Friday, 27 May 2016

Part 3: The Eight Fold Paths to Resilience & Whacked out Helplessness

This is the third and concluding part of the Article Series on the 8-fold paths to the “Whacked-Out” state and an abiding state of resilience.

You’re about to read Part 3 of this series. Here, we’ll look at Perspective, Social Awareness, Support System, and Habits & Routines.

In Part 2, we had looked at Self Awareness, Self Talk, Connectedness and Coping.


Developing a clearer perspective is very integral to all the sections covered so far. A few important points are mentioned here separately. Taking an expansive view of events and situations is critical so that you don't miss out on the larger picture. Again, larger picture may be an overused cliche, but important nevertheless. Let’s find out how to get that expansive view.

Thought “Repatterning”: Our minds can become addicted to certain straitjacketed patterns. This is usually caused by the thinking or cognitive errors and biases that we’ve seen in earlier articles. Minimization, exaggeration, catastrophe fixation, discounting of positives, black-and-white over-simplification, mind reading, global labeling, and an unhealthy obsession to prove one’s point, are some of the common errors and biases that lead to a distorted perspective.

It is important to observe and examine your own assumptions, and even heuristics, to weed out such thinking errors. Do it without self-flagellation. Only few people get this far. Most others are condemned to stay trapped in these biases and limiting assumptions! So, you must actually pat yourself on the back for having the courage to examine and challenge these patterns. And Re-pattern them for the better!

Thought Re-patterning needs a calm and composed state of mind. Relaxation processes can work wonders! When do you decide to go for thought re-patterning? Whenever you feel strong emotions or certain “well-known” courses of action are not yielding the results you want.

Thought re-patterning can also provide relief from self-induced stress and related health problems. After all, you’re opening up more options and possibilities with this freedom. Read the section on Self-Talk in this article again. Generous acknowledgement (to self and others), gratitude and appreciation are shortcut keys that make thought re-patterning very powerful.

Follow-up thought re-patterning with re-framing. Re-framing allows you to look for the “blessing-in-disguise” that came along with a setback. Search far and wide and find it out for sure. Every crisis or setback or failure holds certain lessons and meanings for us. Ignoring the lesson may mean you’re condemned to repeat the experience again and again. Sometimes, the lesson can be hard to absorb, as you may not be in a position to immediately fix it or do something about it. Even then, acknowledge yourself for having shifted your understanding to a higher plane. Isn't that really significant? You’ll actually loosen the stranglehold of events, even if just a little bit. Every bit matters indeed.

De-personalization is one form of re-framing that can be useful. Don't imagine you are the only one going through crises and setbacks. Look around and you’ll see many people have similar or worse problems in their lives.

Balancing internal & external locus of control also helps you with thought re-patterning. What’ll convince you that you have the power to influence events and outcomes in your life? What is keeping the situation stagnant, and what can you do to change it? What is likely to aggravate or confuse the situation, making progress difficult? Take actions accordingly, so that you’ll generate examples and reference point experiences to boost your level of internal locus of control. These reference points help you develop stronger beliefs and positive attitudes, and leverage. At the same time, don’t drive yourself crazy by going to extreme levels and blaming yourself for everything that’s gone wrong. Moderation is key.  

Re-framing also lets you look at options, choices and decisions. If big decisions are difficult, take the smaller steps and shake off the inertia and lethargy. Don’t overload yourself with the feverishness of change.

Social Awareness

Better social awareness helps you understand others, their situations, dreams, aspirations, struggles, worries, and motivations. The factors that we saw in self awareness are applicable here too. You can use this understanding to forge meaningful connections with others. This is vital for you to develop a good social support system, another key ingredient for resilience. It will also allow you to avoid misunderstandings. Many relationships suffer due to limited social awareness. The good news is that it can be developed with practice.

To develop social awareness, these are the two most important skills that you must focus on: Empathy and Effective listening. 

Empathy is the ability to understand and feel what another person is feeling and experiencing. Imagine your friend is extremely angry about a certain incident, and you’re wondering what’s the big deal. Obviously you are looking at the situation with your own criteria, and to you it appears that “things aren't that bad”. In order to be empathic, you’ll have to temporarily “suspend” these opinions and perspectives of yours, and “see” it from his/her position, their own experiences, contexts and situations. Unless you do this, you are still using your own prism to conclude that it isn't a big deal. Instead, you are taking note of what has led him/her to this state of mind. Your objective is to get this richer understanding with a wider set of data points and information. Later, you may still revert to your own conclusion and understanding. Or, you may see it in a different light. But, this isn't about you. So, focus on the other person.

This enhanced understanding can help you develop better rapport with the person. It also enables better listening. You are now able to see and hear much more than what the words alone convey. The tone, tenor, intonation, non-verbal expressions, gestures are all very important. Listen for what is said, and also what is left out. What is being ignored? What are the emotions that the person is experiencing? What must be driving those emotions? If the person seems to be afraid about it, what is causing it? Speak with genuine interest and let it show in your body language. Ask “clean” questions that aren't pre-programmed to get responses you want. Instead, use non-directive open formatted questions that give you more information. You could confirm the underlying drivers for their emotions and behaviors. All this while, make sure you are listening with rapt attention, and not rehearsing quick smart come-back lines that make you look uber-cool and intelligent! 

I have covered tips for effective listening skills in some of my other articles. You can check out the section on “Presence” in my article on building trust.

Support System

Developing and nurturing an effective support system is worth all its time and energy to make you more resilient. The idea is to make effective use of your support system, and not to be unnecessarily dependent on it.

“Emotional Bank Account” by Stephen Covey is one framework that I have found to be very useful. Most relationships can reach their full potential if the emotional bank account has a very good balance. Those small and big, and important acts of kindness, of showing you care, standing up for them, being present with them, words of appreciation, gestures of acknowledgement, empathic listening, are all effective ways in which you can make credits into the emotional bank account. On the other hand, every time you miss reciprocating a good gesture, or fail to stand up for someone, you are making debits from the emotional bank account. The balance is getting depleted slowly. The cold shouldering, the subtle put-downs, outright ignoring, all take a toll on the bank account. If there are no credits happening, the relationship soon reaches a point of no return, and even the slightest provocation may end up damaging it irreparably. Check out the health of your emotional bank accounts in order to strengthen your connections and bonds.

I also believe that managing your own energy helps you to spend quality time with people in your support system. Imagine talking to your amazing colleague in the coffee lounge, and yawning away to glory while she talks animatedly about her promotion! Poor energy levels also reduce the quality of your “presence”, again limiting your ability to make good rapport and connect well.

Add value to the lives of others, so that your name figures prominently in their support system too. This is a two-way street after all.

It is also important to move away from victim hood and stop seeking rescuers to save you from distress! Resilience requires focus on solutions, outcomes, possibilities, and decisions. The support system works best that way, as people enjoy standing up for those who stand up for themselves too!
Develop close bonds with those who speak the truth without much bother! You want your support system to provide you with the right acknowledgement and positive reinforcement. But, you also want people to tell you frank opinions, and show you the mirror (respectfully of course). Seek out such folks and get them to be part of your network. Return the favor too!

Where possible, connect with people who have strong networks themselves.

Your support system of course includes your family and close friends. Make sure you’re prominent in their support systems too! That’s the only way it can work well in the long run.

And keep promoting some of the deserving ones to the role of mentors, coaches and role models too!

Habits & Routine

We have seen various facets of what it takes to build resilience against shocks, surprises and pressures in life. Some of them have a distinct long-term outlook and cant work as quick fixes or workarounds. It is almost like shifting to a new way of life. Be it in your personal life or at workplace, such institutionalization can only happen by building habits and routines.

The main idea is to make it part of the default settings in your life! To bring predictability and stability. So, go ahead and squeeze in some of that extra me-time every now and then, but in a regular manner. Don't overdo the extreme routine rigor either. Keep some flexibility at your disposal too! It prevents stagnation and allows a clearer flow.

Take out time to nurture your support system, and do it consistently so that the emotional bank account has an impressive balance. You’ll become better at social awareness with more practice listening and speaking effectively. We discussed earlier that maintaining your energy is extremely important. I’d recommend practices that help you boost your stamina and also provide deep relaxation at mental, muscular and emotional levels. It’ll flood your brain with positive hormones, again helping you strengthen your resilience levels. The perfect way to work on your connectedness, self talk and self awareness too!

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