Bouncing Back After Tough Times

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Change and tough times are inevitable for all of us.

In a recent column in the New York Times, David Brooks asked readers to reflect on their lives. Interestingly, many spoke of the challenges they faced and how hard life could be. These same readers also reported how they managed to be resilient in the face of their struggle.

How successfully we are able to navigate through those tough times often depends on our internal resources and the external support we receive from others. If we find ourselves in situations like this,

How do we remain strong?

How can we use reason to help guide us when we’re flooded with debilitating emotions and confusion?

How can we remain flexible and make the best decisions in the midst of life-disorienting change or pressure?

Below, we discuss a number of steps we can take to improve our resilience.

Find a supportive community.

Studies demonstrate again and again that people who do the best in times of loss, transition, and tragedy have one thing in common, the support of a caring community.

In our society, there is an interesting tension between the need for independence and the longing for connection. We want to say we can make it on our own and yet, at the same time, we have a deep need for each other. Social needs, of the sort tapped into by the creators of Facebook, is not what we’re talking about here.

Rather, we’re addressing the kind of  foundational interdependence that results from a commitment to each other in times of vulnerability and real need; a moral obligation to be there for that individual who needs our help; a laying aside of our own needs and preoccupations to listen, seek to understand, and provide emotional support for another who needs our help. This social web of support is to be found in a different sort of community.

As Jacob Needleman noted in a recent interview in The Sun Magazine, in this interpersonal context, there is “a higher quality of attention [that results in] a transformative energy that passes between people when they genuinely listen to each other.”

A famous example of this “transformative energy” at work is the huge success of alcoholics supporting and helping to transform and restore other alcoholics’ lives in Alcoholics Anonymous. Let’s look at some of the characteristics of people who provide the best support:

  1. They are not so preoccupied with their own lives that they cannot listen to your story.
  2. They do not judge you for the tough time you are facing.
  3. They are not defensive but, rather, truly open to who you are and what you say.
  4. They don’t revert to clichés as in: “It happened for a reason…”
  5. They align themselves with the ‘wise’ person in us (i.e., our essence).
  6. They don’t give up on us when our circumstances don’t change right away.

In addition to a supportive community to help us through our crisis and facilitate our resilience, there are other things we can do ourselves to bolster our resilience.

Discover what is really important.

Once we’ve moved through the initial crisis and have achieved some control over our situation, we can begin to address ourselves at a deeper level. For example, we may begin to ask these questions of ourselves:

  1. What is it that I really need for my life now?
  2. What am I most grateful for?
  3. How can I contribute to the greater good?
  4. How can I restore beauty, balance, and a sense of wonder to my life?
  5. Where will I experience the greatest mastery and creativity?

Times of difficult transition can be an opportunity to reengage with the deeper needs of one’s soul.  “Bouncing back” becomes a time of renewal and growth. As we move ahead with these priorities to guide us, we can begin to take concrete actions to improve our situation.

 Make specific changes, one step at a time.

  1. Remind yourself of your abilities and the strategies you have used to navigate past transitions.
  2. Brainstorm your ideas with trusted individuals. They can help you with reality testing as well as give you those “go for it” messages.
  3. Be willing to consider a paradigm shift or look for solutions in totally different places, especially soul-based solutions based on the answers to your questions about what you really need for your life.
  4. Get facts about your situation from reliable sources and not from those who repeatedly say: “That cannot be done.” For example, we were told, “You can never live in Mexico and have a consulting practice” (but we did).
  5. Look for role models of people who have successfully navigated through similar transitions. Study their best practices.
  6. Give yourself holidays from scary “what if” thoughts and focus on short-term “can do” strategies that are likely to produce success.
  7. Learn to laugh at certain aspects of your circumstance. There is always something funny about your situation; laughing about it releases tension and puts things in perspective. If you can say, “I’ll laugh about this some day”, why not laugh about it now?
  8. Turn to the spiritual resources of your religious faith or spiritual tradition to sustain and empower you. That always works to get you back in touch with what is really important.

Tough times don’t last. Resilient people do.


About cedricj

I am a licensed psychologist and management consultant and have always been intrigued by how leaders can inspire people in their organizations. The bottom line is that people are not always motivated by material rewards, the use of the carrot or the stick, fear and intimidation,and command and control, Five human needs inspire and drive us. Kristine S MacKain, Ph.D and myself describe these inspirational forces in our book "What Inspirational Leaders Do" (Kindle 2008)
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