Resilience: Thriving, Not Just Surviving

In his book, The Beethoven Factor, Dr. Paul Pearsall describes “Thrivers” as those who know when to hold ‘em and know when to fold ‘em.” He defines “thriving” as stress induced growth that happens when we face a challenge. The way we respond to change – both large and small – is a good indication of our level of resilience.

I had the privilege of attending a day long training “Thriving vs Surviving During Times of Change: Science of Enhancing Resilience” presented by J. Bryan Sexton, Ph.D., Associate Professor, Director of Patient Safety Research and Training, Duke University Health System. It was hosted by the Minnesota Hospital Association and aimed at exploring the issue of burnout in healthcare professionals. Resilience is an essential component in anyone’s health and well-being, whether you work in healthcare or not. I found the day to be totally affirming of the message I share. Here is a brief recap of the day.

Resilience was defined as “a function of one’s ability to cope, and the availability of resources related to health and well-being.” There was a substantial amount of depressing information and statistics about the high percentage of burnout in physicians and nurses in the US (30-40%). That is not a comforting statistic. While Dr. Sexton painted a rather dismal picture of the reality of depression and exhaustion in the healthcare workforce, he also highlighted several ways to counteract that reality with the intention to make resources available to survive and thrive. Those resources do not always require money. They require intention and commitment to bring about positive change.

“Your focus determines your reality.”
~J. Bryan Sexton, Ph.D.

Drawing from research from authorities like Drs. Barbara Fredrickson (Positivity), Ellen Langer (Mindfulness), Robert A. Emmons (Gratitude Works) and Martin Seligman (Flourish), we participated in several exercises to boost resilience. The exercises are beneficial for anyone wanting to increase their resilience resources. Here are some to try:

Deliberately Practice Random Acts of Kindness
Random Acts of Kindness Image

Maintain Strong Social Relationships

Hug More (4 times/day is the minimum)
Physical contact optimizes oxytocin and serotonin – which boost mood and promotes bonding – hold a hug (or handshake) for 6 seconds or more.

Practice Active Constructive Responding – Paying Attention is a Form of Love

Be positive, interested and caring
Maintain eye contact/smile/touch/laugh
Concentrate on asking questions (at least 3)
Listen without judgement

Cultivate Confidants

Have REAL friends not just those on social media
Do you have someone you can call at 4:00 am to tell your troubles to?

Write Down “Three Good Things”

Every night before you go to bed write down three (3) positive things from your day.
You will sleep better and have residual positive affect on your close relationships

Practice Gratitude

Keep a Gratitude Journal
Write Thank You notes

Experience Awe and Wonder

Seek out and take notice of life: from beautiful scenes in nature to witnessing an amazing accomplishment of another person to encountering something vast in size, number, power, or complexity, many things can make you feel awe.

Find Your Strengths and Take Maximum Advantage of Them

Take the VIA Survey of Character Strengths 

VIA Character Strengths

Practice the 5 Pillars of Resilience

Self-awareness – Do what you are good at
Mindfulness – Noticing without judging
Purpose – Being part of something bigger than you are
Self-care – Fatigue management, nutrition, physical activity, etc
Relationships – Loneliness is deadly

As I said earlier, this workshop was an affirmation of what I have long known to be true. Resilience is the outcome of being able to respond to change with resources that promote well-being and cushion us against being overwhelmed by it. Those resources include patience and persistence; along with setting the intention to work toward some goal, having faith in the outcome, accepting help from others, maintaining a sense of humor, expressing gratitude and realizing that grace is present in it all. It is the ability to say, “Yes, this has happened. And now what?”

Much more than a positive attitude, although that is a key contributor, resilience is a complex and significant component in our well-being. Some people are indeed positive by nature. I admit to being one of them. However, resilience is not being a happy-go-lucky Pollyanna, floating effortlessly through life with rose-colored glasses. On the contrary, a resilient response to change is far from effortless. Not unlike a garden, cultivating resilience requires intention, patience and effort which allows us to grow.

How do we increase our resilience? Primarily by putting forth the effort each day to focus on what is right – cultivating the positive. It sounds so simple. The key is focus – where are we bringing our attention? When you stop to think about it, narrow spots actually contribute to our well-being, providing an opportunity for personal growth.

Be Resilient