What happens when you’re faced with a crisis? Do you crumple in a heap or do you really come into your own and thrive? Research has shown that when faced with major life changes, 5-10 percent of people break down, get sick or even die with the strain. The vast majority of us simple muddle through but, at the other end of the spectrum, are a very interesting 5-10 percent who actually become more alive, more vibrant, more energized. They positively blossom when confronted by trauma.
This lucky group of people have fascinated scientists who have set out to discover what makes some people possess “change resilience”. Foremost amongst these studies are the pioneering work of Dr Krobasa at the City University of New York and that of Dr Kenneth Pelletier, director of Stanford University’s Corporate Health Program. From these and other studies, researchers have discovered that there are seven key principles which can help everyone – not just the lucky few – live in balance and harmony. Living in Balance by Joel Levey and Michelle Levey (Divine Arts) explains how to bomb proof your life. Change resilience helps you weather the inevitable storms and enjoy everything life throws at you.
This is a feature I wrote for the Daily Mail many years ago and I recently re-read it and found the advice the Leveys give is pretty good. The book has been reprinted too – so it’s well worth nabbing a copy.
THE SEVEN KEYS TO BECOMING CHANGE RESILIENT
1. ADOPT A POSITIVE ATTITUDE: Do you view the stresses and strains of daily life as a threat, or as a challenge and opportunity? People who are able to take change in their stride and respond in a balanced way tend to have a more empowering attitude to life. They have the confidence and trust that they can handle challenging situations and affect the course of their lives for the better. They view change as an opportunity, not a threat. The attitude you bring to life will colour your world, for better or for worse. Adopting an optimistic attitude towards the world at large and the day to day challenges will make you far more creative and able to come up with solutions.
• Start to recognize the attitudes you hold to life – are they generally positive and upbeat or negative and depressive?
• Try altering your reactions – see how different it feels to be appreciative rather than critical, for example.
• Resist the temptation to feel like a victim of fate. How different do you feel when you stop seeing yourself as a victim and take a more empowered attitude?
• Try using positive affirmations such as “I am a successful person” or “I feel safe and secure at all times.”
2. BE ACCOUNTABLE: People who are change resilient focus on what they can do and don’t waste energy over what is outside their control. At the same time, they hold themselves accountable for their lives, don’t avoid problems and are willing to own the part they play in a situation. To get a sense of this, draw three concentric circles on a piece of paper. Label the inner circle “control” and in it write or think about all the things in your life over which you have direct control. Label the second circle “influence” and identify all the things in your life over which you don’t have total control but which you can influence by your actions. Now label the third and largest circle “learn from” and pause to note all the factors and forces in your life that are too large, complex or distant for you to feel much of a sense of influence. Many of these forces, such as the bureaucracy, the government, the weather, taxes etc are beyond your control or influence yet many people exhaust themselves struggling against, worrying or complaining about these large and unwieldy forces.
Take on board the words of St Francis who prayed, “God, Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
3. HAVE A SENSE OF COMMITMENT: People with resilience live and work with a strong and clear sense of purpose. They view themselves as having a meaningful role to fulfill and hold a strong inner belief in its importance. Commitment brings balance into your life by giving more focus and clarity of purpose. It helps you stay tuned to what has meaning and importance, increasing your energy and attention while reducing distraction. When you know what you are committed to, you’ll be better able to set and stick to priorities, to recognise and honour limits and live with integrity. Many of us feel that we cannot give our full commitment because the job we do or the life we lead is not our ideal. Years ago, when I first started working, I had a job as a box office assistant, selling tickets all day for exhibitions. It wasn’t my ideal job by any means and most of the people I worked with just went through the motions. One day a friend and I decided we would be the best box office assistants ever – giving the best possible service. The job changed immediately – I actually really enjoyed it. My supervisor was amazed at the number of customers who made a point of seeking her out to praise my attitude! However mundane your work, find the good in it and give it your all.
4. ENJOY SUPPORTIVE RELATIONSHIPS: Time and time again, studies show that if you want to live long and adapt well to the changing fortunes of life, it helps to have people around you. A loving partner is one of the best protections against mental and physical illness. A solid support network of friends and family is equally important. The researchers found that the risk factors for a person who is lonely are far greater than for a person who smoked, drinks, eats a poor diet and doesn’t exercise! People simply cope with life’s stresses far better if they have a supportive network of close relations and friends than if they feel alone, isolated and unsupported.
• Do you keep in touch with friends and family? Try to foster closer relationships.
• Have you fallen out with relatives or friends? Could you be the one to rekindle the relationship?
• If you live alone, try joining an evening class, gym or group with similar interests. If you feel really alone, a pet can also help.
5. GIVE SERVICE: The idea of “giving service” is very unfashionable at present but when we help others we are tapping into deep reserves of love and compassion. Highly change-resilient people view service as their true mission in life, and hold material wealth and success as secondary to helping others. They have a strong sense of belonging and understand the value of nurturing relationships with all kinds of people. Many people find that making time in their lives to be of service to others provides a quality of joy and satisfaction that is deeply renewing. Vivienne, a 43 year old solicitor, was surprised to find her whole life changed when she started volunteering at a women’s refuge. “I felt I had so much in my life, I wanted to give something back. At first I just went in to offer free legal advice but soon found I wanted to help in other ways. Now I have become really involved in the centre and with the women who live there. It has totally shifted my view of life and I feel I am a more worthwhile person for it. I find I am not so hung up on kudos and my position in life. I’ve become far more relaxed and self-accepting of myself.”
6. KNOW YOURSELF: People who understand the importance of self-development and who have cultivated a high degree of self-knowledge are the ones most able to sail through difficult times with a sense of balance. The researchers found they have learned to listen and respond to their intuition – they know when they are drifting off course. They have learned to eat when they are hungry, and to rest when they are tired. By recognizing and dealing with stress, they are able to live far more healthily and happily. Such people rarely use stimulants such as caffeine, sugar and nicotine. Instead they tend to eat healthily and use exercise as a means of stress control and relaxation. Because they treat their bodies and minds well, they tend to have higher degrees of self-confidence, self-control, self-acceptance and self-respect.
• You can make self-mastery part of your life by gradually introducing healthier habits. Try giving up coffee and tea – use herbal teas instead.
• Start listening to your body. Are you really hungry – or just thirsty? Do you really want to go out, or would you rather have an early night?
• Take up some form of exercise – it doesn’t have to be vigorous; you could try yoga, Pilates, qi gong or tai chi.
7. HAVE FAITH: In a society which seems to be turning away from God, it is perhaps surprising to find that the change-resilient super-people all had a spiritual, if not religious, attitude to life. Holding a spiritual frame of reference or reverence appears to develop our faith, confidence and trust. It reduces the intensity of toxic, worrisome emotions and destructive behaviour. People with a deep spiritual perspective often say that it is their faith that helps them see their lives within a larger perspective and gives them a sense of belonging to a greater whole. For many, spirituality is anchored in the fellowship, community and worship associated with their church, synagogue or meditation group. For others the spiritual grounding of their lives is found in communion with nature, or through their love for family and friends, or through service to others.
Janice, a 51 year old editor, finds enormous comfort from Christianity. “I don’t make a song and dance about it, in fact I rarely tell people because I hate the idea of coming across as a happy-clappy evangelist,” she says, “but my faith is the bedrock of my life. If I feel down, I do pray and God does seem to answer. I love the ritual and comfort of going to church and to prayer meetings. It centres me. I wouldn’t say I think about religion that much through my working day but it’s just there in the background, keeping me sane.”