Let’s say you were laid off due to corporate down-sizing. It’s easy to feel discouraged and envision yourself standing on the corner with a “Will Work For Food” sign. On the other hand, after allowing yourself a few days to wallow in self-pity, you can tell yourself, “This is a great opportunity to find a job that is fulfilling as well as financially sound”. Then dust off your resume and start networking towards a new career.

  4. Change your mindset about difficult situations. “Resiliency is the ability to thrive, mature and increase competence in the face of adverse conditions or obstacles”, says Dr. Kimberly Gordon. When faced with an adverse condition or obstacle, try asking “what can I do?” rather than “why me?” One mother, when told that her newborn had Downs Syndrome, kissed her baby and said, “I’m going to become an expert on Downs Syndrome so my baby lives the fullest life possible”. Now that’s resiliency!

Studies show some people are born “wired” for resiliency. Their genes help produce characteristics to help them be those stretching rubber bands. For the rest of us, using a few of the above tips can help us learn to stretch, rather than snap.

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