Nov 24

Resilience

We set goals and try to attain them.

But sometimes, no matter how hard we try, it seems the universe has its own agenda for us. Maybe we don’t get our first-choice school, or get hired for that job we applied for. Maybe we have faced a lot of rejection, and we feel that because of our attention issues or other learning and emotional challenges, that we will never find the way to succeed.

But when things don’t work out the way we wish they would, we may get the opportunity to attain something even greater. We learn how to move forward anyway. Life is always moving forward, and we have no choice but to go in the same direction.

As Viktor Frankl, who survived living in concentration camps to go on to become a great writer and psychiatrist, said:

“When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

What are some ways to cope when we are faced with disappointment?

In his book The Reality Slap, psychotherapist Russ Harris outlines a four part procedure.

Hold yourself kindly.
Drop the anchor.
Take a stand.
Find the treasure.

There’s a lot to be said about each one of these, so if you want to learn more, read the book. But briefly:

Hold yourself kindly.

When you are disappointed by something or someone how do you speak to yourself? Do you support yourself with kind and gentle words, or do you scold yourself, giving yourself negative and hurtful messages?

Even if you feel you’ve made mistakes, or haven’t lived up to your own or others’ expectations of you, be compassionate with yourself. One way to do this is by gently placing one hand on your abdomen and one hand on your heart. Breathe deeply. Move your hands to wherever you need comfort most. Sometimes placing a hand on your forehead can ease your emotions.

Drop the anchor.

Push your feet into the floor, straighten your spine, and take a full breath. Look around and notice five things you can see, hear, and feel. If you prefer, you can stand and stretch, or push your palms against each other. All of these actions help us to get out of our thoughts and into our bodies, into the here and now.

Take a stand.

What values are important for you? Only you know what makes your life meaningful. Viktor Frankl said that there is an ultimate purpose in life, and even when forces beyond our control take away everything we possess, we still have the freedom to choose how to respond to the situation.

After you’ve held yourself kindly and dropped the anchor, choose a direction that feels meaningful for you. What are your values? Patience? Persistence? Courage? Compassion? How can you move forward now? If you get quiet and listen, a feeling will arise and you will know how to take the next small step. Frankl says, “You have to let [success] happen by not caring about it. I want you to listen to what your conscience commands you to do and go on to carry it out to the best of your knowledge.”

Find the treasure.

Russ Harris tells us to open our awareness, so that we notice not only what is lacking in our life, but what is not lacking. In this way, we may find a hidden treasure that gives us sense of fulfillment, even in the midst of our pain. Is it possible to appreciate all the things that are going right? It’s not that we should ignore our pain and say, “It’s all for the best.” But we can bring up the lights and see the whole picture of our lives, and find something that we can treasure: our healthy bodies, our senses, the food we eat, the beds we sleep on, the water that comes effortlessly from our taps!

When we can slow down and connect with what’s beautiful and meaningful, we are better able to also connect with our inner wisdom, always there to guide us, even in the midst of uncertainty.

“Go back?” he thought. “No good at all! Go sideways? Impossible! Go forward? Only thing to do! On we go!” So up he got, and trotted along with his little sword held in front of him and one hand feeling the wall, and his heart all of a patter and a pitter.”
― J.R.R. Tolkien, The Hobbit