Resiliency Wrap Up

I just finished my on-line class on “Resiliency”. There was an interesting quote from Dr. Chris Peterson: “I spent my young adult years postponing many of the small things that I knew would make me happy.  I was fortunate enough to realize that I would never have the time unless I made the time. And then the rest of my life began”.

How many of us “postpone things”?  How often do we say “that needs to wait until later, when I have more time”?  How many of us have had time slip by, like a river, never to be seen again?  Might there be stresses or unhappy events going on in our life that you choose not to address, yet they rob us of happiness?

This 8-week course I took on Resilience was really a good reminder, as well as a call to action.  Resilience is “ordinary magic”.  The idea behind this definition is that resilience is not some super-power or some unique genetic marker that we are born with.  It is not the product of some random “luck” bestowed on us. Resilience can be learned if you devote the time and energy to strive and make room in your life to actually incorporate resilience skills, routines and practices into your life.

As I have gone through this class on Resiliency, I find it most striking that a theme keeps popping up. That theme can be summarized as follows:

 We need to clarify what is important to us. 

Generally speaking, what is important to us should be our values.  Once we focus on what is important to us, we need to commit to specific actions to live those values.  And lastly, we have to regularly evaluate how we are doing.  There is an old saying “if you aren’t measuring it, it probably is not important”.  In the case of living your values, I think it is doubly true.  It takes a lot of work to truly decide what you want to be in life, how you plan on accomplishing it and then to regularly challenge yourself on how you are doing.

Allow me to give a self example about values, happiness and measuring/evaluating.  One area important to resilience, happiness, and (most importantly) critical to my values, are relationships.  Being honest, I find that I have given those short shift.   Relationships come in all kinds of packages- family, friends, acquaintances, daily interactions with strangers, and all kinds of social and work meetings that provide fleeting chances to make connections.  I typically choose to minimize those connections.  I enjoy my solitude.  I am uncomfortable around people who I don’t appear to have a connection with. Someone like Rose absolutely maximizes relationships.  She thrives on them.  I see the value and enrichment they bring to her life.  Yet I see myself letting those opportunities pass by.   So I have been working on my relationships with others and finding I am getting better at it.

The bottom line for me is that life is so full of choices – large and small – that we face every moment of every day.  We cannot be perfect.  We will slip up.  Life will throw us curves.  The unexpected does happen.  We will make bad choices sometimes.  We have the right to react how we wish to sometimes. But in the end, WE CHOOSE.

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Excuses

I liked this thought:

“Excuses are just thoughts, not reality.  We should notice them, but let them go away.”

The context for this quote was in examining our commitment to Therapeutic Lifestyle Choices – choices we make in our life that are cheap, readily available to us, have few negative side effects and combine to optimize physical and mental well being.  There are a half dozen things we can do that fit this category:

  • Exercise
  • Proper amount of Sleep
  • Proper nutrition
  • Spending time in nature
  • Leisure and recreation
  • Scheduled time for relaxation

The idea is that we can better our lives if we choose to do something in one (or more) of those categories, consciously, every day. The choices have the advantage of being relatively inexpensive if we wish them to be.  Also, anyone can do them, they don’t take a particular skill or knowledge.

We do have the choice – no matter what we tell ourselves – to do some activity in any or all of these areas.

I do wonder how we tell the difference between an “excuse” and our mind/body “hinting” (sometimes loudly) that we have done too much.  Take the statement, “I am too tired to exercise today”.  Is that an excuse – our mind trying to give us an alternate reality to avoid the exercise?  Or is it our body telling us we have overdone it  and we need some rest?  Another example is, “I’ll just relax by watching tv”.  Is that really relaxation?  Or is that an excuse to watch TV?

My unscientific theory (based on observing me) is that 75% of the time, what we are thinking is really an excuse.  You get to decide for yourself if you agree with that estimate.  More importantly, the idea is to acknowledge that you have a thought and to spend a moment looking at that thought to decide if it is an excuse or not.  There is that state of being, where we are “present” and really thinking about what is going on, rather than just accepting them as true reality. I know it is inconvenient to have to face reality and maybe acknowledge an excuse for what it really is on occasion.  But isn’t a better life for yourself worth it?

The key here is once again putting yourself in the driver’s seat.  You get to make the choice what lifestyle change you decide to employ.  You get to decide how you react to excuses.  Try it, you might like it

Managing Negative and Positive Emotions

This week in class we focused on managing our emotions.  Emotions are defined as “subjective experiences that combine our bodily reactions (such as heart rate, breathing, etc.) and our cognitive reactions (thoughts, images, etc.)”.  We all have emotions bombarding us all day in response to real or imagined events.  It is a part of life.

Research shows that a more resilient person has a ratio of at least three positive emotions to every one negative emotion.  I guess that says among many things that negative emotions are powerful.  One insight about negative emotions that stuck with me is that they narrow our attention, our judgement and our behavior.  When you think about it, negative emotions like anger, anxiety, fear, sadness, etc. do constrict us. They make us smaller.  We sometimes feel like we are in a tunnel or backed into a corner or a dark alley.  We don’t see a way out.  We generally react in a very narrow way.

Our class highlighted four strategies for dealing with negative emotions:

  1. Identifying, labeling and quantifying the negative emotion. “Name it and tame it”
  2. Relaxation strategies – doing something purposefully incompatable with the negative emotions
  3. Distraction tactics – turning your attention away from the effects of the negative emotion
  4. Self soothing – using your five senses to take the edge off (for example, imaging you are at the ocean with the calming sound of the waves, the smell of the sea water, etc.)

I am working on identifying and labeling negative emotions – building my awareness of when they come about.  If I ignore them, they keep coming back – much like an annoying person or annoying sound demanding my attention. I find that simply acknowledging negative emotions really helps me address them. I deal with stress a lot better.

I am a firm believer that the body stores up negative thoughts. If we decide to ignore the negative emotions/thoughts, they will be reflected in our bodies in some way.  Have you ever met someone with a lot of stress who has a “bad back”?  Or the person with a lot of “worry lines” on their face?  Managing those emotions before they become too big is a healthy way to address our stress.

It is hard sometimes to be “patient” with negative emotions.  They thrive on a quick, thoughtless reactions.  Negative emotions will short-circuit my brain. I react way too quickly and don’t give any strategies a chance to come into play. Ignoring or shuttling negative emotions off to the side without addressing them will cause a build up of negativity. That build up will come out eventually – generally not in a patient way.

As with so many things I have learned in coaching, AWARENESS is the key to success.  Becoming aware of how we feel, how we react, how we are being impacted by some negative emotion right now puts us in charge.  We get to decide where we go once we know better where we are.  So, I am working on acknowledging my negative thoughts.  I ask them some questions like “what does it really mean?” or “what is the purpose of it coming up right now?”.  Not easy to do, but hopefully this strategy leads me to be in charge.