When I researched resilience, studying how people bounce back from tough times, I found something that really surprised me. I expected the key to recovery after really tough times, was to grit your teeth and cope tenaciously with the problem or adversity.
It turns out however, that there is more to recovery and resilience than that.
When something really bad happens, everyone falls in a heap. Everyone! Not just weak people, but strong people too. That really surprised me. I thought our heroes would be unaffected by adversity. People like Nelson Mandela being sentenced to life imprisonment or Monique and Callie Strydom being kidnapped in Malaysia. But not so. Their resilience faulted, they despaired and wept.
Everyone’s resilience declines when really bad things happen. That’s not a sign of weakness, it’s a sign of being human. In fact, putting off dealing with adversity and sorrow delays healing and recovery. That’s because falling in a heap gives us time to adjust to what has happened, and to come to terms with the changes that the adversity has brought about.
Coping when you are in the depth of despair
So falling in a heap of despair is not shameful. Falling down isn’t the important thing, standing up again is. The Japanese apparently have a saying that neatly captures this idea: “Fall down seven times, stand up eight”
So how do you cope when you’re in the depths of despair?
The answer is twofold: deal with the negative emotions and bring positive emotions into your heart:
1. Deal with your negative emotions
Firstly, you need to deal with those nasty negative emotions, such as despair, anger and fear. The ancient purpose of these powerful emotions was to narrow our focus and provide tense energy to take action. That was really useful when it was directed at evading a hungry lion or not standing on a snake in the grass. It’s not so useful today however, unless the snake in the grass is your boss!
You need to control your strong negative emotions so that you don’t do or say things that you later regret. Three simple ways of achieving this are:
- Breathe. Focus on your body, your heartbeat and on each breath as you breathe in and out . Try to slow your rate of breathing by breathing deeply.
- Don’t react immediately. When you are angry or scared, a quick reaction is inevitably the wrong reaction.
- Re-frame the incident. Look for the silver lining, ask yourself what good can come of this, or look for some positive to regain perspective.
2. Use positive emotions to recover and bounce back
Having successfully dealt with your anxiety and fear, and not lost your temper, you can now move on to recover, heal and grow from the experience. To do this, you need to create genuine positive emotions.
You would be forgiven for thinking that it’s rather odd to be concerned about positive emotions when trying to cope with tough times. What is surprising however is that positive emotions enable you to bounce back. Research has also shown that more than just bounce back, positive emotions enable you to bounce higher through personal growth and development.
There are three simple but highly effective ways of bringing genuine positive emotions into your heart:
- Focus on what you are deeply grateful for. Spend a few minutes reflecting on what you are deeply grateful for and why.
- Identify three good things that have happened to you. Identify the three most significant and positive things that have happened in last 24 hours, and thing through why they have happened to you at this time.
- Focus on what are your favourite things. Then think about would happen and how you would feel if you didn’t have those favourite things.
In summary, when bad times strike, try to do two things. Firstly, try to curb your negative feelings so that you don’t do or say things that you later regret. Secondly, try to introduce genuine, positive feelings into your life.
The challenge to you is to do both these activities together when you next have to deal with tough times and would like to be resilient. These techniques will help you to not only bounce back, but also to bounce higher!