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If You Want to Be Resilient, You Have to Learn How to Cope With Suffering

The following is adapted from Amazon #1Best Seller - Your Real Life.

Change is the one constant in life. It’s one of the fundamental laws of nature.

Our bodies and brains change from the time we’re born to the time we die; the earth changes; the weather changes. This is an inescapable part of the human experience, which means adversity and resilience are also constant. So change is the cause of much of our adversity—but in a beautiful ironic twist, change is also a big part of the solution.

Being resilient requires having a flexible brain, so how do you begin this rewiring process when yours hasn’t done a backbend in years? By changing your perspective! Over time, the act of changing perspective interrupts the amygdala’s instinctual response. Linda Graham explains, “sending the brain in another direction gives it a few moments to recalibrate itself.” This moment is when we can shift our perspective.

When you’re experiencing suffering, if you can think of something in a different way or introduce a new concept, it can help you think through adversity differently and build a more flexible brain. But that doesn’t make it easy to do. So let’s discuss ways to cope with and handle the suffering related to adversity.

Facing It

If you don’t face the adversity in front of you, you can quickly lose all sense of control in your life.

When it seems like bad things keep happening to us—especially events over which we have no power, such as a terrorist attack or earthquake—we feel out of control. Over time, we begin to feel helpless, powerless to stop what’s happening to us, even when later situations are more controllable than the scenarios described above. Our minds can get hijacked by these thoughts and fall into what psychologist Martin Seligman calls learned helplessness, the idea that we can be conditioned to be helpless.

Learned helplessness is the passivity that often develops within us after we have faced adversity or changes that we can’t control. We learn to tolerate pain and respond by being helpless rather than by working to change it. Further, we can get stuck in a spiral state of learned helplessness that can lead to depression, which can be conscious or unconscious.

The way out of this spiral—the way to immunize yourself against learned helplessness—is to regain awareness of your “locus of control.” This refers to your agency: your ability to meet the world on your own terms, choose your mindset, and choose your actions. Those who are immunized against learned helplessness never give up and face it head on.

Controlling It

To take control of your reality, you need to shift your mindset from a place of suffering to a place of advertunity. This is the whole point of building resilience: it minimizes unnecessary time spent suffering before bouncing beyond.

As you accept the reality of change and adversity, you shift from what Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck describes as a fixed mindset into what she’s dubbed a growth mindset. The growth mindset enables you not only to face reality, but also do something about it.

Adopting this mindset allows you to persist in the face of adversity and setbacks as you move through reality. The growth mindset is also fundamental to how you look at energy (and how much effort you put into building resilience). It enables your mind to bend and learn from criticism and different alternative inputs to help with the rewiring process.

The growth mindset is based on the belief that your basic qualities—which include your sense of self (your authenticity) and your ability to overcome adversity and take back control (your resilience)—can be grown, cultivated, and developed through your own efforts. Growth mindset basics for building resilience start not by asking can I be resilient, but asking how do I build my resilience.

Looking at how to engage, how to persist, and how to learn from adversities is a step in the right direction.

Developing Learned Optimism

When we shift to a growth mindset, it can often lead us to develop a new optimistic lens, which is vital to regaining agency.

To understand this, let’s consider what stunts recovery. Author and business executive Sheryl Sandberg categorizes such challenges into “the Three Ps”: personalization, the belief that we are at fault; pervasiveness, the belief that the adversity will affect all areas of our lives; and permanence, the belief that aftershocks of the event will last forever.

All of these beliefs are pessimistic. More importantly, they’re false. These are internal responses to adversity based on learned helplessness. The way to take control back from challenges such as the Three Ps is to foster a more optimistic mindset. That doesn’t mean you have to be happy-go-lucky all the time or always expect the best of circumstances. It simply means releasing that internalization of helplessness.

Spiritualists and scientists agree: optimists respond to adversity as external (not personal), limited (not pervasive), and temporary (not permanent). When we look at an adverse event and optimistically believe that we are not at fault, it won’t affect all of the areas of our life, and it won’t last forever, this will actually lead us to an easier way of handling adversity. It leads us to be able to control and take back the power of choice.

For more advice on how to build your resilience, you can find Your Real Life on Amazon.


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