Research by psychology professors Richard G. Tedeschi and Lawrence Calhoun shows that not only do we have the ability to grow through the challenges of our life, what they call post-traumatic growth, but the benefits of doing so include improved relationships, new possibilities for our lives, a greater appreciation for life, a greater sense of personal strength, and spiritual development. Not bad rewards, I’d say.
So how do we cultivate resilience? Psychology professor George Bonnano of Columbia and other resiliency experts say it comes from a combination of 5 factors:
a commitment to finding meaning in what’s happening to you
a belief in your capacity to create a positive future
the willingness to grow
the choice to laugh
How can you put these into practice right now? When I work with myself or someone else who’s going through a change they are struggling with, I always ask: What could possibly be right about this? That helps us find meaning and to grow. Positive psychologists call it “creative construing,” the ability to assign a meaning to what we’re going through.
Next, make sure you tell yourself a story that includes not just the past and the present but a possible future: I know I am having challenges now, but in the future things will be easier. This gives us hope [see my earlier blogs on the importance of hope] and something positive to work toward.
Next, whether with friends or funny movies, and books, please find ways and places to laugh as often as possible.
Finally, to increase your thankfulness, try the other question I always ask when things are hard: what in my life or myself can I be truly grateful for right now? As an author of books on gratitude, I’ve been awed by its power to uplift and focus us on what is still right, good, and whole in our lives. But it only works if we allow ourselves to feel in our hearts what we honestly appreciate, not what we think we should feel thankful for.
The other day, I was introduced via mail to a 17-year-old named Lauren. Lauren has lived in 12 different foster homes since she was 8. When she moves from place to place, her possessions fit in one plastic trash bag. She’s about to “age out” of the California foster system, with no place to live, no money, no job. But she’s happy nonetheless. Because when she was 10, she lived with Mommy Jean. Mommy Jean gave Lauren a rock and told her to carry it always in her pocket. Each time she felt it, she was to think of something she was grateful for. Every day since, no matter where she lives, Lauren’s been touching that rock and finding things to be grateful for.
The man who shared Lauren’s story sent me a small rock for my pocket. If I could, I would hand one to you right now. Not only to help you practice gratitude. But to remind you that, like Lauren, you can survive the changes life hurls your way.
A member of Professional Thinking Partners who is recognized as a leading expert in change, M.J. Ryan specializes in coaching high performance executives, entrepreneurs, individuals, and leadership teams around the world to maximize performance and fulfillment. Her clients include Microsoft, Royal Dutch Shell, Chevron, Hewitt Associates, and Frito Lay. Her work is based on a combination of positive psychology, strengths-based coaching, the wisdom traditions, and cutting edge brain research. Her new book, titled “AdaptAbility: How to Survive Change You Didn't Ask For” was recently released published by Random House’s Broadway Books. She lives in the San Francisco Bay Area with her husband and daughter.