Resilience: A Valuable Resource In Adversity

Doing these three things can create the momentum and energy to change your circumstances.

Who isn’t affected by the financial melt-down these days?

As a coach, I hear daily about the psychological, physical, emotional and relational impact of rocky financial times. Adversity is part of life, but if your job is cut, your financial resources diminished, or you’re working twice as hard with less, it’s hard to bounce back. In times like these, feelings of scarcity color our reality. When financial resources are limited, we tend to focus on our material resources and forget that we have personal resources.

What do I mean by personal resources? Stop to take an audit of inner resources—your competencies, relationships and blessings. What natural strengths do you have? How can you increase positive emotion, hope, and physical well-being to smooth out the emotional roller coaster ride of hard times? Here are some tips for tapping into those non-material resources.

The Power of Character Strengths

Character strengths such as creativity, courage, kindness, persistence, optimism, gratitude, humor and spirituality are exactly the personal resources needed in times of adversity to solve problems or just to stay afloat. Why do some children show greater resistance to the ill effects of terrible events, sometimes even exhibiting “exceptional outcomes” and growth? According to Dr. Chris Peterson, research shows their resilience lies in the presence of “protective factors,” among which we can count character strengths. But it may not be enough just to have character strengths; people who intentionally practice using them find them readily available in times of need.

As I coach, I often suggest that my clients take the character strengths assessment and keep their list of 24 character strengths by their night table or desk and start each day by picking one strength to use as a lens for the day. For example,

Say you select creativity as your lens for the day, ask yourself can your creativity strength help you…

  • in making cold calls about job openings more palatable and memorable?
  • in revising your household food budget to be smaller yet just as appetizing, and maybe even fun?
  • in planning a family vacation around friends, family, or camping, instead of Disney World this year?

These strengths needn’t even be your top strengths, but could be ones you want to stretch.

Hope as a Change Agent

Finding hope can be hard in times of extreme stress, but hope is exactly what fuels resilience. Hope theory helps us to make a fuzzy term more concrete. Hope researchers such as Shane Lopez and C.R. Snyder have defined hope theory as our perceptions of our capacity to accomplish three things:

  • dream up goals
  • create specific strategies for accomplishing our goals
  • generate and sustain the momentum to carrying out our strategies

They also talk about the “power of hope as a motivating force.” This suggests a shift in our thinking. Lopez, Snyder and colleagues seem to suggest that hope can be a change agent. In times of great stress, they suggest that doing these three things, even when hope is hard to find—in other words, acting “as if”—can actually create the momentum and energy to change, and generate more hope in the process.

Tapping into Positive Emotions

In the aftermath of the September 11 attacks, positive psychologist Barbara Fredrickson studied the presence of positive emotions and their effect on post-crisis behavior. She found that positive emotions can serve as more than pleasant distractions. In fact, positive emotions for some people can be “active ingredients in superior coping and thriving despite adversity.” What’s more, even in the most difficult times, positive feelings such as gratitude, love, optimism and interest can occur naturally and be cultivated.

Creating positive emotions might seem hard when you’re facing a difficult situation. Here’s where intentionality and planning ahead can help. Knowing what brings you joy or pleasure and making a list will help make recovering from a bad mood easier. Does certain music always make you smile or want to dance? Set it aside or make a playlist. Does humor lift your spirits? Make a list of funny movies that always make you laugh so you can watch them when you need a lift. Save poetry and quotations that inspire you. Write a gratitude journal so you can go back and remind yourself of all that you are grateful for. Call a friend whose voice and spirit cheers you up.

Physical Reserves

A critical part of your inner resources is your physical stamina. We’ve all heard of the runner’s high. Endorphins, mood regulating chemicals, are released when we exercise aerobically. Studies have shown that as little as 10 minutes of exercise increases blood flow to the brain. Scientific evidence shows that exercise improves our ability to think, manage our emotions, and resist the physical effects of stress.

Positive Relationships

It’s common sense, but also scientifically proven that positive relationships form an outward system of support that generates the inner resources we need in times of stress. A survey of over 2000 Americans in 1971 showed that one of the strongest predictors of overall life satisfaction turned out to be a happy marriage (primary relationship) and family life. Positive social relationships obviously have a direct effect on the individual by generating positive emotions. In addition, researchers have found that they have the indirect effect of softening the harmful responses to stress.

So when you’ve lost your job or feel like you need to cut back on the cost of socializing, that’s exactly the time to circle the wagons of friends. Reach out. Ask for help and advice. Or maybe just coffee and a sympathetic ear.

Intentional Practice

Once you have a sense of your inner resources, intentional practice builds them like muscles so that they are available when needed. A good coach can help you take an audit and practice using your resources so that they become second nature in times of stress.

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