9 Habits of Resilient People (No. 5)

This is the fifth in a series of articles on resilience.

The fifth habit is: Resilient people are hard realists.

Another way of putting this is that resilient people see things the way they are, not as they wish they might be. In a crisis they deal with facts rather than worries and similar fantasies.

People who don’t practice mind control can get lost in thoughts about the past (wish it was different), the future (hope it doesn’t happen) and about problems (wish they weren’t there). Resilient people live in the present and, mostly, focus on making the present work. For this reason resilient people tend to be very clear-sighted; one reason why other people tend to go to them for advice.

When crises come round resilient people will do a number of inter-related things first:

  1. Look at what they can influence
  2. Ignore what they can’t influence
  3. Identify the best short-term outcome
  4. Focus on each small step, one at a time

The outcome depends on the nature of the crisis. I once worked with a client whose platoon was ambushed in Afghanistan by the Taliban. He was the only unwounded survivor. He told me that when under fire he expected to be killed but did not think about that. Instead he decided that his priority was to find a way to move six feet towards a nearby wall. It took him 45 minutes to do that.

If someone close to you has died you might decide that your target is to get through the first day with a few friends. If you have lost your job you might decide that the first thing to do is to work out how much you need to live on. If you have been told you have a life-threatening illness you might decide to focus on getting the best possible medical advice. And so on.

Non-resilient people, by contrast, tend to give in to despair, which paralyses their ability to act. The state of despair can take several forms:

  1. Worrying that you won’t be able to cope
  2. Thinking about the worst that could happen
  3. Wishing that you didn’t have to go through this
  4. Panic
  5. Self-pity

None of these reactions is realistic and none of them will help you come to a decision about the next step forward. Realism focuses on actions to take; negative judgments keep you stuck in the theatre of your own mind.

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