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.
Thought deselection is crucial when you are in a crisis and you require a resilient mind-set. The last thing you need is to listen to worries, panicky judgments, self-pity and defeatism. If you look at what resilient people do in a real emergency then it is something much more focused:
- They stay in the moment working on one problem at a time, one step at a time
- They ignore things they cannot do anything about and focus on what they can influence
- They focus on what is rather than on what might be
- They make realistic plans and decisions based on the facts
- They address concerns rather than worries
- They seek good advice wherever they can find it and turn it into a plan
- They persuade others to work for the common good
This is the second in a series of nine articles on resilience.
The second habit is: Resilient people have solid boundaries
A common source of what some people call stress is to become over-loaded with demands from other people. Another, equally common is to become so isolated that you have no one to turn to when things get bad.
Knowing when to open up to people so that they become your friends and supporters, and when to say ‘No’ to people when you can’t take on any more is what ‘boundaries’ are for.
This is the first article in a series of nine.
The first habit is: Resilient people tell it the way it is
Another way of putting it is that resilient people are authentic. They can’t lie to themselves and they don’t lie to others. When they are happy they will tell you so; when they need help you will hear that too.
This truth-telling rests on deeper principles. Resilience relies on seeing things the way they really are (see Habit No. 5). Some delusions are based on wishful thinking; others are based on Junkmind worries. Resilient people don’t listen to worries and neither do they kid themselves when they are really up against it. Seeing the way things really are has survival value: if you know the truth about things then you are better equipped to handle adversity.
Another principle relates to emotional intelligence (see habit No. 4). Because emotions are the brain’s way of mobilising us to take action it is vital that we both recognise and articulate our emotions. Resilient people will therefore tell you when they are sad or scared in the same way they will tell you when they are angry. They will freely express their joy and excitement too. They know how to move closer towards their friends and they also know how to defend themselves against attack.
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:
- Resilient people tell it the way it is
- Resilient people have solid boundaries
- Resilient people exercise mind control
- Resilient people know what to do with their emotions
- Resilient people are hard realists
- Resilient people practice self-renewal
- Resilient people fight tooth and nail
- Resilient people act from love
- Resilient people are (mostly) spiritual people
I have been practicing psychotherapy for nearly 30 years now, continually asking myself (and others) the question: how and why and where and when does therapy get results?
Here are some of the things I have learned:
- No one technique or type of therapy works all the time (or even most of the time)
- The experience of the therapist is more important than any other qualification
- Therapists who can work on different levels – thoughts, emotions, relationships, the body/brain, behaviour and the environment are more likely to be effective
- Therapists who adapt to the client with different styles of communication: listening, teaching, nurturing, challenging, directing and humorous – are also more likely to be effective
- Analysis of past events or ‘the unconscious mind’ is only marginally useful
- It is not what the therapist says that is important; it is what the client does with the information given
- Most of the changes the client hopes for will come in the first few sessions
It is now practically a cliche, and has been so ever since Howard Gardner published his work on the 7 different types of Intelligence, that we human beings possess multiple minds. Of which the ‘Rational Mind’ and ‘Emotional Mind’ are perhaps the most familiar.
I was thinking about this fact when one of my clients reminded me of the ‘Rational Mind – Emotional Mind – Wise Mind’ scheme which (I think) was first sketched by Marsha Linehan – the founder of Dialectical-Behaviour Therapy. DBT is the treatment of choice for Borderline Personality Disorder and in my view is a very powerful model indeed and I have great respect for Linehan’s work. The purpose of the model is to help people with Borderline Personality Disorder stay in ‘Wise Mind’, avoiding over-analytical thinking and ‘irrational’ emotions and retaining Mindfulness. This is a good strategy for people who are overwhelmed by anxiety, bad moods and tantrums but I think it is too negative about the Rational Mind and the Emotional Mind. It also leaves out ‘Bodymind’ – the real source of emotional intelligence.
So here is my own model:
After Siddhartha Gautama was enlightened he became the Buddha. Before that time he had been first a great prince and then, after his renunciation, a wandering monk. His aim was to uncover the secret of suffering and find enlightenment. He tried several teachers, starved himself close to death, practised self-torture and meditation, but none of these worked. In despair he decided to sit under a Bo tree, not leaving until he had found either enlightenment or death. Four weeks later it came to him in the night. He ‘saw’ into the ultimate nature of reality: that it was without names, time or permanence. He realised that he was it and it he.
A few weeks after that he gave his first sermon in the Deer Park at Sarnath to five disciples. He told them that he had discovered that everything that arises is subject to cessation, including suffering. The path to enlightenment lay in the Four Noble Truths:
1. Know that there is dukkha
2. Understand the origin of dukkha in attachment
3. Let go of attachment and dukkha
4. Follow the Eight-fold path