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The Essentials of Resilience
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Most of us have heard the phrase “resilience is key”, and often associate it with physical endurance or success in business. But what exactly does this concept mean, and more importantly, how can we become resilient? The answers to both questions lie deep within a study that has been running for 75 years – the Harvard Grant Study. This amazing project was initiated by Harvard University to track and trace the life journeys of 268 male students from their lives as collegians until death. By closely observing these men during all stages of their lives, researchers were able to draw some interesting conclusions about resilience.
The essentials of resilience break down into five parts:
Let’s dive in!
The Harvard Grant Study is a 75-year longitudinal study from the Study of Adult Development at Harvard Medical School. It followed 268 Harvard-educated men, the majority of whom… were members of the undergraduate classes of 1942, 1943, and 1944.
This study also ran in tandem with a study called "The Glueck Study”, which included a second cohort of 456 disadvantaged, non-delinquent inner-city youths who grew up in Boston, Massachusetts neighborhoods between 1940 and 1945.
These men continue to be studied to this day, making The Harvard Grant Study one of the longest-running studies in history.
These individuals were evaluated at least every two years by questionnaires, information from their physicians, and by personal interviews. Information was gathered about their mental and physical health, career enjoyment, retirement experience, and marital quality.
What’s impressive about this study — amongst many things — is that the study, its methodology, and its results are described in three books, and some participants are of high social status, including Ben Bradlee, an editor of The Washington Post, and US President John F. Kennedy.
The initial goal of the study was to identify predictors of healthy aging, and over the decades the study has produced numerous valuable findings. Some of those valuable and key findings are the five most mature healthy defense mechanisms associated with higher life satisfaction.
In other words, the essentials of resilience. So, what are they and how can we prioritize and leverage them in our everyday lives?
This is the act of focusing on others' well-being and putting their needs before our own.
Engaging in altruistic behaviors such as helping others, volunteering, or simply showing kindness have been linked to increased life satisfaction.
They also promote a sense of purpose and connection with others, which fosters positive emotions and a sense of fulfillment. They can also reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness.
Another little factoid: when we help other people, it actually activates the reward center in our brain. This releases serotonin, dopamine, and endorphins. Yet another reason why many people often feel better after volunteering.
Beyond this, we as humans are hard-wired for the social connections we make when volunteering. Something as simple as eye contact and smiling actually releases the hormone oxytocin, which helps us handle stress better.
What does integration of altruism into our lives look like? Look for opportunities to help others in our daily life.
Whether through small acts of kindness or more significant commitments like volunteering for a cause we care about, we should seek to incorporate acts of altruism into our routine and be open to extending a helping hand whenever possible.
Some examples may include:
Volunteering at a local shelter or community center to help those in need. Spending time supporting others can bring a sense of fulfillment and purpose to our lives, which ultimately diverts our attention from the things in our lives that may be pulling us down.
Offering assistance to a colleague who is overwhelmed with their workload. This helping hand and support helps to foster a positive work environment and build stronger relationships.
Since June of 2018 I’ve been volunteering my time at the NH Food Bank Garden. Not only is this a great way to spend some time surrounded by nature, it’s also a great way to help grow healthy food for the community.
It's this type of altruism that really starts to highlight the output and impact we can each create by taking the time to simply involve ourselves in our community, which ripples outward to the rest of the world.
This is why my wife and I are looking to instill this value of community service in our daughter, making it a fun event that she’ll cherish and hopefully share with others.
This involves finding amusement and making light of difficult or stressful events or experiences.
Using humor as a coping mechanism can provide temporary relief from stress and tension, offering a fresh perspective on challenging situations. It can also help build resilience and improve social interactions.
The science behind humor, or more specifically laughter, is very compelling. When we laugh our brain releases endorphins. These endorphins are neurotransmitters that act as natural painkillers and mood elevators and induce feelings of pleasure and reduce sensations of pain and stress.
As if that wasn't compelling enough to seek out some humor, laughter also triggers the activation of the body's relaxation response, which counteracts the stress response.
It reduces the levels of stress hormones like cortisol and adrenaline which, when chronically elevated, can be harmful to both physical and mental health.
What does integration of humor into our lives look like? Simply finding ways to infuse humor into our daily life, such as engaging in activities that make us laugh.
This could be something as simple as watching comedy shows or spending time with funny friends. If I have the choice between a concert or a comedy show, I’m picking the comedy show every time. There’s nothing like walking out of a venue and your stomach feeling like it just did 800 crunches because you were laughing so much.
So let's say a comedy show isn't your cup of tea. Integrating humor could be something like:
During a challenging day at work, finding a funny meme or watching a humorous video to lighten the mood and relieve stress.
When facing a minor setback, making a lighthearted joke about the situation to ease tension and encourage a more positive outlook.
Irrelevant of the challenges of a situation, whether in one of my companies or personal life, I always try to find humor in the details.
We often forget that life is supposed to be enjoyed. Therefore, I use challenges as a trigger to not produce frustration and overwhelm, but to seek the humor in the situation.
This is the process of channeling negative emotions, such as anger or frustration, into productive energy, instead of suppressing or acting on these negative emotions.
We can use them as motivation for creative or constructive pursuits, which can lead to a sense of accomplishment and personal growth. This involvement and engagement in new and creative activities stimulates various regions of the brain.
Routinely practicing such activities can actually enhance neuroplasticity, which improves cognitive flexibility and adaptability. On top of this, successfully channeling negative emotions into productive pursuits boosts our self-efficacy and sense of mastery, as we see our capabilities to cope with challenging emotions and create something meaningful.
We gain confidence in our ability to overcome future adversities.
What does integration of sublimation into our lives look like? Start to identify activities or hobbies that allow you to channel your emotions into productive outcomes.
If you're feeling stressed or angry, consider writing or painting to release and redirect that energy in a positive way.
Use physical exercise, like going for a run or hitting the gym. Both are great ways to release built-up stress and negative emotions in a productive way.
Back in high school — which feels like a lifetime ago — football and boxing were my two main outlets to redirect this energy into a positive and productive channel. In more recent years, I have found a lot of value in going for a walk.
I have a 3.6-mile route that loops around the area where we live, and any time I feel frustrated, whether with my workload or something as simple as writer's block, I slip on my Adidas and let my feet do the thinking.
This involves maintaining a realistic view of the future and its difficulties.
It means acknowledging that life will have its challenges, and being mentally prepared to face them. When we engage in anticipation we are better equipped to cope with stress because we have a balanced perspective on both the positive and negative aspects of life.
Anticipation provides an opportunity to identify potential stressors and develop proactive coping mechanisms. By preparing for difficult situations in advance, we can then implement healthier and more effective coping strategies, which promotes resilience in the face of adversity. It also fosters a resilient mindset by encouraging us to view challenges as manageable obstacles rather than insurmountable barriers.
A realistic perspective on future difficulties helps cultivate a sense of confidence in our ability to overcome adversity. When we take a proactive approach it helps to prevent the escalation of difficulties and reduce the likelihood of feeling overwhelmed.
What does integration of anticipation into our lives look like? Practice mindfulness and self-awareness, as both help to develop a balanced outlook on life.
Instead of dwelling solely on the negative, we should try to maintain a broader perspective, one that acknowledges challenges while also recognizing opportunities for growth and joy. For example:
Let's say you're starting a new job. Before starting this new job, acknowledge that there will be challenges but also focus on the learning opportunities and personal growth that it will offer…
Let's say that you're planning a trip. While planning this trip, consider the potential hiccups that might arise but also focus on the exciting experiences and adventures ahead.
Generally speaking I try to prepare for worst-case scenarios. This way, when things happen to turn out better than expected it lifts my excitement even higher.
Too often we get caught up in life's fairy tales. And when these fairy tales don't come to fruition we get yanked from the mountaintop we were standing on.
That’s not to say we lower our expectations. Instead, we think realistically and strategically about the mountain we're about to climb. That way we don't get whiplash when challenges arise.
This is the conscious act of pushing away unproductive and distressing thoughts.
Unlike repression, which is an unhealthy defense mechanism, suppression involves acknowledging our emotions and choosing not to focus on them actively. By managing negative thoughts and emotions, we can maintain a more stable and positive emotional state.
Anticipation plays a role here as well, as we cannot resolve all of life’s conflicts, perhaps not even most of them.
Suppression helps free up cognitive resources that may otherwise be consumed by overwhelming emotions. This cognitive bandwidth can then be redirected towards problem-solving and making effective decisions, particularly in demanding or critical situations.
It can also offer a temporary coping mechanism during crises when processing overwhelming emotions may be impractical or unsafe. By compartmentalizing emotions during the crisis, we can then better concentrate on handling immediate challenges.
What does integration of suppression into our lives look like? Practice self-regulation and emotional intelligence. When faced with distressing thoughts, allow yourself to acknowledge them briefly and then consciously choose to shift your attention to more positive and constructive aspects of your life.
During a stressful period, practice mindfulness meditation to acknowledge negative thoughts without dwelling on them excessively.
If you're feeling anxious about, say, an upcoming event, consciously choose to redirect your thoughts to more positive and calming topics.
There you have it — the essentials of resilience. I hope the examples and definitions in this guide help you forge a path that not only withstands life's storms, but also illuminates your journey with the unwavering light of courage, strength, and unbreakable spirit.
I’d love to hear from you:
How has resilience played a pivotal role in overcoming adversity or challenges in your life?
Which of the essential elements of resilience discussed in this newsletter do you believe could benefit from further development in your life?
Have a wonderful week, all.
Much love to you and yours, Scott (@motivatedscott). ❤️
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