How many times have you watched someone else go through a traumatic experience, like the loss of a limb or the loss of a child—terrible life events that happened without warning—and they seemingly came through it stronger than ever? That’s resiliency.
Have you ever listened to the news or read a story about someone who faced tragedy and turned it into an opportunity to become a better person? Another example of resiliency.
What thoughts went through your head as you considered what they must have gone through? Did you wonder how they could be so strong, so tough, so adaptable?
I read a story recently that made me wonder what it takes to be resilient.
Victoria was driving her car home from an event with a colleague when something massive hit her windshield, with such force it shattered her face. She lost control of her car. Thankfully her passenger was able to take the wheel and get her foot off the gas and guided the car to the curb.
After coming out of an induced coma, Victoria struggled through multiple surgeries to reconstruct her face using steel plates. Her prognosis was grim. She may have permanent brain damage, lose the sight in one eye and never be able to live on her own again.
Many people would believe that prognosis, giving into anger and depression.
She did not. Instead Victoria found ways to look on the bright side of the incident. She had met with adversity before in her life—losing two brothers to accidents and miscarrying a much-wanted child. She took the lessons from those life-changing events and made them work for her this time.
The young man who threw the frozen turkey onto Victoria’s windshield was charged and convicted. As she was pushing through her own rehab and recovery, she chose to focus on the young man to understand what was going on in his life to cause him to toss that frozen turkey. Victoria learned that his father left the family for another woman and he had a vision condition that kept him from participating in sports with his friends. He was troubled and frustrated—and he took it out on a stranger by playing what he thought was an innocent prank. He didn’t intend to hurt anyone.
So Victoria worked with the district attorney and pleaded with the judge for leniency in sentencing. The judge agreed.
Victoria not only survived this life-changing incident, and adapted to having several plates in her face, she was back to work in eight months, living by herself and speaking to at-risk young people to help them make better life choices.
That is resiliency. And, a great example of turning lemons into lemonade.
What is it that makes some people more able to bounce back from adversity than others? What are the contributing factors to resiliency?
I’m sure there are many. I can think of six that are likely to help people meet adversity head on.
6 Ways to Meet Adversity with Resiliency
1. Give it Time
Even the most resilient people need time to adjust to the new reality when a major life event occurs. They may need time to recover from an injury or go through the grieving process or start to think more clearly again.
Honoring that process is a large part of resiliency. We can’t bounce back from something we haven’t fully absorbed. And, it takes some people, even the toughest among us, longer than it takes others.
Finding ways to comfort ourselves will allow the emotions to emerge, so we can feel them and process them. The onset of a traumatic situation may be met with numbness or disbelief at first. Following that may be a surge of emotions we’re not prepared for.
Giving time for this process to unfold naturally can help us to adapt to the emotional upheaval and think about the options available that can facilitate moving through it.
2. Change the Way You Look at Things
One of my favorite quotes from Dr. Wayne Dyer is: When you change the way your look at things, the things you look at change.
When we adjust our perspective, we can see things from another angle. We can see opportunities where there were obstacles. Victoria could have been angry at the young man who, without considering the consequences, changed her life forever.
Instead, she chose to learn what caused him to do such a thing and help him. Rather than wallowing in her own misery, which would not do her any good, she found a way to turn the incident into a positive experience—for herself, the young man and the other youths she spoke to.
This is a way to reframe the pain. Ask yourself: What can I learn from this? What are my options? These questions turn us away from the blame-game and allow us focus on the good that might can come from the situation.
3. Turn the Negative into Positive
This covers both our thinking and our self-talk. We can go down a deep rabbit hole when we let our negative thoughts, and the words we say to ourselves, overtake us.
The fact is, something bad happened. There is no getting around that. We do have a choice though—we an get mired in the horrible circumstance or we can balance what we think, say and do with more positive thoughts, words and actions.
I know a woman in her 60s who was a very active hiker and biker. One day Cindy had a horrible bike accident—she rode head on into a parked truck while she was reaching for her water bottle. She broke her neck in a couple of places. Sudden and devastating. It turned her world upside down.
After spinal surgery to implant a cage to fuse her neck, Cindy had a long road to hoe. Her speech was impaired, she had a traumatic brain injury and her neck was immobilized for a long time.
Lots of negative thoughts about never being active again clouded her thinking and influenced her actions. Depression set in. And she wallowed in the trauma of it all.
Her physical therapist recommended Cindy talk to a coach to help her turn those thoughts around so they could help her to heal and find ways to bounce back from the accident. We worked on positive self-talk and affirmations, while she dug deep into her faith. It took some time to shift her perspective, but it worked. Cindy chose to find the silver lining and worked hard to get her life back.
Within a few months, she returned to walking her favorite nature paths, which put her in an environment that fed her soul and her psyche.
There was one more surgery to finish the repair of her neck, and Cindy faced that with great hope that she would be good as new in short order. And she was—she found herself to be more resilient than she gave herself credit.
4. Be Grateful for the Experience
So many times when a life event knocks us down, we tend to focus on all the bad things that happened. The event itself, the affect it had on us and those around us, and the negative emotions that come along for the ride. We may feel as if it was our fault. Or be angry at another person. Or feel scared that we don’t know enough to get through it.
Gratitude is a powerful tool. Search for small things you can be grateful for.
One of the practices Cindy took up was to keep a gratitude journal. She wrote about the accident from a different perspective. She was grateful to have one of the best spine specialists on call at the hospital when she arrived. The trauma team in the ER recognized immediately the severity of her injury and took steps to diagnose it quickly, which saved her from permanent damage. She had a loving sister who was able to move in and care for her. She was very grateful, and she found that shifting her thoughts to gratitude helped in brightening her outlook.
5. Don’t Make Self-care Optional
A strong body and mind are key elements in resiliency.
Life events like divorce, loss of a loved one or a traumatic accident can happen without warning and they can take us to our knees. We need help to recover.
Our bodies are remarkable machines. They speak to us. When they tell us it is time to rest or eat or exercise, it’s best when we listen.
Each one of us is the governing authority on our body. We can get advice from others who are specialists in their field, such as doctors, therapists of all kinds, nutritionists, etc. But, when it comes to knowing what is working for us, we are the ultimate arbiter. We listen to what they recommend, we try it for ourselves and we integrate what works.
When our mind and body are impaired, we can’t show up for anyone else who may depend on us. So, we need to continually fill our cup and have some in reserve.
I love this self-care metaphor. Think of a beautiful china cup and saucer. It might be one from which you would drink a lovely cup of soothing tea. It’s painted with beautiful flowers and rimmed in gold. You are the cup. Everything you do to care for yourself fills that cup—a good night’s rest, great nourishing meals, a walk along your favorite stream or a hike up the mountain, a massage, cuddling with your pets. It all fills your cup with good thoughts, great energy and a soothing calm. You fill it till it overflows into the saucer. When someone needs something from you, there is plenty of you in the saucer from which to give. Always keeping your cup full.
The reality is, most of us let our cups run down or even dry, because we keep giving from our own reserve. The trick is to keep refilling your cup, never letting it get too empty. When we have an empty cup, we have nothing to give.
When our cup is full and our saucer catches the overflow, our resilience is high.
6. Don’t Take Yourself Too Seriously
Laughing is such good medicine. Finding the funny in adversity can lighten the load we carry when bad stuff happens. When we turn
I love going to Irish funerals. Not that I love funerals, mind you. But I love when this happens: amid the grief and loss, someone cracks a joke or tells a great story about the deceased and the whole place cracks up in laughter.
It breaks the tension. It shifts the mood, even for just a moment.
We can learn something from this. When life has turned us upside down, finding ways to ease the pressure, relieve the stress and reduce the anxiety we might feel is therapeutic.
Take some time to figure out what those ways are for you to lighten your mood.
How can you face adversity with resilience? These are just six ways that will help you to shift how you cope when life happens, and it turns your world upside down.
María Tomás-Keegan is a Certified Career & Life Coach with a specialty in Transitions and author of Upside Down to Right Side Up: Turning Transition into Triumph. If you’re uncertain about how to face adversity with resiliency and would like some help, visit María’s website and follow her on Twitter for more advice on turning your world right side up again.