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Four Resilient Mindsets

(Suzi, Integrated Diploma in Wellness and Resilience Coaching)

According to Tugade and Fredrickson (2004), resilience is characterised by, ‘the ability to bounce back from negative emotional experiences and by flexible adaptation to the changing demands of stressful experiences.’[1] This definition has been elaborated on further to expand resilience as, not just, bouncing back from adversity, but also the ability to grow from challenges (Reivich, n.d)[2]. Personally, I strongly relate to this notion of growing through adversity and have cultivated strong resilience through the challenges I have faced. Particularly, I have found optimism and self-awareness to be highly important and it is my experience of these traits I will expand upon here. I’d also like to explore a trait that comes less naturally to me, which I feel could further grow my resilience.

Gratitude is a trait that has had a profound impact on my life and in my capacity to be resilient. More than just optimism or a positive emotion, it has been described as a, ‘life orientation towards noticing and appreciating the positive in the world,’ (Wood et al, 2010).[3] It is exactly this that I truly learnt to cultivate and understand the importance of when I was chronically ill and entirely bedbound for nearly 3 years.

Feeling hopeless and negative, without the usual big experiences to be grateful for, I had to find appreciation for the smaller things in life. Writing a gratitude journal each day gave me a new appreciation of the smaller things that make up life’s true joy. As my world became smaller physically, gratitude opened up my eyes to a bigger, richer world and undoubtedly developed my coping mechanisms and resilience. As Tugade and Fredrickson (2004)[4] suggested, resilient people use, ‘the undo effect of positive emotions,’ to help them cope with negative emotions which is ultimately what gratitude allowed me to do.

Now, almost entirely recovered, gratitude has become a way of life for me, indeed, a ‘life orientation’. I now look to what I can be grateful for when I’m feeling down to help me cope and it has made me openly express gratitude to my loved ones, strengthening my relationships. Appreciating and being grateful for nature on daily walks also cultivates other positive emotions, such as joy and serenity.  Gratitude helped me feel less helpless, less despair, less sadness and enabled me to become more resilient, but it has also openly enriched my life and opened my eyes to possibility. For me, it has anecdotally proven Barbara Fredrickson’s Broaden and Build theory that positive emotions broaden our thoughts and actions, and allow us to, ‘discover and build new skills, new ties, new knowledge and new ways of being,’ (Fredrickson, 2011)[5], all resources that build resilience.

With this theory in mind, it is this broadened way of thinking that enabled me to become more cognitively flexible. Thinking flexibly means adapting your thinking to move away from stuck thought patterns, accepting what you cannot control and adapting your mindset to focus on what you can have influence over. This acceptance was a huge part of being flexible when I was ill; accepting I could not control my health but feeling I could influence my mindset was incredibly empowering and probably saved me. I needed to be able to shift my outlook when treatments failed or when I looked to try new ones.

This mindset shift means you can subsequently adapt your behaviours and reactions to be more resilient. For me, this mental flexibility ultimately led me to change my relationship with myself for the better and, although for the majority of the illness I physically couldn’t mix up my external environment, I certainly changed my internal one. Now, there are elements of a flexible mindset I try and use in my daily life that have been especially helpful during the pandemic when at home in the same environment every day. Mixing up my energy and having a dance when I feel stuck or changing my environment and working in a different room often helps shift negative thinking patterns or gives the brain novelty that makes things feel refreshed.  Yes – you were in control and identify how mental flexibility is crucial to wellbeing.

The two traits I have so far discussed are hugely based around self-awareness, an attribute that is considered fundamental to resilience (Grant & Kinman, 2014; Kinman n.d., as cited in Featherstone, 2017).[6],[7] Mindfulness in particular has given me an awareness of my thoughts and behaviours so that I can act in a more resilient way. Through practices such as mediation, journaling, yoga and gratitude, I have learnt to accept myself and nurture an optimistic view of myself and of challenging situations. For example, I have a perfectionistic personality type which can lead me to be very self-critical and negative. However, awareness of this, and the associated negative thoughts, has taught me to, instead, treat myself with self-compassion and to reframe old thought patterns. Consequently, I can act in a more helpful way, with a more optimistic view of myself rather than one that sabotages. Essentially, I can be more resilient.

Moreover, accepting that I have a tendency to people-please, and realising the downfalls of this, has allowed me to seek to change negative behaviours and act more resiliently. Recently, I have been more assertive in situations where, previously, I would have let my own needs and emotions go unnoticed or, even, suppressed them. Having this awareness has allowed me to change the way I deal with negative thinking and how I conduct myself in relationships. I have been able to act in a more positive, open and honest way, dealing with the associated discomfort.

A trait I could improve upon to build resilience is asking for support. Gratitude interventions have been found to play an active role in helping people mobilise existing support systems (Kerr et al, 2015)[8], but, despite gratitude having a positive impact on my relationships in general, I still find it hard to ask for support. I am extremely willing to offer loved ones support and find it very satisfying to help others but, when it comes to myself, I tend to go inward and don’t want to burden others with my problems, no doubt a hangover effect of my people-pleasing tendencies. One way I could build this trait is to remind myself that I wouldn’t want loved ones to stay quiet if the roles were reversed.

Examining my own resilience has highlighted how much I have learnt through my own adversity. I have written gratitude lists for my experience of chronic illness and, although I wish it had been different, I am grateful for the ways it has changed me. I believe optimism, self-awareness and emotional intelligence to be fundamental to resilience and, as such, as we build on these skills, we also build our resilience.

 

 

References

[1] Tugade, M. M., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2004). Resilient individuals use positive emotions to bounce back from negative emotional experiences. Journal of personality and social psychology, 86(2), 320–333. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.86.2.320

[2] Reivich, K. (n.d.). Positive Psychology: Resilience Skills [MOOC]. Coursera. https://www.coursera.org/learn/positive-psychology-resilience

[3] Wood, A. M., Froh, J. J., and Geraghty, A. W. A. (2010). Gratitude and well-being: a review and theoretical integration. Clin. Psychol. Rev. 30, 890–905. doi: 10.1016/j.cpr.2010.03.005

[4] Tugade, M. M., & Fredrickson, B. L. (2004). Resilient individuals use positive emotions to bounce back from negative emotional experiences. Journal of personality and social psychology, 86(2), 320–333. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.86.2.320

[5] Fredrickson, B. L. (2011). Positivity: Groundbreaking Research to Release Your Inner Optimist and Thrive. Oxford, England: Oneworld Publications.

[6]Grant, L. & Kinman, G. (2014) Emotional Resilience in the Helping Professions and how it can be Enhanced, Health and Social Care Education, 3(1), pp. 23-34, DOI: 10.11120/hsce.2014.00040

[7] Featherstone, E. (2017, June 9). How to be resilient: ‘self-awareness is fundamental.’ The Guardian. Retrieved fromhttps://www.theguardian.com/small-business-network/2017/jun/09/how-to-resilient-self-awareness-mindfulness-support-experts

[8] Kerr, S.L., O’Donovan, A. & Pepping, C.A. (2015). Can Gratitude and Kindness Interventions Enhance Well-Being in a Clinical Sample? Journal of Happiness Studies,16, pp, 17–36. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10902-013-9492-1

 

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