Practice These 3 Tips for a Happier Life
Can you recall the last time some adversity in your life occurred? It literally felt like you lost the wind from your sails or that your feet were swept out from under you? I can tell you that is exactly how I felt yesterday when I heard a family member needs some pretty serious medical treatment. Its times like this that we may reach for the following coping strategies:
- Pretend it isn’t happening (avoidant thinking, drinking, busy-ness, exercise)
- Push others away
- Get angry
- Blame others or yourself (guilt)
- Wallow in it
Chances are that these strategies (although they seem tempting) generally erode our ability to cope and cut us off from our support network. It would be great if we could just avoid stressful life events all together. In fact these events are a part and parcel of a full life. Despair, grief, stress, loss and uncertainty are all of part of being human. In living a full life we will face our fair share (if not more!) of these challenging times.
You may not be able to avoid these dark moments but you can certainly learn how to navigate through them with strength, courage and determination. The ability to bounce back and adapt in the face of challenges is called resilience. I want to share with you three evidence based strategies for building resilience.
“Rock bottom became the solid foundation in which I rebuilt my life.”
― J.K. Rowling
Self compassion is a term that is thrown around a lot these days but very few of us seem to have mastered it . Dr Kristin Neff describes self compassion as comprised of three elements namely these are :
Self Kindness versus Self Judgement
Accepting that we will not always get things right and that mistakes and imperfections are a part of being human allows us to be kind to ourselves rather than harshly critical. When faced with our own failure we can intensify this pain by being critical and judgemental. The alternative is to offer ourselves kindness, compassion and understanding. When you are able to be kind to yourself during these difficult moments you are more emotionally equanimous. In doing this you have reduced unnecessary suffering and have more energy for doing whatever it is that matters.
Mindfulness Versus Overidentification
Having a mindful awareness of your thoughts and feelings means having an openness, a curiosity and a willingness to experience them, without being entirely washed away by them. Mindfulness is often described as a type of special type of attention. In this sense it is the gentle awareness that we are indeed suffering that enables us to be self compassionate.
Common Humanity versus Isolation
When you are experiencing stress and hardship it is very easy to feel alone, cut off from others and think that no one understands or appreciates what you are going through. What is noteworthy though is that in these tough times most people feel this way. You are in fact not alone. All humans share the experience of suffering, it is an inevitable part of life. Remembering that all humans suffer and have feelings of inadequacy is an important part of self compassion.
Face Your Fears
Not all fear is a good thing, but if you are being confronted by fear when you are doing something that is meaningful to you, such as fear that presents when flying to visit your ageing grandma, or giving a presentation at a conference, then it is important to confront that fear. The urge to avoid things that scares us runs deep. However it is well demonstrated by countless research studies that gradually and persistently facing our fears helps to build courage and confidence over time.
The best way of approaching this task is to break down something larger into small achievable steps. For example if you have a fear of flying perhaps you can spend some time watching videos of planes, then visit the airport for the day, then see if you can sit on an aircraft with out flying, speak with the pilot or an engineer, eventually take a short flight and gradually increase this as you naturally develop confidence with flying. With every step that you take you will discover two things. Firstly, you will notice that you survived (it was not as dangerous as you anticipated) and secondly that you coped (it is likely that you were underestimating your capacity to cope with the situation). Over a lifetime of facing your fears you will discover a solid sense of resilience toward adversity.
Changing the Story
How you think about a situation contributes greatly to how you feel about it. When we are faced with struggles and hardship we often get stuck in ruminative, repetitive thought patterns that seem to negatively spiral. This can be exhausting and contributes to feelings of fear or loss.
There are a number of strategies for ‘changing the story’ or changing the way you think in ways which enhance your capacity to cope and bounce back from adversity. The practice of journal writing has indeed been around for many many years. Specifically expressive writing allows you to explore your thoughts and feelings about an issue deeply. In practicing this form of writing you are taking these thoughts from your mind and releasing them to paper. Doing this exercise we are likely to feel a greater sense of control, achieve more clarity, and perhaps develop different perspectives. Research demonstrates that doing this practice for 20 minutes a day, even just for 4 days will mean greater resilience, and this positive impact still exists 3 months later!
Practicing these three resilience building strategies will arm you with additional coping resources when tough times do inevitably arise. We cannot avoid suffering (and indeed you would not want to if it meant a life devoid of meaning) but we can learn ways of bouncing back and standing strong in the face of challenges.
Sam and The Team at Positive Mind Works