Featured Author - Michele Swensen
Choose Resilience and Positive Thinking
If you’re not a fan of history, you might not know much about President Teddy Roosevelt. He served as America’s 26th president from 1901-1909. What makes him more interesting, in my opinion, is how he embodied resilience and positive thinking.
On October 14, 1912, Teddy Roosevelt was scheduled to give a speech in front of a crown at an auditorium in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. As he started to get into his car outside the Gilpatrick Hotel, a man standing 5 feet away in the crowd surrounding him shot him in the chest with a Colt Revolver.
Don’t you think most people would freak out at that point and rush to the nearest hospital?
President Roosevelt did not. His aides wanted to rush him to the hospital, of course, but Teddy refused. Bleeding from the chest, he marched into the auditorium, determined to give his 90-minute speech. He said, ““It takes more than that to kill a bull moose”.
Short of breath from the gun wound, he stood at the podium and delivered his entire 50-page speech in front of the stunned audience.
That’s resilience and positive thinking.
You Have a Choice
It’s no secret that life knocks us down at times. Some people get knocked down harder and more often than others, and sometimes it just seems like it’s just one thing after another without end. But no one escapes from life unscathed.
Some people suffer the worst, but bounce back and step into the ring again, while others succumb and wallow in self-pity, blame, anger, or depression.
Why is that?
Are some people just naturally better at handling adversity than others?
Not at all.
Anyone can learn to be more resilient and positive. And making that choice, every single day, can improve your health, prolong your life, increase your social engagement, and make life a whole lot more enjoyable.
Characteristics of Resilient Positive Thinkers
There are a lot of factors that coalesce to form a tough, resilient mindset, just as there are many that cause people adopt a weak, unempowered mindset. How you were raised, the culture you live in, the people you regularly hang out with, and your life experiences are just a few.
But, the past is gone, so why worry about that? Why you are the way you are doesn’t matter as much as how you choose to be from here on out. So, I won’t delve into the theories about why some people have grit and others do not.
But, you need to know what characterizes a person with resiliency.
Simply put, resilient people take the hard stuff that life throws at them, but they choose to not let it get them down. They bounce back quickly.
It all starts with your thoughts.
When bad things happen, resilient people tend to:
- Look for something good hidden amongst the bad
- Realize that it’s not permanent
- Learn from it or extract some useful meaning from it
- Not personalize it
- Accept things as they are instead of focusing on what “should be”
- Understand their own strengths and weaknesses
- Take responsibility for their actions and feel like they can control their reactions. They don’t sit around blaming external people and events.
- Empathize with others.
- Don’t run, hide, or distract themselves from unpleasantness or pain.
- Don’t generalize (e.g., “All people are bad”, “This always happens to me”, etc).
- Move on. They leave the past in the past. For example, they don’t hold a grudge about a rude comment someone made for the next 10 years.
How to Become More Resilient
There are things you can do to become more resilient and positive. Of course, you have to practice these habits regularly. You can’t exercise for two days and quit and then expect to be fit for the rest of your life. Similarly, you have to make the choice to practice positivity and resilience every day.
Here are some techniques to help you on your journey:
Don’t focus on the bad.
The brain is wired to focus on negative things and ignore the positive. Make it a point to monitor your thoughts throughout the day. There’s good and bad in every situation. Look for the good and focus on that. I guarantee you, it’s there if you just look for it.
Humor softens the blows of life and reduces stress levels. No matter what is happening, find humor somewhere. Loosen up and practice how to not take things so seriously. If it will be funny later, it can be funny now.
Step Outside Yourself
It’s easier to be resilient when you step outside yourself. There are a couple useful techniques you can adopt.
First, address yourself in the third person. If you talk to yourself with statements like, “Joe, you know what you need to do…”, you create some emotional distance between you and the situation and helps you cope better.
Second, imagine an image of yourself standing next to you. Remember that you are not the events surrounding you or the thoughts in your head. You are more than that. Picture yourself floating high above the situation, up through the ceiling, on into the clouds, then high above the Earth. Instead of focusing on yourself, this helps you regain perspective. Seeing the whole world below you full of people who are afflicted with problems helps you to realize that your problem isn’t the huge deal that it appears to be.
If you walk around trying to control everything or judging everything with thoughts like, “This should be like this” and “She should be like that”, you will have a hard time rolling through the inevitable punches that will come your way.
Practice mindfulness, acceptance, and surrender. Stand back and let things be exactly as they are. Don’t try to control, manipulate, or run away from what is. A good example of living with surrender is The Surrender Experiment by Michael A. Singer. He describes his 40-year journey to just surrender and “accept what is”. It’s an interesting read!
Gratitude can go a long way in building resiliency. When the whole world is falling apart around you, you can still stand there and find things to be grateful for. Are you breathing? Are there people who love you? Can you see? Are you not in jail? Are you well-fed and healthy? Are you able to walk, talk, and run? The list goes on. Set a reminder on your phone to stop and be grateful a few times each day or jot a few notes in a journal before you go to sleep.
Don’t Assume Things are Permanent
There is only one thing that’s guaranteed in life, and that’s change. Nature is all about change. Nothing lasts forever. Life is like a pendulum that always swings from one side the other. It may have been horrible yesterday, but today can be good. It will always fluctuate, and nothing can persist indefinitely.
When you find yourself thinking things like, “This will always be like that”, or “All corporations are ____”, catch yourself and realize that you’re generalizing. Don’t assume things will always be this way. Remind yourself that whatever is happening is temporary. It’s just an experience that’s happening right now, but it will be over with soon. Something new will take its place.
Feel the Gamut of Emotions
It’s natural to want to avoid pain. In fact, people do some really crazy things just to try to avoid pain in one format or another. Don’t be like them.
When you’re sad, depressed, angry, or experience any negative feeling, embrace it. Feel it deeply. Feeling this way affirms that you are alive and that you are a vital part of nature. Let it wash over you. If you don’t resist, it will fill you for a while, then it will pass on by. Feel it, but let it go.
Pain and failure aren’t things to run away from. Those are the experiences that make us grow strong and learn valuable lessons. Yes, it sucks, but it makes you a better person. Glean meaning from it. Pain enables you to grow in ways that nothing else can.
There Are a Plethora of Benefits
Why should you put in all that work and effort to monitor your thoughts and change your natural reactions? Well, science has studied resiliency and positive thinking for a long time, and there are some pretty sweet benefits from adopting a resilient attitude.
Adopting a habit of resilient and positive thinking:
- Allows you to recover from stressful situations more quickly.
- Strengthens your immune system
- Makes people want to be around you. No one likes hanging out with people who are negative all the time, but they love to hang around confident, strong people.
- Makes life more enjoyable.
- Can prolong your life.
- Can improve your memory.
- Creates more self-confidence.
- Increases empathy and altruism.
When life throws you a curveball, you always have a choice. You can succumb, or you can thrive. You, and only you, get to make that decision. Use the techniques here to help you become more resilient, gain control over your thoughts, and live a happier, healthier, and more enriched life.