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Resilience Becomes a Mindset

Resilience Becomes a Mindset

That which does not kill us makes us stronger. – Friedrich Nietzsche

Well, that’s one way of looking at it. And we can reluctantly acknowledge the truth of what the brilliant German philosopher Friedrich Nietzsche was saying so concisely: we learn to be strong and resilient from experience…and from learning from that experience.

The learning is the key, and that’s where viewing resilience as an entire mindset can be so helpful.

A mindset is a core belief system that filters our perceptions of what’s true and acts as an inner compass to shape our choices of response to those perceptions. 

Carol Dweck’s wonderful book Mindset laid out the research showing how a fixed mindset can shape our choices of coping with setbacks and failures toward giving up, procrastinating, not learning from failure, not taking on new challenges as a strategy to avoid failure.  And how a growth mindset can shape our choices of coping with setbacks and failures toward seeing the setback as a learning opportunity, a growth opportunity, leading to perseverance and more likely success. [See my newsletter Change Your Mindset, Change Your Life.]

Kelly McGonigal distinguishes between a stress mindset and a challenge mindset in The Upside of Stress and provides amazing research showing that even a one-time practice of a challenge mindset can help  people not only respond to a one-time immediate stressor as a learning opportunity, but continue to show up as the mindset for coping with stress for months and years afterwards.

Edith Chen, a psychologist at Northwestern University, found that a shift-and-persist mindset can help people growing up in poor or unsafe environments learn to cope, succeed, and thrive  The shift perspective is “I think about the things I can learn from a situation, or about something good than can come from it.” The persist perspective helps people pursue meaning and fulfillment in life, even in the face of adversity.

It’s a natural progression to view resilience as a mindset.  A perspective about coping with the daily disappointments and even extraordinary disasters at AFGO’s – another frickin’ growth opportunity.

It’s not always easy to revisit a disaster, even a mistake, with the intention of seeing what could be learned from it so that we can be more skillful the next time. To “turn a regrettable moment into a teachable moment,” as neuroscience writer Jonah Lehrer says. Or easy to prepare ahead of time for a challenging situation – confronting a boss about an overdue raise or a teenage son about possible drug use.

But we do practice cultivating the resilience mindset – whatever is happening, I can cope, I can learn to cope, I can learn that I can learn – to help us meet the inevitable challenges in a human life.

Exercise:  Transform Stress: Turn Adversity into a Resource (for cultivating a resilience mindset)

[adapted from The Upside of Stress: Why Stress is Good for You and How to Get Good at It]

1. Bring to mind a stressful experience from your past in which your persevered or learned something important.  Take a few moments to think about what that experience taught you about your strengths and how to cope with stress.  Then, set a timer for fifteen minutes and write about the experience, addressing any or all of the following questions:

* What did you do that helped you get through it?  What personal resources did you draw on, and what strengths did you use?  Did you seek out information, advice, or any other kind of support?

* What did this experience teach you about how to deal with adversity?

* How did this experience make you stronger?

2.  Now think about a current situation you are struggling through.

* Which of these strengths and resources can you draw on in this situation?

* Are there any coping skills os strengths you want to develop?  If so, how could you begin to do so using this situation as an opportunity to grow.

And I would add…do an exercise like this with one or two friends, sharing your reflections and insights, celebrating each person’s intentions and capacities to cultivate a resilience mindset.

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