On Resilience

This week's post is written by Sooth Lab member, Daniel Sude. Daniel is a Ph.D. Student in Communication at Ohio State University and holds two Master's Degrees: an M.A. in Psychology from the Culture & Self Lab at the University of British Columbia and an M.A. in the Social Sciences from the Rios Conformity, Attitudes, Threat, and Self Lab at the University of Chicago.

“The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong in the broken places.”

    Ernest Hemingway – “Farewell to Arms”

I write this from my personal perspective, but also as a social psychologist. I cannot claim objectivity but I hope that my words resonate. With our nation facing multiple tragic events in the past two weeks, in Michigan, Louisiana, and Texas, and with tragic events in our own lives, we can find ourselves feeling frustrated, angry, and hopeless.

Whether we have lost a job, lost a marriage, or lost our sense of self-esteem, whether we have faced attacks on ourselves or our social groups, we must realize that life is not measured in success. It is measured in what we value and how much we are willing to fight for what we value.

The things we fight for even though we might lose them are the things we really care about.    Wealth, power, and status are tools that we use to achieve our goals, not ends in themselves.

Too often we sell our own hearts short – failing to identify those things in life that gives us deeper happiness, meaning, and purpose. But it is those very things that help to define us, help us to take stock of who we are and what we have yet to do.

Life is chaotic and unpredictable for everyone, although more so for some than for others. In response to this chaos, we can cultivate a sense of resilience.

Resilience helps us, rather than giving up on the things that matter to us, to be willing to continue to care, to continue to strive, even when everything seems to be falling apart. With resilience, even when we are vulnerable, we can still act.

How can we develop that resilience? A first step is being kind to ourselves – pushing ourselves but not attacking ourselves. We must know, deeply, that we will never have perfect control over the outcomes of our actions, only control over whether we choose to act.  

When we are tempted to blame ourselves for things that are not really our fault, it is sometimes, in a strange way, because we want to feel motivated. We want to believe that if we just had tried to be smarter or stronger things would have gone our way.

But imagine yelling at someone else the way you may yell at yourself. Imagine holding them to a rigid, impossible to meet standard of perfection. Watch them harden under that pressure. Watch them become brittle at times of repeated loss, of repeated failure.

A second step towards developing resilience is incorporating the possibility of failure into our expectations. We want to be able to try and fail and try again. One way to keep ourselves motivated is to have backup plans – alternative approaches that we can test out over time.

Another way is to be grateful for the resources that we have, whether those be social, financial, or personal. Gratitude encourages us to invest resources wisely. We get a sense of when we need to take a break, to recoup our losses. We also, often, realize that we have more strength left in us than we thought.

Last, we must be grateful for our progress, however slow. In balance, the more we act, the farther we get. Life is not always a matter of moving one step forward only to take two steps back. In countless ways, everyday, we learn, we grow, and we prepare ourselves for a more meaningful, more purposeful, life.