Want to Become More Resilient? The American Psychological Association Didn't Tell You About Something

Want to Become More Resilient? The American Psychological Association Didn't Tell You About Something

The APA has some great advice for you to become more resilient

The American Psychological Association has published a list of 10 strategies to become more resilient.1 These are worth knowing and applying to your life either before you’re under pressure or even during pressure.

  • Make connections.
  • Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems.
  • Accept that change is a part of living.
  • Move toward your goals.
  • Take decisive actions.
  • Look for opportunities for self-discovery.
  • Nurture a positive view of yourself.
  • Keep things in perspective.
  • Maintain a hopeful outlook.
  • Take care of yourself.

Make connections

The people that struggle the most when they are under pressure are the people that are alone. Unfortunately, while our society has become superficially connected, many of us have had lack deep friendships. As a family physician, I can tell you first hand that the patients that don’t do well, tend to be the ones that don’t see the need to be connected with other people.

Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems

Often, when people are under pressure, they tend to catastrophize and say things like “every time…” or “my boss always…”. The narrative that we tell our selves has a profound impact on the brain and the hormones that our body produces. Never underestimate the power of Target Fixation.

Accept that change is part of living

When I was growing up, McDonald’s pitched an ad that couldn’t have been further from the truth: “You deserve a break today, so come on let’s get away… to McDonald’s. We do it all for you.” When we assume that we “deserve a break today” it sets us up for discouragement. Most societies believe that suffering is a normal part of life. In America, we believe that something must be wrong if we are suffering. It compounds the negative impact of the suffering. Not only do I get the pain of the suffering but I also have the pain of believing that I’ve been wronged. Change and suffering are part of life. My friend Tanmeet Sethi has a profound perspective on suffering. Check out this podcast episode.

Move toward your goals.

Some people encounter stress, change or failure and they give up. They remind me of the marathon racer that trips 500 feet before the finish line. Rather than getting up and finishing, they lay face down on the track and don’t get up. Moving brings hope.

Take Decisive Actions

It is so easy to avoid making decisions under pressure for fear of not wanting to make things worse. In decisiveness is a trap. When I am responding to international disasters, I would never get anything done if I was afraid to make a mistake. There is no such thing as failure, only feedback.

Look for opportunities for self-discovery

When the hard times come, be eager to learn and try new things. Beware of the “Resistance” — the little voice inside that says that you need to play it safe because you’re likely to fail. I highly recommend Steven Pressfield’s book, The War of Art.

Nurture a positive view of yourself

Be very, very careful about the words that you say to yourself. Be compassionate and tenderhearted. Another great book: The Book of Joy addresses this concept in great detail. It is a tender book loaded with insights from Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama. (They are very good friends.)

Keep things in perspective

Psychologists call it “framing” when we look at how we see our current situation. It is possible to change the frame, and it completely changes our emotional (and sometimes physical) response. Consider the frustration of having someone tailgate you when you are going the speed limit. Everything changes when you find out the driver’s son is unconscious. Sometimes, we interpret our surroundings in a way that just isn’t true… or helpful. It takes practice to pause long enough to consider changing the framing.

Maintain a hopeful outlook

Viktor Frankl, the Austrian psychiatrist that was captured by the Nazi’s and tortured for seven years in the concentration camps, said, “Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of human freedoms - to choose one's attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one's own way."

Take care of yourself

Yes, it is true. It is important to exercise, eat right, and get at least 7 hours of sleep. Hard to do under pressure. Indeed, it is. It won’t happen by accident; you have to be very intentional about it.

The Missing Piece

We come back to where we began: The importance of other people. The APA’s advice is rock solid, howerver, they missed one subtle but key piece of advice. “Making Connections” isn’t enough. To become more resilient, you need to put other people first. I’m not talking about sacrificing yourself to the point where you don’t eat, don’t sleep, and fall down dead. I’m talking about looking at the world through the eyes of an empowered giver. As you reach out to other people, you will discover renewed joy and purpose. The opposite is also true: if you become the center of your world, you will find yourself isolated and alone. King Solomon said it best, “A cord of three strands is not quickly torn apart.” I would encourage you to take the time to ask others, “What’s keeping you up at night?” and “What are you excited about. What are you celebrating?” Take the time to volunteer. Reach out. Make a difference in the lives of others, and you will find that your resilience multiplies. I assure you, after 30 years of responding to disasters around the globe, those who care about the needs of others and believe they can make a difference, leave an amazing legacy. They define resilience.

  1. http://www.apa.org/helpcenter/road-resilience.aspx ↩︎