Building Your Resilience Muscle





noun: resilience; plural noun: resiliences; noun: resiliency; plural noun: resiliencies

the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness."the often remarkable resilience of so many British institutions"

the ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; elasticity."nylon is excellent in wearability and resilience"

How do we know how to be resilient? How do we know we are capable of recovery? Is it a natural state of being following a loss or traumatic event? Do we all have the ability to be resilient?

It appears that certain people are more resilient than others. There are some of us who hold psychological traits that allow them to overcome life’s obstacles and tragedies with less of an emotional wake. This ability to ‘bounce back’ has been related to characteristics such as positive attitudes and optimism, emotional regulation and the ability to view failure or problems as opportunities for learning and growth.

Having more residence than your fellow man does not mean that you experience less distress or pain during the difficult time. It simply means you are able to tolerate the distress and move forward in a more productive, timely manner. The beauty is that these traits can be learned and practiced and resilience can grow within you. You can build residence just as you would a muscle.

In the book ‘Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resistance And Finding Joy’, Facebook COO Sheryl Sandberg and Wharton professor and psychologist discuss her process of building resilience following the sudden death of her husband, Dave Goldberg. IN the book they explore the false perception that resilience is simply the ability to endure pain and that although life is not predictable and sometimes painful, "We all live some form of Option B. This book is to help us all kick the s*** out of it."

Here are five key points taken from the book on building resilience:

1. Personalization, Pervasiveness, Permanence

The first chapter, titled, “Breathing Again” begins with Sandberg writing about how when friends, family and colleagues heard of Goldberg's death, they reached out to her with their own life traumas and hurdles. Sandberg felt something she learned through grieving could be helpful to them. "We plant seeds of resilience in the ways we process negative events. After spending decades studying how people deal with setbacks, psychologist Martin Seligman found that three P's can stunt recovery: (1) personalization-the belief that we are at fault; (2) pervasiveness-the belief that an event will affect all areas of our life; and (3) permanence-the belief that the aftershocks of the event will last forever," Sandberg and Grant write. "Hundreds of studies have shown that children and adults recover more quickly when they realize that hardships aren’t entirely their fault, don’t effect every aspect of their lives, and won’t follow them everywhere forever.” If these three Ps are addressed by the griever and their support system, the less likely they are to get depressed, and they are better equipped to cope with their grief and move forward.

2. Kick The Elephant Out Of The Room

Sandberg, normally very open and connected to her colleagues at Facebook, did not speak of her husband after his death when she returned to work. The loneliness of her loss was compounded by the distance she put between herself and her colleagues socially- since she did not mention him, they did not bring him up, often because they did not know what to say. By ignoring the elephant, Sandberg became very isolated.

She took a step to acknowledge the elephant by writing a powerful Facebook post after the traditional Jewish mourning period of 30 days, and initiating conversations with friends and colleagues who didn’t know how to ask questions about her husband’s death. Though everyone makes their own decisions about when and where they want to share their feelings, Sandberg and Grant write there is a lot of evidence that speaking about traumatic events improves mental and physical health, helps people understand their own emotions and feel understood by others.

3. Self-Confidence & Self-Compassion  

Sandberg breaks down how when she was learning to ski when she was 16, she made a wrong turn and ended up on a difficult run, so she collapsed in the snow, not knowing how she was going to get down. Her mother told her to get back up, and to go down the mountains 10 turns at a time. She can do 10 turns. So Sandberg went 10 turns, and then another, and another, until she found herself at the bottom of the mountain. Whenever Sandberg finds herself overwhelmed, she takes it one turn at a time. She has given this advice to colleagues who doubt themselves many times, “ I didn’t have to aim for perfection. I didn’t have to believe in myself all the time. I just had to believe I could contribute a little bit more…Over the years, this lesson has stuck with me whenever I feel overwhelmed."

4. Contribute

To help Sandberg rebuild her self-confidence, Grant suggested she write down three things she did well every day. For six months, almost every night before she went to bed, Sandberg made her list. "Adam [Grant] and his colleague Jane Dutton found that counting our blessings doesn't boost our confidence or our effort, but counting our contributions can. Adam and Jane believe this is because gratitude is passive: it makes us feel thankful for what we receive. Contributions are active: they build our confidence by reminding us that we can make a difference. I now encourage my friends and colleagues to write down what they do well. The people who try it all come back with the same response: they wish they started doing this sooner."

5. Pay Attention To Joy

Sandberg and Grant write that many who grieve suffer survivor's remorse: "Why am I the one who is still alive?" Even when acute grief subsides, guilt remains. When Sandberg attended a friend's daughter's bat mitzvah, a dear friend pulled her on the dance floor when "September" by Earth, Wind and Fire played, they danced and laughed when suddenly Sandberg started crying, and she stepped outside. Guilt overcame her in the moment, the first happiness she felt since her husband died. She had been focused on her kids, her job, just making it through every day. She hadn't focused on bringing herself joy, or joy to her children. Step by step, she eased back into doing things her family loved to do with her husband: playing Settlers of Catan with her kids, watching them play poker, watching the Minnesota Vikings and the Golden State Warriors. They "took it back," as Sandberg and Grant wrote. “Rather than waiting until we’re happy to enjoy the small things, we should go and do the small things that make us happy. " When you seize more and more moments of happiness, you find that they give you strength.


Artwork by xenobyte