A big question:
How can you become more resilient? (Part 1)*
A little idea:
The core of this little letter is a look at the concept of resilience. But what is it? And how do you get more of it?
Resilience can be a somewhat woolly concept without a consistent definition of what we mean. We’re learning more about it as it gets studied more, but we still don’t know that much about why some people collapse through difficulty and others thrive, or why it might even vary for some people over the course of their life or depending on the kind of challenge they are facing.
When I write about resilience, I think about it as more than an ability to bounce back. It’s a key skill to not only weather life’s inevitable ups and downs, but to actually grow through them.** To find meaning in them. To use them as fuel to greater strength, depth, and verve.
Because problems are relative and we’ve all got them, I see resilience as an essential life skill, not just for the moment of a disaster, but one that touches all of the important aspects of our lives in everyday ways—from self awareness, to relationships, to life purpose. (Which is why this letter somewhat varies in topic!)
Whilst we might not know much, we do know some things about how to improve your resilience.
A quick idea for this week comes from psychologist Dr. Martin Seligman, who found that one quality in people with high resilience is that they have a knack for seeing the temporariness of things. They know that whatever they’re dealing with isn’t permanent. They’re good at saying to themselves: “this too shall pass.”
This is especially pertinent for the pandemic. We’ve been dealing with an unprecedented amount of collective uncertainty and we haven’t had any sense of how long this might go on. This can make it feel like it’ll go on forever. But nothing goes on forever. Things will change, in one way or another. When you remind yourself to put things in perspective, when you accept how things are but know they will not always be this way, you can adapt better for the future.
A way to practice:
To give yourself a sense of perspective over time, write a letter to yourself, one year from now.
I did this for the first time about a year ago and used futureme.org to send it to myself. It’s a website where you can write to yourself and have it delivered to you automatically on a day and time you choose.
A funny thing happens if you set the date for your letter out by several months or a year. You forget you wrote it! It might even read as if someone else did. It’s a great perspective-taking exercise. You almost certainly won’t be the same person you were when you wrote it, which is a great reminder of just how much can change.
If you’re not sure what you might say to yourself try these prompts:
Write about how you’re feeling right now.
Write about what you feel is important in your life right now.
Write about who is important in your life.
Write about what you want to change.
Write about what you hope for yourself in the future.
When it arrives it will be a lovely reminder of where you were now.*** It might not be where you are anymore. Things that were important might no longer be. Things you hoped for yourself might have come to pass or might not have. What you want might have changed.
They say we overestimate what we can do in a short time and underestimate what changes in the long term. Try this future self letter on a regular basis as a reminder that everything changes; nothing is permanent.
A quote that says it well…
“You can cut all the flowers but you cannot keep spring from coming.”
Until next week, take care of yourself,
*Part one of… I don’t know how many. This letter isn’t a deep dive—it’s about the small ideas that add up to the big questions. We’re all awash in content these days, so I started this to send out bite-sized bits of practice you can think about during the week. If any of this resonates and you think I should keep doing these, let me know!
**And what’s great about skills is you can learn them and improve them. Resilience isn’t something you are or aren’t. It’s something you can develop and practice and it’s influenced by your environment, your resources, and your supports in ways we’ll get into in future letters.
***Where you were then? Where you are now? You get what I mean.