The Need for Resilience Is Not a Surprise; It’s Predictable. Make Your “If…Then” Plans
As we learned in this interview with Dr. Christine Carter, we can plan ahead, we can build resources ahead of time, so that we’re not surprised by something going wrong; we’re skillful.
Expect the Unexpected
You can train for the unexpected so that your skills of resilience are there when you need them. This entails not just making a checklist for what to do but practicing ahead of time. The drill wires the behavior into your neural circuitry and installs the procedural learning of what to do into your body memory. You don’t have to think to remember. You can act quickly, automatically, following the patterns you have installed.
1. Identify one scenario where you might have to act quickly in response to a potential catastrophe. Start small. The car won’t start and you have to drop the kids off at school, meet a client, or pick your sister up at the train station in fifteen minutes. Do you have jumper cables in the trunk? A taxicab phone number stored in your phone? A friendly relationship with a retired neighbor whose car you can borrow?
Again, this is not just a checklist. You rehearse the skills ahead of time and prepare your safety nets and resources. Practice using the jumper cables, overcoming any anxiety about that. Look up the cab company number. Rehearse asking your neighbor if you can borrow the car. Once you rehearse the behaviors, you can see yourself doing them when you need to, and you can remember how to act without having to think about it.
2. Identify a more challenging scenario. Say your spouse falls over on a toy left on the stairs. You hear something crack. You rehearse ahead of time your practices to calm your nervous system. You rehearse what you’ll say when you call the ambulance, your neighbor, the network of resources you have cultivated ahead of time. You rehearse remembering your wallet or purse and any ID you need for a trip to the emergency room.
Again, you can’t control everything. If an accident occurs, there will still be much uncertainty, but preparing to the extent that you can becomes part of your resilience.
3. Identify another more difficult situation: a sudden workplace downsizing, a more serious medical emergency, a natural disaster. It’s not morbid; it’s prudent to anticipate what you can, to see yourself acting competently so that you can trust your resilience.
In all of these situations, any time you are resilient, you do act flexibly and skillfully, claim that moment of resilience for yourself. You are learning to be resilient, and you are learning that you can learn.
P.S. Creating external safety nets of resources — logistical, financial, relational — is part of strengthening your resilience. Preparing a safety net in the brain, in your procedural memory, is just as essential. Rehearsing for the many “weather conditions” of life is skillful resilience building.