‘Bounce-Back-Ability’ Part 2 – Building Emotional Resilience

“How to Build Bounce-Back-Ability aka Emotional Resilience”

“Resilience is important because it is the human capacity to face, overcome and be strengthened by or even transformed by the adversities of life. Everyone faces adversities; no one is exempt.” The International Resilience Project

While some people are born more Emotionally Resilient than others, it is something we’re able to learn and I’ll use the same headings as the last blog to discuss how. A number of people have contacted me asking how this can be developed in children, so this blog has a bent toward that. It does however apply to anyone, of any age.

 

  1. Positive Self Concept & Outlook – a belief that whatever is going on, you’re still in control of the situation rather than it being something that is ‘done to you’.

Having a positive self-concept isn’t something you can suddenly acquire but it can be nurtured. The elements involved are complex but can be broken down as follows:

Self Talk

The way we talk to ourselves is critical, yet we don’t often notice what we’re saying or how we’re saying it.

Just out of interest try observing the words you use to speak to yourself. Are you kind? Probably not, we tend to talk to ourselves in a way we would never dream of speaking to anyone else e.g. “You idiot, why did you do that?”

We put effort into thinking through ways of positioning things more gently with others e.g. “That’s OK it just didn’t work out this time.”

When we’re stressed or annoyed it takes effort to step back and think through how we’re saying things, but it’s worth it. The stories we tell ourselves become our reality, and the words we say to our children become their own internal dialogue for life.

Mindfulness can be very helpful for nurturing a kinder form of self-talk. For kids over 7 years try this free app:

http://smilingmind.com.au/smiling-mind-app/

View of the Future

If you or your children are pessimistic about the future, gently challenge the thinking. Is it really going to be that bad? Are there really no other solutions?

Ask children how they’d like things to turn out and what they can do to make that happen (to divert thinking away from worrying about what they fear most). Encourage them to paint a picture with words or in a drawing of what they want things to look like.

Taking Responsibility

We tend to want to go in and ‘rescue’ children or people we love when things go wrong but that doesn’t help build their tolerance and capability for coping. Children, in particular, need to know what they are responsible for. Learning to accept the consequences of their behaviour helps them to understand the limit of their control and enables them to see that they can make a difference, whether good or bad, to the outcome. In turn this builds a sense of self-efficacy, a belief that they are in control of outcomes rather than things being ‘done to them’.

Problem Solving

It’s all too easy to become passive when things are tough but it’s important to help children, or whoever is struggling, to take decisive action. This prevents them from feeling that something is being ‘done to them’.

Encourage them to talk to people: to bounce ideas around, to ask a person who’s been in the same situation what they did. Help them understand how to get information on the situation.

Enabling someone to make a decision on what to do is empowering and builds a more positive self-concept.

Celebrate Success

Make a point of recognizing when your children have done a good job. Celebrate it. We all, grown ups included, need to feel like we’re important, that we can be proud of what we’ve achieved. It helps us keep going when things aren’t so great.

 

  1. Growth Mindset – a flexibility and openness, adjusting personal expectations depending on what is thrown your way and constantly being willing to learn and develop.

 Learning is key. Keep encouraging your children to learn and explore the world around them, to read, to try different activities, to meet new people and generally be observant, curious and questioning about everything. This is something we should continue throughout life.

As well as taking proactive steps to learn, reflecting on bad experiences is also a helpful aid to growth. When something goes really wrong, writing down what’s happened can help an understanding of how it might be approached differently next time.

 Research has shown that writing about an experience can help us to assign meaning to what has happened and why. Writing actually helps us to create new understandings and insights simply through the ‘act of writing’ (Jackson, 2007).

 

  1. Persistence – the ability to keep on going whatever is thrown at you.

 Whatever a child is trying to do, encourage patience, explain things take time and persistence. Help them to understand the baby steps that need to be taken to get to a bigger target.

Sport is a great learning ground for both nurturing persistence and watching it in action. For example when Andrew Murray was playing Juan Martin del Potro in the Olympic final he refused to give up. Watch that game with a child (or on your own) and get them to notice what’s happening, how fed up Murray looked at times, how hard he had to work to win. When the going gets tough it’s all too easy to say I’ve had enough, but the rewards are much greater if we don’t.

N.B. Regardless of whether they are winning or losing, remember to always praise children for not giving up. The same is of course true for adults.

 

  1. Strong Social Network – having strong interpersonal relationships and being willing to ask for help.

A broad social network is critical for everyone. Research has time and again shown how this helps bolster emotional well-being and even physiological health (Ozbay et al, 2008).

 Having trusting relationships, adults and friends who will offer care and emotional support, is critical for children.

Encourage children to form relationships with different people. Support contact with people who really care about them (and do the same for yourself) and help them work through who is best to talk to about a particular problem. Foster the notion that ‘asking for help’ is a real strength (not a weakness).

But if nothing else simply offer a child love. Being responsive to a child can help to actually “reverse the physiological changes that are activated by stress” helping to protect the child’s brain, body and immune system. The same applies to a friend or relative who you know who is distressed.

 

  1. Emotional Awareness – an ability to understand and accept emotions, to manage rather than deny, suppress or give in to them. This may mean being sad, but not letting the sadness linger.

It’s not always easy to put what we are feeling into words, especially when we’re little, so we need to help children to learn how to express their thoughts and feelings. Comparing the emotion to something else can help e.g. ‘it feels like a brick on my head’ or ‘I feel like I’m a big balloon waiting to explode’. Or giving the emotions names e.g. ‘sad’ may take on the name of a cartoon character such as ‘Eeyore’ from Winnie the Pooh.

One of my favourite ways of explaining emotions to kids is creating a mindful glitter jar:

http://www.mindful.org/how-to-create-a-glitter-jar-for-kids/

Letting children know that it’s OK to feel anxious, upset or angry at times is really important. Research shows that encouraging children to be gentle with themselves helps to nurture emotional resilience (Bright, 1997).

Encouraging children to notice what other people are feeling is also very helpful. It not only dramatically improves the ability to relate to others but also helps self-development, which improves emotional resilience (Giordano, 1997).

 

Is that it?

Like all these things it’s not that easy, nor is it black and white. This only scratches the surface of a very complex behavioural concept. If nothing else, remember: to take care of yourself and those you love, be gentle with your mind (even if you are aiming to achieve great things your journey there will be a lot easier if you are) and that the most emotionally resilient people of all will always ask for help.

 

Links and References:

www.headspace.com

http://www.bibalex.org/Search4Dev/files/283337/115519.pdf

http://www.heysigmund.com/building-resilience-children/

Bright J. (1997) Turning the Tide. Demos Publishers, London.

Giordano B. (1997) Resilience: a survival tool for the nineties. Association of Perioperative Registered Nurses Journal 65, 1032– 1036.

Jackson, D., Firtko, A. and Edenborough, M. (2007) Personal resilience as a strategy for surviving and thriving in the face of workplace adversity: A literature review. Journal of Advanced Nursing, 60; 1-9

Ozbay F, Johnson D.C, Dimoulas E, Morgan C.A, Charney D, Southwick S. Social support and resilience to stress: From neurobiology to clinical practice. Psychiatry (Edgmont) 2007;4(5):35–40

 

 

 

‘Bounce-Back-Ability’ aka Emotional Resilience

Bounce 1

Part of my job is carrying out in-depth psychological profiling to ‘check out’ the fit of leaders for roles. One client requested that I include an assessment of Emotional Resilience for every leader I saw, and I was more than happy to oblige. I’ll explain why later, but for now….

What does Emotional Resilience mean?

The word resilience comes from the Latin ‘resilio’, which means to jump (or bounce). Adding emotional refers to our ability to bounce back from stressful life events. It’s our ‘bounce-back-ability’.

We can’t avoid stress, it’s there everyday, for everyone. While the spectrum ranges from minor hiccups, like being stuck in traffic to major events, such as loss of a loved one, we all experience it. Leaders arguably encounter higher levels of stress than ‘Your Average Joe’, but it’s critical for everyone’s emotional health to manage stress.

Are some people born with more Emotional Resilience than others?

‘Yes’ there are some people who are ‘naturally’ more resilient. We all know people who glide through life without a care in the world and those who are pulled down by every minor glitch. BUT there’s also a major environmental component. So we can learn to be more resilient, and it’s definitely worth doing.

 Does our environment support us?

Unfortunately not, the International Resilience Project, which sought to understand how ‘youth’ from around the world cope with adversities found that “Only about 38 per cent of the thousands of responses….indicate that resilience is being promoted.” Sadly we’re just not set up to understand let alone promote positive psychological constructs.

Taking a personal example, a good friend died a few weeks ago, followed by my Granny. With the best intentions I was told to ‘be strong’, ‘don’t be sad’, ‘keep your chin up’. These are the typical phrases we offer to help. But what these comments unintentionally infer (and therefore what runs as an undercurrent across society) is that we shouldn’t experience the feelings, we should suppress them or avoid them. What’s more if we can’t or don’t, we’re doing something wrong or we’re weak. But this isn’t what emotional resilience is. In fact it’s a very unhealthy way to approach things.

So what does Emotional Resilience look like?

As I opened on the theme of leadership, I’ll use Nelson Mandela to illustrate the factors involved, a man who encountered extreme adversity yet came out stronger the other side.

  • Positive Self Concept & Outlook – a belief that whatever is going on, you’re still in control of the situation rather than it being something that is ‘done to you’.

Nelson Mandela was incarcerated for 27 years, without a strong belief that things were going to ultimately turn out OK it is unlikely he would have emerged the man who then became President e.g. “I am highly optimistic, even behind prison walls I can see the heavy clouds and the blue sky over the horizon.”

  • Growth Mindset – a flexibility and openness, adjusting personal expectations depending on what is thrown your way and constantly being willing to learn and develop.

Throughout his life Mandela questioned, observed, reflected, learnt and adjusted his mindset. Rather than leave prison a bitter person, he emerged a wiser and more rounded individual e.g. “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.”

  • Persistence – the ability to keep on going whatever is thrown at you.

Mandela kept focused on his mission throughout his life. He had an utter belief in his vision of creating a better South Africa e.g. “Do not judge me by my successes, judge me by how many times I fell down and got back up again.”

  • Strong Social Network – having strong interpersonal relationships and being willing to ask for help.

Mandela formed deep bonds with a range of people, even one of his prison guards from Robben Island, Christo Brand. Such was the depth of their friendship that Brand describes feeling like “He’d lost a father” when Mandela died.

  • Emotional Awareness – an ability to understand and accept emotions, to manage rather than deny, suppress or give in to them. This may mean being sad, but not letting the sadness linger.

Mandela faced negative emotions but he didn’t let them overcome him e.g. “The brave man is not he who does not feel afraid, but he who conquers that fear.”

A leader who has Emotional Resilience can perform even when the going gets tough, they can shoulder the responsibilities that they take on with the role. But we all need it, and in my next blog I’ll talk about how we can get more ‘bounce-back-ability’.

N.B. It’s important to understand that someone who is mentally ill won’t simply be able to ‘snap out of’ his or her condition by thinking differently. There may be a genetic or chemical component to their illness that needs to be addressed, alongside learning to approach their thoughts in an alternative way. This does not make them weak. e.g. successful people from every walk of life may be emotionally resilient yet still suffer from bouts of depression.

 

Links and References

http://resilienceresearch.org/research/projects/international-resilience

https://www.theguardian.com/world/2007/may/20/nelsonmandela

Conversations with Myself, Nelson Mandela

Stein MB, Campbell-Sills L, Gelernter J (2009) Genetic Variation in 5HTTLPR is Associated with Emotional Resilience. American Journal of Medical Genetics, Oct 5; 150B(7): 900–906.

Mindfulness – Mindful What?

2016-07-31 16.40.37

Mindfulness has become a ‘buzz word’ advocated by the likes of Davina McCall, Jerry Seinfeld and Oprah Winfrey, through to companies such as Google, eBay, Twitter and even The Bank of England. Whilst some argue that it’s a fad, it’s actually been around since the 1970’s and is based on Buddhist meditations practiced for 2550 years.

But What Is It?

Mindfulness is a practice of turning our attention away from our thoughts and the ‘chatter in our head’, toward sensations. Concentrating on what we can hear, smell, see, taste and feel in the present moment. This puts us in the ‘here and now’ rather than fretting over the past (e.g. why did I eat that) or worrying about the future (e.g. will I ever lose weight).

Our neo-cortex, which is the most advanced part of our brain, has given us incredible opportunities as a species e.g. the ability to speak, read, write, pass on knowledge, project into the future and have an awareness of ourselves. In the context of our modern world and coupled with the primitive survival driven parts of our brain, it can also cause us the odd problem.

Take for example, walking into a room full of people we don’t know. Our more primitive brain sees this as a threat (a throng of people we don’t know could kill us). It releases chemicals that put us on edge. Our more advanced brain responds with chatter such as:

“What’s wrong with me? Why am I so nervous, all I’m doing is walking into a room?”

“Maybe they won’t like me. What happens if no one talks to me? I’m going to look like a right idiot just standing there on my own.”

This is how many of us naturally respond, but in order to get the most out of our brain we need to be gentle with it not talk to ourselves like we’re idiots. Mindfulness helps us to treat our mind with care and teaches us to move our attention away from this unhelpful chatter. Consequently it’s incredibly helpful when it comes to our mental well-being and resilience to stress.

Is There Any Proof That It Actually Works?

Psychologists have been studying the impacts of mindfulness since the late 1970s with research showing the positive impacts on both physical and mental health.

When it comes to physical health studies have shown it’s positive effect on HIV pathogenesis, inflammatory disorders, drug abuse, chronic pain and immune system disorders.

And in terms of mental health, among other things it can reduce depression relapse, neuroticism, absent-mindedness, rumination and social anxiety. It also improves certain factors such as life satisfaction, conscientiousness, self-esteem, empathy, optimism, emotion regulation, attention and working memory.

More recently neuroscientific research has shown that individuals who are mindful are better able to regulate emotional responses ‘via prefrontal cortical inhibition of the amygdala’ or in other words through the advanced and rational brain managing impulses kicked out by the primitive brain.

But does it REALLY work?

I know from personal experience that it brings a greater sense of calm, reduces anxiety and stops a racing mind, and it’s not hard to see how it helps people to regulate their thoughts and emotional responses more effectively. But, it’s not a silver bullet. Why? Because:

  1. It takes a concerted effort: even with Headspace’s 10 minute a day approach it’s all too easy to deprioritize it in our daily to do list (I manage once a week if I’m lucky).
  1. It needs to be understood in the context of the brain. Knowledge of what’s normal and what’s not makes it immediately more impactful. This can’t be learnt from mindfulness alone.
  1. People need to know how to apply it to daily life experiences. Without this understanding, it will only counter stress during meditation.
  1. It’s been taken out of context. When practiced as spiritual meditation, mindfulness is put into the perspective of other life factors. For example showing compassion toward others, being a good member of a community, living an ethical life and searching for meaning. These are factors that produce a deeper level of satisfaction, playing to our advanced rather than primitive brain and are something that mindfulness in isolation lacks.

In spite of these potential limitations I still strongly advocate its use as a positive psychological tool. Mindfulness has taken something that was largely inaccessible to Western life and turned it into something that can be understood and applied by anyone. If nothing else it helps us to protect our brains from the fast-paced over stimulating modern world that we live in.

What about you – what are your thoughts on mindfulness? What have your experiences been? I’d love to hear.

 Links:

 https://www.headspace.com

http://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2015/jul/15/mindfulness-study-meditation-7000-teenagers-impact

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/what-matters-most/201306/top-10-things-most-people-don-t-know-about-mindfulness

References:

Bishop, SR, Lau, M, Shapiro, SL, Carlson, L, Anderson, ND, Carmody, J, Devins, G. (2004). Mindfulness: A proposed operational definition. Clinical Psychology: Science and Practice, 11, 230–241

Creswell JD (2016) Mindfulness Interventions. Annual Review of Psychology, 68

Creswell JD, Lindsay EK. (2014). How does mindfulness training affect health? A mindfulness stress buffering account. Current Directions in Psychological Science 23(6):401–7

Schonert-Reichl KA, Oberle E, Lawlor MS, Abbott D, Thomson K, et al. (2015). Enhancing cognitive and social–emotional development through a simple-to-administer mindfulness-based school program for elementary school children: A randomized controlled trial. Developmental Psychology 51(1):52–66

Shian-Ling Keng, Moria J. Smoski, Clive J. Robins (2011) Effects of Mindfulness on Psychological Health: A Review of Empirical Studies. Clinical Psychological Review August; 31(6): 1041–1056

Zenner C, Herrnleben-Kurz S, Walach H. 2013. Mindfulness-based interventions in schools-a systematic review and meta-analysis. Frontiers in Psychology 5:603–603

 

 

Blog

British Psychologist, bestselling author, entrepreneur and speaker. This is my blog sharing ideas, thoughts and research about behaviour.