This is the fourth short article in the series about the principles of building resilience. It has its origin in the research we carried out on resilience and the training based on these principles which is designed to assist people build their resilience. Delegates report the training builds their inner resourcefulness and enables them to live more joyful and fulfilling lives.


The third principle of building resilience is: Maintain perspective and concerns the inner world of one’s thoughts. It is particularly important because as a species we are programmed from our past to be more alert for negative than positive. This negative focus was very useful in providing narrow, fixed and detailed focus when confronted by a sabre-toothed lion or marauding tribes on the veld of ancient Africa, but is less helpful in finding creative solutions to modern day adversities which require open, creative and flexible thinking. In today’s’ world, this ancient negative bias sometimes intrudes into our lives as unwelcome strong and persistent negative thoughts. One person described this ruminating negative thought pattern to be: “like in a washing machine … going round and round … then pausing …. and then going round and round again; on and on”.


To build resilience, negatively biased thinking and persistent negative self talk can be reframed. This can be done by finding alternative ways of thinking about the problem or event, such as how one can learn from it, or how one can accept it. Other ways of reframing are to choose milder and less calamitous ways of expressing the adversity, or to change the statements that run through one’s mind into questions, and then focus your thoughts on finding answers to the questions.


Some people find that changing their behaviour changes their negative thought bias and thinking patterns. Examples are exercising; talking with supportive friends; eating a favourite food such as chocolate or ice-cream; shopping; going to movies; reading a novel; partying. Not all these activities will reduce everyone’s negative thinking – the challenge is to find what works for you. The outcome should be distraction from the stress of the adversity, recharging energy and then returning with renewed vigour to deal with the stress and difficulties.


It is also useful where possible to avoid or minimise situations which trigger persistent negative thoughts. Examples we were given of situations to avoid were of particular events (e.g. a stressful monthly family get together), people (e.g. negative colleagues or difficult clients) and physical conditions (e.g. tiredness and being hungry). Alternatively, challenging negativism in others, such as negative statements and opinions that are unfounded, biased, or open to interpretation may also be a useful way of controlling one’s own negative thoughts in order to maintain perspective.


A final element of this principle of building resilience is maintaining perspective by engaging in enjoyable, relaxing and recharging activities. Taking steps to change the scenery, pace and people around one can provide a counterbalance to the intense demands and naturally narrowing thought focus when dealing with adversity. This was variously expressed as “taking time out for myself”; “having me-time”; and “taking time to smell the roses”.


What is your most effective method of maintaining perspective in tough time so as to be resilient?