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, it’s partly innate but we all can learn to become more resilient. I agree. Here’s my approach to building resiliency, borne of my work in helping many clients to bounce back.

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. (Don’t belly-ache so much that you risk losing your friend.)

Far better, give yourself just 15 minutes to get it out of your system. I can just hear some of you: “Just 15 minutes? You’re 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 you’ll feel better and get back on your feet.

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 don’t 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 exciting one.

If you’ve 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 you’ve failed because you’re lousy with details, make your goal to find a project or job that doesn’t require detail work. If your romantic relationships keep failing, promise yourself, for example, that you’ll 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.

Can’t come up with a goal you’re excited about? Brainstorm with people you respect. If one person isn’t helpful, find another. Be relentless.

Stop thinking and take that first low-risk step to achieving your goal. Don’t do it next week. Do it today, ideally right after reading this column. For example, want to meet a romantic partner who’s 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.

Don’t let fear stand in your way. Worst that could happen, you get rejected. You’ll 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 anyway.

Get support. If you can’t 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

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Marty Nemko holds a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and subsequently taught in Berkeley’s 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 Cool Careers for Dummies. and author of The All-in-One College Guide. E-Mail.

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