Since life is rarely the way it is suppose to be, resilience is one of the most important things needed to live a meaningful and fulfilling life. It is considered essential to being a mature, emotionally healthy adult. When you face challenges in life, resilience is your ability to maintain stable, healthy levels of psychological and physical functioning.
Resilience is learned. It actually begins at an early age. Fortunately, it also can be learned at other times in life.
While visiting Galapagos Islands this summer, I saw something that made a strong impression on me.
Let me tell you a story about something I learned while visiting the baby giant tortoises at the Charles Darwin Research Center. In order to prevent this species from becoming extinct, some of the baby tortoises are sent to the Research Center for the first 5 to 6 years of their life. This is to ensure they have a chance to get strong enough to live out their lives on the highlands of their island, Santa Cruz.
The baby tortoises are grouped by age. The one-year old tortoises are together as are the two-year olds, the three-year olds, and so on. While watching a group of two-year olds, one of the tortoises was on its back, struggling to turn itself over. The guide explained it might take up to 6 hours or more for him to do this. If he didn’t accomplish it within 8 hours, he would die.
As we watched him struggle, another tortoise on a rock above him fell off the rock, landing on the struggling tortoise in a way that turned the tortoise over. Members of the group I was with (including myself) clapped and cheered when the tortoise was back on his feet.
Immediately, the guide spoke up saying this was most unfortunate because it would greatly increase the chance this up-righted tortoise will die at a young age. He went on to say it was imperative the tortoises learn how to turn themselves over in order to survive and that incident may cost the tortoise's life.
Fortunately, we aren’t tortoises. However, I couldn’t help but think about what this has to say about developing resilience. Two important things come to mind:
- As parents how quickly we sometimes step in to help our children out of a situation when maybe there is something positive they can learn from the experience.
- As adults how we can focus on the negatives and our disappointment when we face challenges instead of looking at what we might need to learn from the situation.
In the first instance, it is normal to want to help our children, to show compassion, and to make life easier for them. In the second instance, when we have put a lot of effort into something, and it doesn’t work out the way we hoped, it’s normal to feel discouraged and disappointed.
However, I believe it is also important to know how to evaluate how much and what kind of help we give to children and young adults.
We also need to be able to feel our feelings when we struggle with something, and be able to ask the following three key questions to be resilient:
- What opportunities are there in this situation?
- What resources do I have – within myself and externally?
- How can I use these resources to embrace this opportunity?
When you are resilient, you are able to move to positive emotions after a short period of being preoccupied with the problem or experiencing negative feelings and perhaps restless sleep. Doing this is not easy. It takes self-regulation and impulse control. Sometimes, it means choosing to accept what cannot be changed.
Finally, when things are tough, it is important to be realistically optimistic. This increases your ability to solve problems and find solutions. This means you will:
- Do your best to stay in the present (not past or future).
- Be specific about the situation (not generalize it).
- Determine what you believe to be true (identify and stop catastrophic thoughts).
As you move from one stage in life to another, what has helped you be resilient? It is possible and important to build your resilience. I would love to hear from you.
Until next time,