9 Habits of Resilient People (No. 9)

This is the concluding piece in a series of articles on resilience.

The ninth habit is: Resilient people are (mostly) spiritual people.

This is one of the few habits which has been studied scientifically. Numerous surveys show that people with spiritual beliefs live longer (on average) and manage stress better. They also cope with potentially terminal illnesses more effectively.

By ‘spiritual’ I mean those beliefs through which we live by a higher purpose in (or beyond) this life. A purpose which gives meaning and direction to existence. This could be based on formal religious belief but for many it does not. While some people have a deep sense of the divine at work in themselves and in others, some find this hard to understand. For many people it is enough for them to appreciate the beauty and intelligence in nature and its species; or in the revelations of art, science, mathematics and philosophy. For others still it is enough to know that they are giving service: for the family, for the community, or for future generations.

One reason spiritual beliefs and values aid resilience is that they provide us with a refuge in times of crisis: in tragedy, illness and death. They enable us to keep going even when we feel like giving up. They give us the strength to support others who are in despair. And despair is the enemy of resilience.

A deeper reason relates to personal fulfilment. To know that you are part of something bigger than you are, and that the service you give to others is important, provides you with an inner strength and a will to live that is inspiring to others and fulfilling to you. And, generally speaking, a fulfilled life is not only a happier life but a healthier one too.

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:

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9 Habits of Resilient People (No. 3)

This is the third in a series on the characteristics of resilient people.

The third habit is: Resilient people exercise mind control.

The opposite way of saying this is that people who get stressed, anxious and depressed are not in control of their minds. Rather, their minds control them. Their heads are filled with a constant stream of thoughts which dictate their feelings, behaviour and activities – even their brain chemistry.

To use an old cliche about fire: the mind is a good servant but a bad master. The secret to making your mind work for you is to be selective abut which thoughts you pay attention to. Because thoughts are not real; they are only versions of reality, like paintings are. Some are stupid, shoddy and ugly; others are clever, inspired and life enhancing. You should only be looking at the latter sort.

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9 Habits of Resilient People

This is a new series on resilience.

I have been fortunate in meeting hundreds of resilient people in my time, some of them very humble people who were not obvious heroes and who yet overcame some terrible personal tragedies.

The nine habits are the stand-out, most commonly recurring traits I have noticed. In my work – whether in coaching or psychotherapy – I am always on the watch for resilience in my clients and will do whatever I can to turn their attention back to their strengths.

By ‘resilience’ I mean the ability to manage adversity. Adverse events can range from parenting out-of-control children to rescuing 70+ wounded soldiers while under intense Japanese sniper fire, as Desmond Doss (pictured) did on Hacksaw Ridge. It can show in the way you handle an argument at the office or in the way you help your friends. Or in your approach to disability, deprivation, abuse, poverty, unemployment, relationship breakdown, illness and death.

Here are the 9 habits:

  1. Resilient people tell it the way it is
  2. Resilient people have solid boundaries
  3. Resilient people exercise mind control
  4. Resilient people know what to do with their emotions
  5. Resilient people are hard realists
  6. Resilient people practice self-renewal
  7. Resilient people spend time with resilient people
  8. Resilient people take ownership
  9. Resilient people are (mostly) spiritual people

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The truth about stress and resilience

This post follows on from my earlier article Why Stress Does Not Exist.

It was Hans Selye who first coined the word ‘Stress’ in relation to non-specific illnesses. Contrary to popular myth, Selye did not say that ‘Stress’ caused illness. What he meant was that if the individual fails to adapt to adverse Life Events then a breakdown in body functions could occur. Examples of ‘bad’ life events include job loss, relationship breakdown, financial disaster, overwork and illness.

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How to make that breakthrough

Breakthrough

My good friend and collaborator Mark McGuinness recently alerted me to a stimulating new book by Steven Pressfield called Do The Work which is about a subject dear to my heart: how to overcome Headmind when it is messing your life up.

I was doubly intrigued because Steven Pressfield once wrote a powerful historical novel about the 300 Spartans at Thermopylae called Gates of Fire – one of the very few books of that kind which had me (and my wife) in tears by the end.

Taking time off from writing fiction Steven’s new, very short, book is about how to achieve your goals when you don’t think you can.

The premise is simple: whenever you work on a project that is really important to you, but which is going to take time, hard work, and personal sacrifice then you are going to hit a wave of resistance. And that resistance comes not from outside but from within;  your own personal version of Headmind in fact: doubts, excuses, distractions, worries, whinges, procrastination, or so-called ‘low self-esteem’ – in which Headmind keeps on repeating the mantra that there is no point in your doing anything very much because it is bound to end in failure.

The solution is also simple: just do it. Once you have decided that the project really is important to you then you ignore Headmind when it is trying to do you down and sabotage your goals. Specifically, you ignore the Chatterbox. Or just tell it to shut the fuck up while you get on with things.

Here are some examples from the world of Therapy:

You are working on your recovery from Depression and you have decided to get out more. The Inner Voice says ‘what’s the point?’. Your response: go ahead and call a friend and make that date regardless.

You are working on Chronic Fatigue Syndrome and you have decided to increase your morning exercise routine to 10 minutes. Your Internal Saboteur says: ‘you’ll make yourself ill’. Your response: increase it to 15 minutes.

You are working on Anxiety. Your Internal Control Freak says: ‘I worry that you won’t be able to stop worrying because you have been a worrier all your life….’. Your response: you focus your attention on a non-worrisome activity for the next few hours.

One difference between using Steven’s method on creative work, and using it on personal problems is this: in creative work you just get on with the project (for example: your next novel, or work idea, house redesign, etc.). In that way you force Headmind to get on with doing something useful.

Whereas if you are depressed, anxious, obsessional, etc., you may need to give Headmind some substitute activities to do. A good example relates to giving up drug/alcohol/cigarette/ gambling addictions. Whenever the Internal Saboteur twitters on about needing a fix/drink/fag/bet then you just do a 180 degree attention turn and go off and do something more worthwhile. My experience with my clients is that when they do this repeatedly, then over the ensuing weeks that Internal Voice will gradually dwindle away to a whisper.

Image by permission of Fuyoh

Hugh Laurie, Schopenhauer, and the art of life

Schopenhaue This is the follow up article to Schopenhauer: a philosophy for grumpy people? Which attracted  a good response from many readers, many of whom had never heard of him, and were intrigued by his pessimism. Like Hugh Laurie in House he attracts people with his attitude problem.

In fact both Dr Gregory House and Schopenhauer have much in common:

  • Both are loners
  • Unconventional thinkers
  • Grumpiness combined with a wish to help others
  • Black humour
  • Grim realism
  • Mockery of conventional, pompous, people and ideas
  • Atheism
  • Disillusion
  • A (well-disguised) compassion for others.
  • Both are skilled wind-up merchants

For Schopenhauer, the world was a place he never made and little admired. Unlike almost all other philosophers, he did not believe that human beings were created to be happy. The reason for that is that our Will for personal gratification is out of all proportion to what Life can actually offer us. That, he claimed, was the reason for our continually recurring states of frustration, heartache and boredom.

Now, while I believe Schopenhauer was right in some of his diagnoses, I disagree about the cause. It is not the Universal Will which is the cause of personal misery but Headmind obsessions working through the Ego. I have written about this before in my article on How your Head F*cks You Up.

While I agree with Schopenhauer that we are not created to be happy (because we are blessed/cursed with an enlarged Headmind/Pre-frontal cortex), I disagree that we cannot, in fact find it. We can find it if we persist, through Awareness, and through downsizing the Ego.

However, I will leave you with a few more conclusions from the Master:

  • Make good use of the only thing you can control: your conscious mind.
  • Strive to live in the Now
  • Set limits everywhere: on desires, wealth and power.
  • Accept limitations: that leads to peace of mind.
  • Accept misfortunes: only dwell on them if you can change something about them.
  • Seek out personal space and time for yourself; other people may try rob you of peace of mind.
  • Keep busy, always.
  • Do not expect too much from other people: like you they are only human.
  • In the long run, assume disappointment will be your lot more times than not.
  • You are not alone: others share your disappointments.
  • Your recognition of your shared humanity with others is the basis for compassion.
  • This recognition frees you from the Ego.
  • At times of great difficulty you can take consolation from the fact that every other human being has endured similar difficulties.
  • Contemplation of Nature, Art, Music, Literature and the Spectacle of life raises you above it.