As a people and a country, we have endured a myriad of issues over the years and somehow we always seem to bounce back (and this is open to opposing views), but at least as a country, we are still standing. Nigeria can therefore be described as a resilient country and invariably its people can be said to be resilient. But wait a minute, are we truly a resilient people or have we become accustomed to “learned helplessness;” a situation where we have accepted the status quo, with no attempt to escape. And when I say escape, I do not mean checking out of the countryJ.
The quote by George Patton Jr., “I don’t measure a man’s success by how high he climbs, but by how high he bounces when he hits bottom” summarises for me resilience in a nutshell. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from setbacks and to thrive, grow and be effective in the face of adversity, challenges or change. It is a universal capacity that allows a person, group or community to respond to pressure and any demand anytime and anywhere, without anxiety, stress, or desperation. Resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. It involves behaviours, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed in anyone. The operative word in resilience is recovery; it is not only the ability to resist adversity or hardship, but the capacity to recover from it wholly.
DEVELOPING PERSONAL RESILIENCE
Developing resilience is a personal journey. These research based steps to developing personal resilience are useful guides for anyone who wants to build their resilience, live a more joyful and fulfilling life and ultimately flourish.
- Connect to your purpose and meaning in life: a strong sense of purpose and meaning is the bedrock from which coping, healing and renewal after adversity is made possible. Develop realistic life goals related to your purpose. Working towards goals can give you a sense of purpose and reaching them increases your self-confidence. Knowing what is important to you can help you make sure you know where to focus your attention.
- Use your unique strengths: Realistic self-insight into one’s own character strengths and vulnerabilities is the basis for understanding one’s capabilities and limits when dealing with adversity. Character strengths are different to job strengths; the former are life-long whereas job strengths are specific and change with circumstances. People often learn something about themselves and may find that they have grown in some respect as a result of their struggles. Make a list of your strengths and effectively capitalize on them in times of adversity.
- Maintain perspective: maintaining perspective 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. To build resilience, reframe negatively biased thinking and persistent negative self talk. This can be done by finding alternative ways of thinking about a problem, such as how can I learn from it, or how can I adjust to it and still flourish. Perception is critical to building resilience; do not conceptualize an event as traumatic, instead, view it as a chance to learn and grow from it. Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems.
- Generate Positive Feelings: adversity typically involves strong negative emotions which have the potential to hijack rational thoughts and so reduce resilience. Negative feelings are in themselves not “bad” as they convey important messages about the severity of the adversity. In excess however, they can have substantial negative impact on our health and wellbeing and thus the capability to deal with the adversity. Pay attention to your own needs and feelings; facing adversity requires a balance between both thinking and feeling.
- Be realistically Optimistic: being realistically optimistic to build resilience concerns choosing to live with a positive attitude. This positive attitude should be realistic however, as being over optimistic or not having optimism based in reality usually results in unrealistic expectations and ultimately disappointment when they are not fulfilled. Some people are born more optimistic than others, but realistic optimism can be enhanced and so one does not need to be stuck in the mind-set of persistently seeing doom and gloom. An optimistic outlook enables you to maintain healthy expectations and hopefulness that good things will happen. View difficulties as temporary. Create an image of what you want to happen in your life and take decisive action.
- Make Connections: Good relationships with close family members, friends or others are important. Engaging in relationships that create love and trust, offer encouragement and reassurance help bolster a person's resilience. Reach out to others to ask for help, as well as reach out to others to offer help. Assisting others in need boosts the giver’s resilience, even when the giver is experiencing adversity themselves.
- Accept that Change is a part of Living. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter. Learn to tolerate high levels of uncertainty and ambiguity. Remember the Serenity Prayer, “God grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can and the wisdom to know the difference.”
- Reflect on Your Day: At the end of the day take five to ten minutes to consider what went well and what things you would do differently the next time. Be gentle with yourself, remembering the words of John David Hoag, “There is no failure only feedback.”
Identify ways that are likely to work well for you as part of your own personal strategy for fostering resilience, and be intentional about weaving it into your daily life. Successful people think and speak differently; if you must succeed and thrive, change your thoughts and words.
Until next time, be resilient and flourish!
Dr. Ramat Lawal-Unuigbe