In Anne Lamott’s latest book, “Almost Everything: Notes on Hope,” she shares the story of one of her cousins’ Aunt Janet who lost one of her sons at age 12.
Many years later, Janet was diagnosed with an aggressive type of breast cancer and given a year — at most — to live. Janet was determined to beat the odds. And she did. But tragedy visited her family again and she lost a second son in a freak accident.
Surely that much heartache would have snuffed out any remaining will to live and yet, defying all odds, she did live another five happy years. How did she do that?
While there are surely many factors that played a role, one thing is certain. Janet was resilient.
Resilience lies in not letting adversity define oneself. Resilience is both an art and a science, with perhaps a genetic component, but more importantly, the ability to learn it — and teach it to others.
Resilient people not only believe in themselves, but they also believe in something larger than themselves. They haven’t somehow escaped the vicissitudes of life — they bear the scars of normal life. Sometimes, like Janet, they bear deep, deep scars. And yet, they are able to bounce back from whatever life throws at them.
Amy Morin is another example. While in her 20s, she faced the unexpected loss of her mother and, three years later, the sudden death of her 26-year-old husband. After remarrying a few years later, her father-in-law, with whom she was close, was diagnosed with a terminal illness.
Those experiences led her to write a viral blog post titled “13 Things Mentally Strong People Don’t Do.” In other words, things resilient people don’t do. That post in 2013 was seen by 50 million people and led to a couple of books, a TED talk and a thriving counseling practice.
Her 13 suggestions are as follows:
- Don’t waste time feeling sorry for yourself
- Don’t give away your power
- Don’t shy away from change
- Don’t focus on things you can’t control
- Don’t worry about pleasing everyone
- Don’t fear taking calculated risks
- Don’t dwell on the past
- Don’t make the same mistakes over and over
- Don’t resent other people’s success
- Don’t give up after the first failure
- Don’t fear alone time
- Don’t feel the world owes you anything
- Don’t expect immediate results
The Mayo Clinic has some suggestions on building resilience:
Self-care is way up there on the list of things to do. Meditate. Journal. Exercise, get enough sleep and enough healthy food.
Get connected. Strong, healthy relationships are important.
Make every day meaningful. What gets you out of bed in the morning? What are the next goals you are working on? What gives you a sense of belonging to a bigger world than your own four walls?
Don’t dwell on the past — but you can learn from it. What can you do differently the next time? What did you do well last time?
Be proactive and stay hopeful. That does not suggest ignoring pain and trauma, but having hope that things will get better. There’s an old saying attributed to Winston Churchill that advises: “If you’re going through hell, keep going.”
Additional suggestions include practicing optimism, gratitude, reframing and de-personalizing the story. Dr. Adam Grant says, "Telling yourself that a situation is not personal, pervasive or permanent can be extremely useful. There is almost no failure that is totally personal.”
It might sound like an oxymoron but going outside your comfort zone can also help you grow your resilience. So does looking outside yourself and helping others. In a fascinating 2017 study of psychological resilience among American military veterans, higher levels of gratitude, altruism and a sense of purpose were predictive of resiliency.
Kintsugi is the centuries-old Japanese art of fixing broken pottery with gold. Instead of of trying to hide the cracks, Kintsugi emphasizes the cracks and draws attention to their unique beauty. Perhaps we could say that resilience is the human form of Kintsugi, making beauty from our scars.
Holly Richardson, a regular contributor to The Salt Lake Tribune, is amazed by the resilience of the human spirit and the beauty in the brokenness.