And each and every one of those things can result in mistakes, and disappointments, failure, even rejection. She fails the math class, loses the debate competition, is turned down by her potential prom date, feels overwhelmed at the state of things in her community.
However even those undesirable outcomes provide her the opportunity to learn how to rebound and recover better from stress and therefore promote resilience.
Well, I didn’t think about this while I was growing up, my first model for resilience was my father.
My father was a Holocaust survivor and he spent four years of his life in concentration camps, doing slave labor. And he was the only member of his family to survive.
My father sort of demonstrated the ultimate ability to rebound and recover from extraordinary circumstances. He found passion in starting a family after he immigrated to the US. He found dedication and commitment to his career as an engineer.
He never missed an opportunity to be out on the tennis courts with buddies. And his off-color humor was his example of positivity. So we see an example of the high school senior and we see an example of my father how facing life’s challenges and pursuing meaning can help promote resilience.
For most of us modifying what we do to pursue more meaning means changing something about our behavior. It also means finding the time to do it.
Now I’m in the behavior change business essentially and it’s not the easiest thing to do.
So here are two things to keep in mind when it comes to behavior change. Slow and gradual behavior change is more likely to succeed and last. Often when we try to undertake behavior change it seems too overwhelming a task and we shortly fail or give up.
How many of you think flossing after each meal is good? How many of you make the time to floss after each meal? Some hands dropped.
So for those of you that want to improve your flossing behavior and to highlight this idea of slow and gradual change, I want all of you to floss one tooth tonight. Anyone can floss a tooth.
Now I’m not saying the idea here is to have the healthiest molar in the history of dentistry but rather that it highlights the idea that when we commit to a manageable behavior change it makes it more likely that we’ll do it and then once we start it’s more likely we can go out to the next tooth and the next tooth, but start with just one.
Second thing that’s important when it comes to behavior change is compassion. Be compassionate to yourself. Don’t be self-critical. Behavior change is more likely to be effective if you take that stance.
How many of you think daily exercise is important? How many of you exercise daily? All right. Well, exercise is actually a great way to promote resilience. It helps you manage emotions, helps improve cognition, helps your body heal and recover.
But usually taking — undertaking an exercise regimen can seem daunting and many people either don’t start or give up shortly after starting. Think gradual change and try the five-minute rule. Do any kind of exercise for five minutes, so it won’t have you running a marathon tomorrow but it can have you walking around the block.
And this is the crucial part. When you change your behavior and when you slip up in changing your behavior and you missed that walk, be compassionate, go easy on yourself. If you’re self-critical you’re more likely to feel down and as a result you’re going to be less likely to think you can actually change your behavior.
Try a stance of being compassionate, so when you miss that walk or that exercise, excuse yourself and see that you might be more likely to rebound the next day and go on that walk. And if you are doing that you are rebounding and recovering and promoting resilience.
Do you know what astronauts say is among the most helpful things they do for managing stress when they’re up in space? They look at Earth and they take photos of it.
Now is it that looking at our planet actually reduces stress? Well it’s certainly relaxing but more importantly it allows them to engage in something meaningful. And when they’re engaged in something meaningful that can help them move beyond a particularly challenging day.
Engaging in something meaningful can help them move beyond a conflict for the time being that they might have had with a co-worker.
It’s a subtle but important distinction but doing something for the joy it brings as opposed to it lowering your stress can allow your attention to focus more on the meaningful pursuit. And the more your attention is on a meaningful pursuit the less it is focused on stressors like a white bear.
So I encourage all of you to find your paths to resilience through meaningful pursuits. It can be meditation, photography, learning a new language, engaging your community more.