Resilience is the ability to cope well with difficulties and to bounce back from setbacks.
While some people are naturally more resilient than others, resiliency can also be intentionally developed.
Focusing on Desired vs. Undesired
Humans seem naturally inclined to focus on what is not good, on what to fix or change, on what to stop doing, on what we do not want. We seem less naturally inclined to focus on what is going well, on what to keep doing, on what we want. There was likely evolutionary adaptive-ness to this, and there remain times when this way of thinking is critically important. And, we may have developed a “limp” in our thinking, where focusing on what to change and what we do not want leads to an underdevelopment of our focusing on what to continue and on what we do want.
One area where this particularly stands out is in goal-setting. Clients often tell me what they do not want: I want to stop working so hard. I want to stop eating so many sweets. I want to stop arguing with my spouse so much. These are great starting points in the identification of goals, but what is critical is that goal identification does not stop at this point. It is great to zero in on the area we want different. Next, how do we want it to be?
Want to stop working so hard? Great. What do you want instead? More time with family? More time for recreational activities? More time for community work? More time for sitting quietly and re-charging your battery? By asking these more specific questions, you clarify where you want to get to, and so clarify what TO focus on, and so can start to productively work toward the goal.
If you are telling yourself all day, “not to work so hard”, “not to work so hard” – where is your focus all day? On potentially nebulous thoughts about “working so hard”, which is potentially exhausting in itself! Suppose you have identified your desired goal as more time with family. Your thoughts begin to focus on “more time with family”, which can lead to thoughts of actual actions to be taken, which in itself can be more motivating to finish work faster and/or more efficiently. Want more time to re-charge your battery? Focusing on this can help clarify what that actually means for you, and so how you might practically achieve your goal. We want our thoughts to be where we want our energy to be directed. Similarly, if you are frustrated with poor results from dieting when you are working so hard all day to avoid sweets, consider that this is not surprising when all day long you are focused on sweets! Rather, think about what you want to be eating.
Easier said than done? Of course it is. And, that is no reason not to begin to develop the muscle of focusing on the desired vs. the undesired. This, in turn, can lead you to re-discover qualities you have that may have atrophied from dis-use. Think back to times when you were not working so hard, when you were eating less sweets (or, eating more healthy, or sitting on the couch less), when you were arguing less with your spouse (or, had a calmer, or more harmonious relationship). What was there then, that you might strengthen now?
Clarifying your desired goal can lead you to thoughts and actions that will forward you toward that goal.
Carolyn S. Tal, PhD
Psychologist and Consultant - working with individuals, couples, and business partners