I’m taking a new online course from Harvard Ed X, Becoming a Resilient Person. A trait many believe that you’re either born with or your not, I was intrigued by the methods of which they’d use to teach it.
I’ve been fascinated with resilience since I was a kid, not in so many words perhaps. I’ve always been curious how different people respond to the same event. Where some feel empowered, others appear destroyed.
I was complimented on my resiliency long before I understood what it really meant. I suppose being a kid who witnessed a family tragedy, the expectations were pretty low. I was fortunate, I’ve since learned, to be one of those kids considered naturally resilient.
It wasn’t until adolescence though when I started to question, “Was I really OK?”, that suddenly I wasn’t. I began to overthink everything and unravel some of the basic pillars of what I now know to be resilience that had once come so effortlessly.
Resilience is not only about survival (coping and managing), it’s about thriving (doing what matters most and enhancing and optimizing well-being).* I pride myself now on continually seeking to thrive, but I’d say there was at least a good decade where my life could be described as more or less self medicated coping and managing.
A pioneer of resilience research, Ann Masten, PhD, refers to it as “ordinary magic.” Here she is:
“Ancient tales suggest that as long as humans have told stories, they have been intrigued with people who overcome adversity to succeed in life. The scientific study of human resilience is more recent, dating back just a few decades. In the late 1960s and 1970s, a group of pioneering scientists set out to study risk for various emotional and behavioral problems in young people. They were surprised to discover how often individuals exposed to many kinds of adversities in life were turning out just fine. How could this be?
Resilience is common and it typically arises from the operation of normal rather than extraordinary human capabilities, relationships, and resources. In other words, resilience emerges from ordinary magic.”
The great news is for those who fear they missed the boat that resilience is not based on luck, you don’t have to be born with it. Even if you had it and lost it, like me, you can get it back. It’s a muscle that can be trained, but must also be used in order to stay fit.
Resilience can be cultivated through an intentional practice of mindfulness, meaningful connections and positive lifestyle choices.
It is not, however, a pathway to stress avoidance. Stress is natural, unavoidable, and gets a bad rap entirely, when really not all stress is so bad. Chronic stress, on the other hand, is toxic and has a major impact on our minds, bodies, and behavior.
And that’s where resilience comes in, our stress levels should be more like rolling hills than peaks and valleys–every bit in our control when we have the right tools.
My journey back to resilience began with gratitude, then came the obsession with studying those who have overcome huge adversity. Stories became my greatest teacher, not science.
Now I’m looking forward to making the connection between the stories and the science as well as digging deeper into the why and the how.
I’m only two weeks in and I’m as giddy as a kid going back-to-school shopping. More on what I learn to come, no doubt, but in the meantime …
I leave you with this: If you’re interested, join me in Ed X, I have vetted a couple of their courses and they are great. Or start practicing your own resilience methods, a self study of sorts, cultivating your perfect ordinary magic.
*Ed X, Becoming a Resilient Person