Resilience: The Art of Bouncing Back
“The secret of life, though, is to fall seven times and to get up eight times.” — Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist
Human beings are not immune to suffering and hardship. At some point in our lives, we will likely experience the pain of loss, hurt, or trauma. When disaster strikes, how do people move forward? How do they survive? What can we learn from individuals who have experienced intense suffering and move on to live fulfilling lives?
People all over the world have experienced trauma. Wars, genocide, poverty, natural disasters and terrorism have visited almost every country on the planet. Yet, nations, communities, and individuals have survived. Can we take a lesson from those who experience trauma and emerge stronger on the other side? What qualities do they have that allow them to experience suffering and then move forward with their lives?
Edison Pena is one such example. In 2010, Pena was one of 33 Chileans who became trapped in a collapsed mine for 69 days. He experienced the horror of not being able to escape and in his own words, described the mine as a “living hell.” During the first few days after the accident, Pena found himself feeling sick and reaching his emotional breaking point. It was then that he made the decision to start running. Facing 90 degree heat and humidity, he committed to 3–6 miles per day and ran to his favorite songs by Elvis Presley on his iPod. Pena recruited another miner to start running with him and quickly earned the nickname “the runner.”
Less than three weeks after his rescue, Edison Pena completed the New York City marathon. His intention was to motivate people and “convince them they can do what they set out to do in life.”
How did Pena survive trauma and go on to complete this stunning achievement? One word — resilience.
Resilience is the virtue that enables people to bounce back from hardship and become better. Pain, fear and suffering are an inevitable part of the human experience but it’s the choice we make to be resilient that can differentiate the outcome. Resilience is not something that comes naturally, it’s not easy, but anyone can cultivate it with an intentional choice.
How do we become resilient? Do we learn it? Sort of. We can read about it, but it’s a virtue that requires commitment and action. We can cultivate resilience in four ways: 1. Focus, 2. Feeling, 3. Model, and 4. Practice.
The first way seems simple. Make a choice to focus on the positive. Set an intention. Commit. Reframe your story and find a positive way to move forward. Law of attraction states that what you focus on expands. Try to focus on the good of what comes next and less on the pain of the past (keep in mind that I am not telling you to ignore your feelings — more to come on that). Every day when you wake up, remind yourself of your focus and don’t beat yourself up when you slip into a ‘downward spiral’. Just focus again on your intention the next day.
The second way to become resilient is to honor your feelings — first the uncomfortable, then the comfortable. In order to process pain and grief, it’s important to experience the feelings. Cry, get angry, exercise, create — anything to let it out. It’s not good for you to keep it inside. Intense emotions emerge eventually. Once you feel lighter, conjure your desired feelings. For most people, this is joy and love. You can do this by focusing on activities or people that ‘light you up’, or simply meditating or visualizing something that helps conjure those feelings. Again, law of attraction states that like attracts like. When you feel more joy, you’ll notice joyful people and experiences will come into your life.
Next, seek out a mentor or role model. Studies show that a single person can make a difference in your life. Many adults fondly recall one teacher who encouraged them to follow their dreams and believe in themselves. One of the most famous examples of resilience, Oprah Winfrey, stated “my father turned my life around by insisting that I be more than I was. His love of learning showed me the way.” Find a role model. Connect. Believe what they say about you. Use their words to motivate you.
Finally, and most importantly, practice. Don’t expect the clarity to come all at once. Learning a new skill requires patience and commitment. Cultivate resilience through daily practice. Meditate, journal, set intentions, and make time for joy.
Is resilience one way for individuals, communities and even countries, to move through hardship? I believe it’s the ONLY way. With resilience brings joy, hope and love. If we can cultivate it individually, it will naturally spread to the people around us every single day. How about that for a domino effect?