That’s what I’m after.
To be able to find my balance after hitting a pot hole. To wake up with hope after enduring a series of frustrations. To look beyond the circumstances of my life in order to enjoy the moment.
Yes. I want to become more resilient. So it was with great interest that I read Robert Wick’s book, “Bounce: Living the Resilient Life.” Here are six of the suggestions he presents in his book. A professor of psychology at Loyola University, Maryland, Dr. Wicks is author of numerous books, including “Prayerfulness” that I featured earlier this year.
Step One: Become Aware of Acute Stress and Toxic Situations
In his first chapter, Dr. Wicks talks about how to recognize chronic and acute stress, and what causes burnout. As a specialist in the field of secondary stress–the kind of exhaustion common in caregiving professions like physicians, nurses, psychotherapists, educators, social workers, ministers, and relief workers–Wicks emphasizes the need to take a break in order to assess our work situations. He writes:
Most of us, whether we are professional helpers or not, too often tend to absorb the sadness, anxiety, and negativity or those around us. Sometimes we even feel this is expected of us. As we listen to or observe stories of terrible things that happen to others, we “catch” some of their futility, fear, vulnerability, and hopelessness rather than experiencing mere frustration or concern. We learn that no matter how prepared we are, we are not immune to the psychological and spiritual dangers that arise in living a full life of involvement with others.
Moreover, if we don’t stop and consider the erosion of our buffer zone between our personal lives and work, we run the risk of contracting an illness, a mood disorder, or a serious disease. Says Wicks:
If we don’t pay attention to our stress immediately, we eventually will. The problem with “eventually” is that, as with many psychophysical disorders in which psychological stress can produce physical changes over time, damage can occur so quietly over time that it can become irreversible (e.g. shingles after age 50).
Step Two: Create a Self-Care, Personal Renewal Program
Wicks undermines the necessity of a self-care protocol, not as a “nicety of life” for folks with their afternoons free, but as “necessary source of constant renewal.” He writes, “Not to have such a personal renewal program may court disaster for both our personal and professional lives. It is also, at its core, an act of profound disrespect for the gift of life we have been given.”
What does one look like? Here are some basic elements he suggests:
- Quiet walks by yourself
- Time and space for meditation
- Spiritual and recreational reading–including the biographies of others whom you admire
- Some light exercise
- Opportunities to laugh offered by movies, cheerful friends, a regular card game
- A hobby such as gardening or knitting
- Phone calls to family and friends who inspire and tease you
- Involvement in projects that renew you
- Listening to music you enjoy.
Step Three: Surround Yourself with Four Kinds of Friends
According to Wicks, having a balanced circle of friends can go a long way in protecting ourselves from the erosion of stress. He identifies four kinds of friends that can keep us balanced and resilient. They are:
1. The prophet: a person who stretches us and challenges us to go to the scary place that we may have been avoiding, but where we may ultimately find freedom. Says Wicks, “Prophets point! They point to the fact that it doesn’t matter whether pleasure or pain is involved, the only thing that matters is that we week to see and live ‘the truth’ because only it will set us free.”
2. The cheerleader: a person who offers us “unabashed, enthusiastic, unconditional acceptance.”
3. The harasser: someone to make us laugh at ourselves, to rip up our unrealistic expectations, and to “regain and maintain perspective” by way of gentle teasing.
4. Guides: people who help us uncover the voices that are guiding us, and “especially the ones that make us hesitant, anxious, fearful, and willful.”
Step Four: Recognize and Concentrate On Signature Strengths
The positive psychology movement initiated by Martin Seligman prompts its believers to focus on a person’s positive attributes instead of her weaknesses. In his book “Authentic Happiness,” Seligman discusses all sorts of research that link happiness to using one’s strengths in a profession or pastime. Based on Seligman’s research, Wicks writes: “It’s not surprising that we are most happy, and most productive, when we are using our signature strengths. Accordingly, it is important to become more aware of what activities lead to happiness for us….Happiness makes us more resilient.”
Step Five: Examine Oneself and Accept Shortcomings
Wicks writes, “Self-knowledge leads to personal discipline and self-management, which are essential to resilience.” To get to self-knowledge, though, we must know how to process our emotions before our emotions process us.
By acknowledging and accepting our shortcomings for starters. When we do that, we learn self-respect, and according to Wicks “self-respect and self-awareness go hand in hand.” He writes:
Rather than turning away from that which is unacceptable, we face the anxieties that are produced as a price for learning more about ourselves. The benefit, of course, is greater self-knowledge and, in turn, less impulsive behavior with more personal freedom. So, rather than being limited by our blind spots in self-awareness, we can build our own self-knowledge by examining our daily interactions.
Step Six: Practice Mindfulness and Meditation
According to Wicks, mindfulness–viewing life through the lens of the present moment–is a tool to “replenish the self and maintain perspective.” Meditation of any kind allows us some space to observe our thoughts rather than judge them, to try to disengage the mind, if only for a few moments in our day.
Meditation and mindfulness cultivate an inner life that safeguards us against the stress we run up against each day. If we devote chunks of energy and time to our inner life, it will, says Wicks, eventually become a place of “self-knowledge, self-nurturance, challenge and peace,” a kind of buffer of resilience that we desperately need in an age of anxiety.