July 9

Resilience: a simple shift?


“Resilience is built on the simple realisation that our emotions and behaviours are triggered not by events themselves but on how we interpret those events. (Reivich and Shatte in ‘The Resilience Factor’.)

I’ve recently read “The courage to be disliked*” - a thought provoking and challenging book which is at heart an exploration of Adlerian Psychology. Alfred Adler was an Austrian psychologist whose theory of personality is based around the need to overcome feelings of inferiority. There are many unusual but also helpful ideas within his work, but this quote reminds me of the need to stop constantly comparing ourselves and our progress against one another. 

Adler suggests that instead, we should see everyone on a level playing field and compare ourselves only against ourselves, or more accurately, our progress in life, and, picking up the thread from last week, our progress towards our goals.

When we start to focus on those goals, then our emotions and behaviours are driven solely by our own progress, not that of other people. And as a result, we are more likely to be able to cheer them on, learn from what they do, and, to use Carol Dwecks' terminology, have a growth mindset.

Comparisons a waste of effort

Comparing our progress against other people is a waste of effort. Why? Because their goals are not our goals. Even though they may look the same, they are not, because of our individuality and differing underlying reasons. 

At first glance, this quote may seem to be rather stretching the point by applying it to resilience - we all know that many aspects of our lives depend on the meaning we ascribe to what happens to us. But it’s deeper than that. The point Reivich and Shatte are making is that we can alter our resilience by altering our viewpoint on our subjective experience.

In the same way that comparing ourselves against one another is unhelpful, so is listening to whether they found a shared experience stressful or not. They are our experiences, our emotions, our interpretations, and therefore unique to us. As a result, the same experience can increase our resilience while diminishing that of another person. 

Shifting interpretations

At some level, it is always possible to shift our interpretation of events. That’s not to say that it’s easy, however. It may be very difficult,  especially without outside assistance. But it can be changed.

In the 1990’s we heard the phrase “Positive Mental Attitude” or PMA everywhere. This sometimes displayed itself as ignoring the downsides of a situation, and only acknowledging the upsides. I’d say that’s just fakery, but you may argue the opposite. Except for the impact that it has. A genuine PMA had a realistic frame around life that meant challenges were not a complete personal disaster and therefore packing up and going home, but more an opportunity for a course correction.

Maybe this is why the gratitude diary as described by Martin Seligman (in his book ‘Flourish’) works so well. Being forced to identify three blessings of things you are grateful for each day forces us to change our interpretation of our lives. This, over the longer term, will have a positive impact on our resilience.

I may well write more about the topic one day, but one of the ways of treating the chronic travel anxiety that I suffer with is known as ‘exposure therapy’. I know that I will find it difficult but I am sure that interpreting the experience with a PMA will reduce it over time. And then I’ll feel more resilient to cope with the smorgasbord of potential difficulties when travelling.

So what are you going to start reframing in order to become more resilient? Let me know:

I'm reframing...

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That's all for today. If you've questions or comments, drop me a line below or get in touch.

Please note: A *indicates a link to an external site from which I may receive a small referral fee. You won't pay any extra though. You may be able to find a 'standard' link instead if you prefer.


comparison, mindset, reframing, resilience, shifting interpretations

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