I recently read a fascinating article in Time magazine titled “The Science of Bouncing Back,” where the author, Mandy Oaklander, explored the characteristic of resilience.
“Forget the old adage that you won’t know what you’re made of until you’re tested,” states the article. “The latest science shows that if you train your brain, how you act under pressure can, in large part, be up to you.”
Resilience is all about how a person reacts in the midst of stressful situations. Whether that be getting fired from a job, experiencing the loss of a loved one or serving in combat situations, stress comes in all shapes and sizes, as does one’s ability to deal with them.
Science shows that some people are more naturally equipped than others. Navy SEALs, for example, are a group the word “resilience” is often tied to, and for good reason.
“In a series of brain-imaging experiments on resilient Navy SEALs, [scientific director and president of the Laureate Institute for Brain Research in Tulsa, Okla Martin] Paulus showed the SEALs a color cue that signaled they were about to see an emotional picture,” Oaklander wrote. “Paulus saw that their brains anticipated the emotion more quickly than the average brain, letting them jump nimbly between different types of emotions.”
The top characteristics resilient people share include optimism, emotional control, mindfulness and positive response to failure, according to psychologists.
Essentially, big-picture strength is the result of small reactions. And though it’s true some are simply born better equipped to effectively handle discomfort, studies show that taking certain measures can quiet the brain’s fear receptors in favor of a more pliable, constructive connection.
“Just like working your biceps or your abs, say experts, training your brain can build up strength in the right places–and at the right times–too,” wrote Oaklander.
It’s all about the brain. The article states that the neural pathways that regulate fear are strengthened the more you use them, just like a muscle. Through mindful conditioning, however, different pathways are reinforced and strengthen instead, resulting in a “new response to stress.”
Oaklander wrote: “The most compelling new research about resilience focuses on mindfulness–an area in which most people would do well to improve, since people spend 47% of their days thinking about things other than what they’re actually doing, a 2010 Harvard study found.”
And, the power of the brain was illustrated in the experience of Vietnam POWs:
“[They told doctors] Southwick and Charney that with only two resources–free time and their minds–they were able to do remarkable things they couldn’t do before; one developed a knack for multiplying huge numbers in his head, while another built a house in his imagination (and then later, on solid ground).
‘It said to us that there’s enormous untapped capacity of the human brain,’ Charney says.”
TIME listed ten practices said to improve resilience, as listed below.
Expert Tips for Resilience:
1. Develop a core set of beliefs that nothing can shake.
When we map our beliefs, a truth solidifies inside us. This might be found in religious or spiritual practices or simply a personal moral code. Not only does identifying these beliefs lead to sorted priorities and easy decision-making, but it also develops a strength that defines us.
2. Try to find meaning in whatever stressful or traumatic thing has happened.
Often, explanations bring a strange sort of peace. If we are able to analyze the situation and identify the root of our state, we have something to learn from and move forward with. If explanations are slippery, elusive, then look back at recommendation #1: what are your beliefs? The explanation may lie in them.
3. Try to maintain a positive outlook.
I once had a friend say, “Think of everything else in your life that is stable.”
It’s the easiest thing in the world to focus on one broken thing and forget about the many other gifts that are still standing. But remembering the reality of the matter–that this will pass–lends a hand to the bigger, brighter picture.
4. Take cues from someone who is especially resilient.
We all have that person that comes to mind when we are feeling weak. For me, it’s my grandmother who passed away before I was born. She never played the victim, and she never allowed her condition to dictate who she was or how she treated others.
Figure out who that person is for you, and consult them if you are able. It’s likely they’ll have words of advice and support to share.
5. Don’t run from the things that scare you; face them.
The cliche most popularly delivered from parents to their children might deserve to be reemphasized.
Facing one’s fears challenges the neural pathways that result in fear, and usually, an instinctive aversion to whatever unpleasant experience that’s facing you. By tackling the issue head-on, you’re speeding up a difficult and inevitable process, while refining your confidence in knowing you did dealt with something scary, and can do it again.
6. Be quick to reach out for support when things go haywire.
Navy SEALs, the most experimentally-proven examples of resilience in modern times, are also surrounded by a close-knit community they like to call brothers. Throughout BUD/S, the intense training course that determines whether or not militants earn a spot in this brotherhood, teamwork and reliance on your partner is reiterated over and over again. Abandonment of your partner is unacceptable.
Strength is often misinterpretation as something an individual finds and utilizes on their own. But anyone who says they accomplished anything by themselves is lying.
Drop your pride and seek the support of others.
7. Learn new things as often as you can.
The more experienced and knowledgeable you are, the more confident and comfortable you will feel tackling new tasks and challenges.
Read. Talk to people who are younger and more lighthearted than you, peers who are going through similar things as you, elderly people who are more wise than you. Become an expert on something interesting. Learn how to shoot a gun. Find a new recipe to try. Accept an invitation to go dancing, even if you don’t know the steps.
Choosing your own challenges will better prepare you for the challenges you don’t choose.
8. Find an exercise regimen you’ll stick to.
Not only does exercise release endorphins that act like booster shots for your mood; it is also shown that strengthening the body is closely linked to a healthy, clear mind.
Those who see and feel results procured from forcing themselves through strenuous physical challenges tend to believe themselves capable of handling strenuous situations. And, because exercise registers as stress to the body and the body has learned to cope with that stress, the body and mind are better conditioned to deal with other antagonisms just as efficiently.
Taking care of your body is worth it. Find a way to move that you enjoy.
9. Don’t beat yourself up or dwell on the past.
What’s the point? What’s done is done. If your past performance or behavior doesn’t agree with the standards you set for yourself, make present changes and/or amends and move forward.
10. Recognize what makes you uniquely strong, and own it.
Tapping into what you already have and taking advantage of your unique gifts, talents, abilities, experiences and strengths is the most logical first step toward figuring out who you are and what you can accomplish. What might be easy for you may be difficult for someone else. Appreciate that. Harnessing your strengths and your weaknesses will help you understand yourself, and the deeper you understand yourself, the more sturdy and whole you will feel in the face of struggle.
Information and list from Time magazine’s “The Science of Bouncing Back” by Mandy Oaklander.
Commentary following each bullet-point is mine.
Photographs retrieved from Tumblr blog titled vintage-image. Artist unknown.