The Simplest Yet Most Powerful Recipe to Develop Resilience When Life is Hard
Life is difficult for all of us now. There is anxiety and collective fear in the air.
Some of us have already started experiencing the adverse effects of the coronavirus, others are anxiously trying to prepare.
For the first few weeks of the outbreak, I was in the “anxiously trying to prepare” category, watching the news religiously and coming up with several scenarios to calm my mind. I had already decided to leave my job to travel and now that I couldn’t, I had to find a way to navigate the uncertainty in front of me.
Anxiety wasn’t the answer.
Watching the news often was more detrimental than helpful.
Obsessing over the scenarios was fuel for anxiety rather than a solution.
Thankfully, I have learned some tools from yoga and coaching that helped me channel attention into useful action. Here are a few simple but game changing ways I have been using to develop resilience even in an intense situation like a global outbreak:
1. Give up the internal resistance:
With the recent advances in technology, we’ve been controlling our environment like no other time. We’ve learned to manipulate nature to yield to us what we want when we want it, giving us the ability to rule the world. Unfortunately, it created the illusion that we are in control all the time.
In our modern world, especially western societies, we believe that “bad” things shouldn’t happen to us. We don’t expect life to be difficult.
We want life to obey our economic predictions and provide our creature comforts. Yet, life is much grander than us– it is about 4.5 billion year old in contrast to our 200,000 year old human race.
The reality is that we control what we can and navigate what we can’t. We should expect hurdles and loss, as they are part of life.
In fact, the curveballs we faced up to this point made us more resilient and intelligent. So, if you feel continuously disappointed or angry at what’s happening, I hope you can see how futile that is.
The keyword is “continuously” here. Of course, we can’t help feeling emotions, but we can certainly choose not to cling to them. We can make space for grief and sadness, experience them as a part of our human journey and let them pass through us.
This is how it can look like:
Whenever you feel perpetuating negative thoughts, write them down. Identify the reasoning behind the thoughts.
Then, try offering counter thoughts such as “difficulty is part of life.” or “resistance to the difficulty is creating more difficulty for me and others around me.”
“When you complain, you make yourself a victim. Leave the situation, change the situation, or accept it –all else is madness.”- Eckhart Tolle
2. Ground yourself with a ritual:
Humans performed cultural, personal, or religious rituals for ages. Rituals ground us by providing a sense of familiarity — therefore comfort — for our brain in an ever-changing environment.
If our rituals are beneficial, like meditating or exercising, they serve as a life jacket amid an unexpected storm.
Even small rituals can improve the quality of our lives tremendously.
I did an experiment measuring my overall happiness during the days I meditated in the morning for 15 mins vs. days I went into work directly. I noticed that I rated the days I meditated significantly higher than the ones I didn’t.
Just 15 mins made me feel more home in my own body and mind. I was much less reactive and entertained negative thoughts less. I felt more equanimous to tackle the ebb and flow.
This is how creating a ritual can look like:
Think about what makes you feel “home”. It can be any activity for any amount of time that you designate for yourself: a few mins of breathing, journaling, meditating, praying, any type of movement, bathing, etc. are all good examples.
Test it out and find what works for you.
Get creative or keep it simple, what matters is that you create a space for yourself to center.
3. Watch your thoughts:
One of the simplest yet most profound realizations I had is that we don’t have to believe all of our thoughts.
The mind generates thoughts on its own based on everything we have learned so far- most of the information is just collective opinions and emotions.
The power is in choosing what to believe.
“I can be changed by what happens to me, but I refuse to be reduced by it.” — Maya Angelou
When you hear a voice judging, worrying, or ruminating, just observing the voice is surprisingly effective in lessening the power of that voice.
Watching thoughts without identifying with them is both an ancient philosophy as well as a new scientifically proven technique called cognitive behavior therapy (CBT). Dr. David D. Burns, in his book Feeling Good, New Mood Therapy mentions that CBT is as effective as (if not more than) medications treating depression and anxiety. Reading his books or Mindsight by Dr. Daniel Siegel can be remarkably valuable during these challenging times.
This is how watching your thoughts can look like:
Each time you feel internal friction by your thoughts, pause to listen to them as if someone else is talking.
Question if they are true, if they are happening right this moment, and whether they are helpful.
The more you notice your thoughts, the more they will lose their grip and you will get to choose what thoughts to believe instead of automatically being sucked into them.
Coming back to how these three ways have helped me so far, I was able to focus on what is useful: volunteer at a sustainable farm and learn some self sufficiency skills through a program called WWOOF.
I realized that participating in what life unfolds in front of us is much more interesting than resisting it. I saw that we have way more options than we think, if we only open our eyes and hearts to see.
Having said this, going with the flow while being grounded is a practice for me. As far as I know, there is no shortcut to mastering challenges, but starting with simple and fundamental steps makes a world of difference.
All we need to do is to practice resiliency with firm commitment and without self-judgment. There will be days that we may feel completely lost in the drama of the events, but what matters is we come back to building resiliency. Let’s remember: it is not the adversity but our reactions that have the power to write our story.