Becoming More Resilient
Why are only some people able to quickly bounce
back from setbacks, for example, getting fired or
losing a loved one?
According to UC Davis resiliency expert Emmy
Werner, its partly innate but we all can
learn to become more resilient. I agree.
Heres my approach to building resiliency,
borne of my work in helping many clients to bounce
Minimize processing. The more time
you spend thinking and talking (especially
brooding), about your adversity, the more your
malaise and sense of victimhood will harden and, in
turn, keep you mired. If you truly need time to
process, take a day or at most a week to write in
your journal, whine to a friend, whatever.
(Dont belly-ache so much that you risk losing
Far better, give yourself just 15 minutes to get
it out of your system. I can just hear some of you:
Just 15 minutes? Youre so insensitive!
It takes much longer to process such a horrible
event! I can only say that based on my
experience, the less you replay the event, the
faster youll feel better and get back on your
If you need the 15 minutes, say (or yell)
whatever you want: That miserable boss!
How dare my spouse dump me? The
reverse racism is outrageous!, whatever. If
it will make you feel better, burn an effigy of the
fool who fired you.
Avoid wallowers. Sure, you may enjoy talking
with them. After all, they specialize in expressing
sympathy, listening patiently and saying amen to
your moans of victimization and self-pity. Plus,
they rarely push you to do anything outside your
comfort zone. But ultimately, such people
dont serve your interests. Usually they just
want, if only unconsciously, someone to validate
their own inaction.
Replace thoughts of the adversity with a
positive plan. For example, develop a plan for
getting a new job, meeting a new partner, or
preventing further abuse. Try to pick a big,
inspiring goal. For example, if you failed on a
project, come up with an idea for a bigger, more
If youve failed many times, you may feel
too pessimistic to get out there and try again. The
solution is to create a new reason for optimism.
For example, if youve failed because
youre lousy with details, make your goal to
find a project or job that doesnt require
detail work. If your romantic relationships keep
failing, promise yourself, for example, that
youll stop dating Bad Boys or
high-maintenance women. In short, try something
new. That will give you hope, which, in turn, will
motivate you to get out there and try.
Cant come up with a goal youre
excited about? Brainstorm with people you respect.
If one person isnt helpful, find another. Be
Stop thinking and take that first low-risk step
to achieving your goal. Dont do it next week.
Do it today, ideally right after reading this
column. For example, want to meet a romantic
partner whos not broke? Sign up for a class
on investing. Do it now. Want a better job? Phone
friends who might help you find good work. Do it
now. Or even jump in the car, walk into a dream
employer and ask for your dream job. Sounds
audacious, but many times, it works. Often, key to
getting what you want is simply asking enough
people for it.
Dont let fear stand in your way. Worst
that could happen, you get rejected. Youll
survive. Winners are rejected all the time. If you
wait for the fear to dissipate before you act, you
may be waiting for Godot. Feel the fear and do it
Get support. If you cant figure out your
next step or are procrastinating on implementing
your plan, find a loving taskmaster. Pick someone
you respect who believes in you. Chat once, weekly,
or as needed. Or start a Success Team: At each
weekly meeting, each person reports on his or her
progress toward meeting a goal and the other group
members offer suggestions and encouragement
© 2010, Marty
* * *
Nemko holds a PhD from the University of
California, Berkeley, and subsequently taught in
Berkeleys Graduate School of Education. He is
the worklife columnist in the Sunday San Francisco
Chronicle and is the producer and host of Work With
Marty Nemko, heard Sundays at 11 on 91.7 FM in
(NPR, San Francisco), and worldwide on
400+ of his published writings are available free
on that website and is a co-editor of
Careers for Dummies.
and author of The All-in-One College Guide.
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