Research reveals the mindsets and behaviors we need to cultivate resilience.
Some resilience researchers worry that we’re asking narrow questions about individual behavior and overlooking social context. They’re working to elevate the conversation to include systems analysis so we can foster collective resilience.
Using social network analysis theory, an interdisciplinary research team comprised of Jessica Shaw, Kate McLean, Bruce Taylor, Kevin Swartout, and Katie Querna point out that most of our stories of resilience are conjured up through the lens of highly romanticized, individualistic, against-the-odds ideals. We can’t get enough of rags-to-riches and setback-to-comeback stories, but we rarely stop and look at why they were necessary at all.
The authors make the point that hyping displays of grit and mental strength while ignoring the social context, which created the need for these traits, to begin with, reinforces a narrow, dominant group view of resilience.
There is also a lot of public judgment and blaming that goes on, which critiques and points fingers, making people internalize shame instead of seeing the social forces bearing down upon us.
This can give the toxic inner critic license to nag. We think and say things like:
If I haven’t earned perfect scores or followed a straight and narrow academic or job path, I’m a failure. If I didn’t do well in school early in life, I’m done. This string of bad relationships means I’ll never find love. When I mess up, I’m an idiot.
Resilient people know that it’s not productive to marinate in anxiety and take everything personally without factoring in context.
Research shows that resilient people have learned to catch themselves in the act when thoughts start to spiral downwards. Instead, they rely on the mindsets and behaviors that allow them to push through and ignore the chirping of the toxic inner critic.
Refuse to have a myopic world view. They see themselves in context and work to unlearn and resist the social conditioning that breeds disparities and discrimination.
Align values to behavior. They know their strengths, worth, and value set. They do not fall for pressures to be someone else, socially compare, or end up striving for definitions of success that do not allow them to engage in life creatively.
Are agile. When things don’t go as planned, they readjust expectations and work to construct a new approach. They are masters at pivoting, avoiding rigid thoughts and behaviors that cause us to lament when change is the only constant.
Invest themselves in a strong support network. They have moved from “me” to “we” and know that growth, healing, learning, unlearning, and resilience all happen in a community. They avoid isolation and loneliness, which are major health risks in today’s always-on world.
Are tireless discoverers. They see that learning is everything, and everything is learning. When they don’t know something, it generates curiosity and excitement, not fear.
Engage in self-care. They know that sustainability doesn’t magically appear, given the intensity of life. They give themselves permission to take regular, ritualized breaks within their day. They pay attention to nurturing and protecting their mind, body, and soul.
Reach out for help. They do not fall for the bait of their toxic inner critic, which wants to conjure up shame and imposter feelings. They recognize asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.
Work to make social context better. They know that by investing themselves as conscientious citizens, they can foster needed social change. They do not just seek to protect those they think like or affiliate with but invest in spreading kindness and compassion that fosters resilience for all.
Reflect on your own resilience. What shifts might help you cultivate it? Who can you enlist to help you?
Shaw, J., McLean, K. C., Taylor, B., Swartout, K., & Querna, K. (2016). Beyond resilience: Why we need to look at systems too. Psychology of Violence, 6(1), 34–41.
Lee, K (2018). Mentalligence: A New Psychology of Thinking: Learn what it takes to be more agile, mindful and connected in today’s world. HCI Books: Deerfield Beach.