The Enduring Power of Resilience
By Robert Moskowitz
There are really only two ways to resist the trials and tribulations of
living and working on Planet Earth. You can stand firm like a rock, or
you can bend like reed, a tree, or almost any living thing.
The world is full of beautiful beaches, you know. White ones, black
ones, green ones, and many other colors, too. What you may not know
about beaches, however, is that -- at one time -- they were rocks. The
material you see in beaches was once in the form of large, solid,
inflexible rocks that were riven by earthquakes and violent forces of
nature, broken further by weathering and by collisions with other rocks,
and ultimately reduced to tiny grains of sand by the relentless pounding
of the sea.
Living things, on the other hand, grow and flourish for their alloted
lifetime, yielding to the forces of nature and then springing back,
often times stronger than before. Next time you look around at the
natural world, see if you can notice the enduring power of resilience,
versus the brittle power of inflexibility.
Since you don't have the lifetime of a rock, you might as well cultivate
your natural resilience as a living thing.
Note that resilience is not weakness. It's a different form of strength,
the strength of growth, of recovery and self-repair, of adaptation to
meet changing conditions.
There are at least four guidelines for cultivating your natural
resilience, and while they sound simple, they require that you learn new
habits of thinking and behaving, and that you nurture a strength of
character quite different from the rocky stoicism that so many of us are
brought up to think of as strength.
Rule 1: Go Easy On Yourself
Most of us have developed a very strict set of rules for how we should
perform in the world. If we don't get the results we are after, we feel
like a failure. That's a formula for sadness and weakness, not success.
The truth is, to be successful you must be willing to fail. The most
successful people in history were often those who experienced monumental
and continuing failures, but who persevered until they achieved success.
You can learn a lot by studying the lives of Thomas A. Edison and
Abraham Lincoln, for example. You can also learn from your own behavior
toward others. Why? Most of us are far harder on ourselves than on our
friends and family. The next time you find yourself feeling down about
your past performance or your prospects for the future, think carefully
about what you are saying to yourself. Would you talk that way to
someone you cared about? Chances are, you wouldn't be that negative to
the other person. You'd be more understanding. You'd encourage him or
her to look on the bright side. And you'd help them remember their past
successes. You deserve this same kind of treatment, not just from the
loving people in your life, who probably give you this kind of coaching
already, but from yourself -- your own harshest critic and most
demanding coach. Go easy on yourself and see if you don't start to feel
better and perform better, too.
Rule 2: Grieve and Move On
Most of us recognize a failure or a setback as a loss of something we
had or something we wanted, and as a result we very properly fall into
some degree of grief and sadness. That's OK. The problem occurs when we
suppress that grief and sadness, or refuse to deal with our feelings
about the setback or failure. That's a formula for sadness and weakness,
not success. The truth is, setbacks and failures are as much a part of
life as steps forward and successes. We're willing enough to enjoy our
successes, what sense does it make to reject the equal and opposite
feelings that accompany our setbacks and failures? Naturally, it takes
strength of character as well as some practice to become comfortable
with grief and sadness. It hurts. And sometimes, it feels like the pain
will never go away. But if you trust your resilience, and simply sit
with your grief and sadness for a while, you'll find that the feelings
don't overwhelm you. They do go away. The feelings even form a basis for
you to connect with other people who care about you, and to use that
connection to begin to feel good about yourself. Feeling the grief and
then moving on your with your life after a setback or failure is a skill
you can learn and use to build your resilience and make you stronger and
more successful than you can ever be without it.
Rule 3: Consider The Facts
Most of us react to a setback or a failure by focusing all our attention
on what we've done wrong, or what has gone wrong, and by ignoring
everything that is still good about our lives and our situation in the
world. That's a formula for sadness and weakness, not success. The truth
is, except for the most complete failures at the most important tasks in
the world, most setbacks and failures are pretty small and short-lived.
Sure, we feel bad today, and we should. But a week, a month, a year from
now, this seemingly monumental setback will probably be entirely
forgotten, and may even have been totally turned around. The nature of
the Universe is that a door that closes for you is part of the same
process that tends to open a different door for you. If you stop banging
your head against the recently closed door and look around for the other
doors that are just opening, you'll see that you still have a lot going
Rule 4: Make Lemonade
Most of us spend at least a little while after a setback or failure
bemoaning the bad fortune that has engulfed us. That's a formula for
sadness and weakness, not success. The truth is, that well-worn adage
about "making lemonade" has a lot of wisdom in it. If you accurately
consider the facts of your current situation, you will almost certainly
find something positive on the horizon. This opportunity is often a
natural motivator to get you up and start you doing something to
crystalize and realize the potential it brings. At a minimum, a failure
or setback can provide incentive and motivation to work a little harder
toward the opportunities that remain in your life, or even to seek out
new opportunities. At certain times of your life, however, what looks
like a failure or a setback is actually the first step toward something
better. Immediately after a setback or a failure is the perfect time to
keep your head up, your eyes on the horizon, and your hands and brain
busy being as productive as you can.