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Resilience: Specific Change Goals

Harry Mills, Ph.D. & Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

dartboad with goals on itHere are some suggestions for specific, achievable change goals you might work on for each of the major resilience characteristic areas you’ve learned about in this document:

Happiness

  • There is benefit to be had by acting as though you are happy even when you aren't, so long as you can approach this task with an open mind. Taking on the role of a happy person can be like priming a pump; at first it is just work and nothing much happens, but after a while the real thing start flowing: 
    • At least three times a day, try smiling more and acting as if you respect and like the people around you.
    • Project an optimistic attitude even when you don’t feel very optimistic.
     
  • View some funny movies or read some funny books. Share some funny jokes or watch a comedy routine that will help put you into a good mood. Expose yourself to situations that will get you laughing and feeling good.

Control

  • Take one difficult situation in your life that you do not have direct control over, and try approaching that situation in a positive way. For example, if you have a chronic health problem like Diabetes, rather than focusing on how your condition limits you, instead, make an effort to learn about the positive changes you can make that can help improve your health. For instance, adult-onset diabetic patients can often lessen their symptoms and decrease the harm their condition does to their bodies by making diet and exercise lifestyle changes. While diabetes may not go away, making such lifestyle changes can have a real and positive impact on the diabetic patient's life. Similar positive results can be had for other difficult life situations as well if you look for them.
  • Try accepting situations that are not possible to control rather than remaining angry and upset about them. The serenity prayer from Alcoholics Anonymous states, “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change; courage to change the things I can; and wisdom to know the difference.” The sentiment of this prayer is highly instructive and useful regardless of whether you are an alcoholic or believe in God. There are always situations that you cannot control, and learning when to let go of control appropriately can be just as empowering as knowing when to seek it.

Optimism

  • In order to train yourself to become more open to optimism, try the following "reframing" exercise. Think about a situation in your life about which you are pessimistic and gloomy. Then, dispute your pessimistic opinion by coming up with reasons why pessimism is not the best, most accurate or proper way to view that situation.

    If you find it difficult to step outside of your usual pessimistic stance, try viewing the situation from a less personal perspective. Pretend that your situation is happening to a friend and not to yourself. How would you advise your friend to view this situation? We are usually harder on ourselves than we are on others. For this reason viewing your own problem as though it was someone else's sometimes will help you see that problem in better perspective.

    The point of this exercise is to emphasize and draw attention to the real 'silver linings' that can be found inside even dark clouds. You want to point out good things that could realistically come from your difficult situation. Its important that the things you point out be realistic and possible because if they aren't, you won't be able to take comfort from them.

Mindfulness

  • Several times each day, give your full attention to whatever you happen to be doing at that time. When you are sitting, just sit but be very aware of yourself sitting. When you are eating, just eat but be very aware of yourself eating. When you are listening to music, listen with awareness. No matter what you are doing at any given moment, take the time to truly focus on what you are doing.
  • When we try to divide our focus between several tasks we lose part of the experience of completing each individual task. To combat this distraction, arrange at least a part of your day so that you can focus exclusively on something you want or need to do. During this time, refuse to multi-task. Shut out distractions as best you can. To the extent you focus on doing something you enjoy, you may find yourself entering into a state of 'flow' after a while.

Communication

  • Find reasons to sincerely compliment someone you care about, and then actually compliment them. Do this one or more times each day. Be genuine and sincere when you do this, and watch the reciprocity principle kick in to start deepening your relationship.
  • Read a book about becoming more assertive or take an assertiveness class. Practice being assertive in your everyday conversations: 
    • Don’t let things build up until you are ready to explode. Talk about what is bothering you at your earliest convenience.
    • Make requests in a calm, respectful and rational way that will let the person you are talking with know that your goal is simply to resolve the conflict.
    • Talk about your own experience instead of attacking or judging.
    • Inquire as to how the other person is feeling. Allow them a chance to address the issues.
    • Always offer the other person a way to save face.
     
  • If people you care about have complained about your temper, take an anger management class, and/or read about ways to bring your anger under better control.

Intimacy

  • Improve your intimate relationship by it a priority. Make time to spend alone with your partner. For example, if you and your spouse have young children, set aside one night a week as a "date night" when you can get away from family stresses and take some time out to focus on each other. Planning ahead can help keep these interactions relaxed and positive and can ensure that you can each give your undivided attention to one another. Also, make sure to set aside some "family" time during which all family members can bond with one another as a group.
  • It is also important to nurture your friendships. Find at least one hour every few weeks to share with close friends. Sharing activities that each of you would otherwise do alone (such as exercising) is an efficient way to make this happen. If you have more time, make a date with your friend to share a meal, or attend a social or entertainment event you both like. Whatever you do, don't wait around for your friend to make the first move. Remember that it is the mutual responsibility of each person involved in a relationship to keep it alive.

Compassion

  • Make a list of ways to enrich the lives of other people; people you care about and also strangers. Then start doing the things you've listed so as to make a difference for other people. A simple way to get started is to volunteer to do a task that your spouse usually does. You could also spend an hour each week doing volunteer work at your child’s school, or at a local shelter or soup kitchen. Don't advertise the fact that you are doing these things. Making a big deal about your generosity will subtract from your generosity; your project will become manipulative rather than generous. Instead, simply do these things and be content with the intrinsic rewards that will surely follow. Helping others will enhance your own life, help you to experience the joy of helping other people, and motivate you to make similar gestures in the future.