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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 for you.

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.