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Don’t Knock the Hard Knocks

I wouldn't wish misfortune on you, don't get me wrong. Loss, hardship, illness, disaster...nobody wants these things in their lives, and they are never pleasant to experience. I would, however, wish for you to experience the kind of growth that comes out of living through hardship.

From Nietszche to Kelly Clarkson, great minds through the centuries have reminded us that struggling against difficulty makes us stronger. In fact, if we can accept that we need adversity to grow, could we make one more subtle shift in thinking and consider that adversity isn't actually a "bad" thing?

Without adversity, we wouldn't know ease! Mind. Blown.

Adversity is (duh) painful to experience, but here is a fact: getting through difficult times gives us the gift of resilence. Resilience is the capacity to bounce back better from life's hard knocks. Resilience isn't something that just happens: it won't come looking for you. Indeed, the bad news is that resilience is all up to your own initiative - it doesn't just build up naturally under adversity. This is also the good news: your resilience is within your power to control.

What can we do to start building resilience? The first thing is a change in attitude. Accepting that stress is necessary for growth and practicing reframing stress as part of life rather than something to avoid at all costs is difficult, powerful, and rewarding inner work. Not that you want to give into stress. You do not want to give cortisol free reign in your body to wreak havoc and cause illness, so taking care to soothe your stress is key. However, it is unrealistic and undesirable to think that we can eliminate stress altogether. The first shift is thus to practice accepting that stress is an inevitable and necessary teacher. The next time the proverbial excrement hits the rotating blades, tell yourself "ah! An opportunity to build resilence. Perhaps it will suck to to through this, but I will learn something." You may not like it, but allowing this shift in attitude will give you new motivation for the work ahead.

Practically speaking, one of the key things to work on when facing adversity is learning to manage your emotions. Emotional intelligence is a core component of resilience. None of us are immune from major upset, but we can all learn to pull ourselves out of it. Mindful recognition and acknowledgement of emotions as they happen is a good place to start. Tell yourself "I feel (insert emotion here) right now. It's alright to feel like this." That last part is crucial. If you are anything like me, you need to remind yourself constantly that your feelings are valid and okay to have. Otherwise, you will spend a lot of energy berating yourself for feeling your feelings, piling insult on top of injury. You don't need to do that to yourself, my friend.

The second practical thing to work on is the negative self-talk. We all do it, it's part of how our survival system keeps us safe. We all have an inner critic who takes on ideas about ourselves or the world from a young age, and clobbers us with those ideas in times of stress. I have some executive function challenges, for example, and I had gotten into the habit of cursing myself out every time I misplaced my keys (often, especially when running late!). "OMG, you idiot, why are you such a scatterbrain! Get it together NOW!" This was my typical self-talk track for years - full of unnecessary negativity that only served to break down morale! Negative self talk won't help me locate my keys or manage the stress of not being able to find them. So, I began the work. Over time, when I was stressed out and misplaced my keys, I practiced reminding myself of the opportunity to manage my upset and speak kindly to myself. I didn't always succeed, but I tried. I practiced and, gradually, improved. These days, my revised, kinder talk track goes something like this: "The keys are missing again, here is an opportunity to practice loving kindness to myself! Okay, sweetheart, take a breath, it's okay to be upset and frustrated at losing our keys so often. We don't have to fall all the way apart, though. Let's slow down for just a teensy minute and give ourselves the chance to remember where we last saw those keys. Ah! My keys!! My ever-present teacher of patience."

The change in attitude is subtle, but powerful. Instead of freaking out, I deliberately act as my own coach to get through adversity -- in this case the stress that activates my executive dysfunction. First I consciously acknowledge and validate how I am feeling, then I deliberately speak kindly to myself. There is a third attitude choice in my self-talk that goes a very long way towards building resilence: the choice to be grateful. I make the decision to be okay with being exactly who I am, a person learning the lesson of patience on Earth via perpetually misplaced keys. In the past, I spent a lot of energy wishing I was someone who didn't lose their keys. Now I know that this just makes every lost keys event more stressful.

When life hands you lemons, you can be your own best friend or your own worst enemy, the choice is yours. It takes practice to accept and befriend yourself, but when your relationship with yourself is solid, your happiness and resiliency will increase (promise!). The actions to take are fairly simple, but like all inner work, not easy.

If you would like to take action with a proven methodology to build resilience, check out this Workbook, which is based on the principles of positive psychology.

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