Resilience Tip - Problem-solving Orientation


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.


In my absence over the last several months I have been practicing a great deal of resilience. In addition to some on-going family medical issues, new challenges included an unexpected move, and someone totaling my car three days prior to the actual moving day (leading to unexpected car research and purchase). The phrase: "We plan and G-d laughs." frequently ran through my head.

One of the concepts that frequently appeared as I dealt with the various challenges, and as I worked with new and existing clients in their own challenges, is the importance of adapting a challenge into a form where it can be "problem-solved". Having a problem-solving orientation is considered one of the characteristics of high levels of resilience. Once a challenge is in problem-solvable form, we can take steps to address and relieve the issue while feeling genuinely better about our ability to act and influence the situation - rather than the usually less pleasant feeling of being controlled by the situation.

Several tools stood out in particular in these months that facilitated this problem-solving orientation and execution. Some are not new, and, I believe worth repeating.

1. The "Serenity Prayer". Whether or not you call this or use this as a prayer, or think of it as that Alcoholics Anonymous thing (the origin most people are familiar with), or however else you want to label and relate to it - this is an incredibly insightful, powerful, and useful guideline. "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." Often challenges feel initially overwhelming. (You can check with my insurance guy on this one, claiming "I don't have time for this!" did not seem to have much impact on the world around me.) Distinguishing where we can influence and where we cannot, checking how to influence where we believe we can, and letting go of the rest - this helps focus our thoughts and our energies. It is difficult to problem-solve something that is out of our control. Sorting out the situation through the Serenity Prayer focuses us toward where our problem-solving energies can have the greatest effect.

2. Chunking. Large and complicated tasks can be similarly overwhelming. Chunking is breaking something down into manageable parts. "Researching a new car" can feel large and abstract, where swirling thoughts may rule over productive actions. Chunking into more concrete and manageable actions makes addressing the challenge more operational; for example, making a list of online resources to check, and making a list of dealers who may be helpful in providing information. Similarly, finding time to research a new car can stay frustratingly in the abstract. Once a task has been chunked, problem-solving its execution becomes easier, such as finding two hours during the day to go to dealers, and setting aside two hours in the evening to do some online research.

3. "Not Doing Now List". The pace and mounds of information of "our current world" can add items to our "To Do List" at a dizzying rate. Even when we are able to filter out the really important stuff, the list may still seem ridiculously long, and we may feel discomfortingly inadequate in our ability to address the items on our list. The "Not Doing Now List" is a wonderful list that keeps things on our radar that we know we really do want to achieve, while knowing it is not reasonable or appropriate to attempt to address them during the current period of time. Transferring items to this list means you have a realistic chance at reaching those items that remain on your "To Do list", and reduces the likelihood of guilt feelings around an impossible To Do List, important as guilt tends to hinder rather than enhance one's effectiveness. At one point I  wrote a "Give Yourself a Break Pre-Move List" when I realized there was absolutely no practical way I was going to be able to do all the things I would have ideally done before moving a household, and wrote a bare-bones essential pre-move To-Do list that I could actually accomplish given the particulars of my situation, and feel good in that accomplishment.

This problem-solving orientation did not make it all "ok". Sustained and tiring effort was required, and some things got dropped (such as the Resilience Tips). And, the essentials got taken care of, and now there is time to catch up on what is still relevant. I allowed myself a few emotional outbursts, and a few "if only it could have been different". And, continuing to mull over the past works against rather than toward a problem-solving orientation, for there is little we can do about what happened in the past other than to think of lessons learned and how to apply them in the future. And, I am thoroughly enjoying my new car and new apartment in Jerusalem.

If you know of anyone who might enjoy these tips, in Jerusalem and elsewhere, please have them contact me and I will add them directly to my mailing list.

Carolyn S. Tal, PhD
Psychologist and Consultant
Working with individuals and partners in
developing resilience and related issues