Even though most of us resist change, it offers unique opportunities to develop physical, mental and emotional resilience. People respond to change in two major ways: those who avoid change at all cost, and those who look for constructive ways to navigate through the change.
Avoidance serves an initial purpose in the change process: it offers you the chance to gather your energy, make sense of what happened, and plan what you want to do next. When avoidance leads to stalling, however, it can make you completely miserable because it will lead to excessive rumination, disempowerment, guilt and blame.
Whether you are still in shock and avoidance over events in your life, or whether you are actively looking for ways to heal and move forward, current research offers some guidelines to help you navigate the uncertain and often uncharted landscape of personal change, and become gain more emotional resilience to boot.
Responses to crisis are guided by how you conceptualize them. If you see yourself as victim in a situation from where you’ll never recover, then that is likely how you will continue to interpret new information as well. If, on the other hand, you interpret the situation as a difficult challenge that can be overcome with time, patience, skill and effort, then you significantly increase the probability of achieving that outcome.
Accept that transitions, crises, problems, and even tragedies are a part of life. You have not been singled out for special treatment – although it may feel that way at times! Change is a constant in life: careers, relationships, family situations, nature, health, the economy… you name it! At every level of life, changes occur around the clock, and these changes carry within them the seeds of new opportunity, breakthrough and hope.
Clarify what you really want. Do you want to survive or do you want to actually thrive? If you wish to transcend the limitations of the present challenges, you need to set high, yet achievable goals that will require you to dig deep within for the resources you have buried there. Once you know what you truly want from life or from the situation you are faced with, you can break it down into smaller, manageable action steps to rebuild your life.
Commit to your dreams and take action. No matter how lofty or humble your goals, it will take effort and time to accomplish. What action can you take right now with what you know and the resources at your disposal? When you truly commit to your goals, you’ll become like a ferret: you’ll tunnel over, under, through or around the obstacles in your path because you won’t let anything discourage you from reaching your goals.
Reflect rather than ruminate. Ruminating over what might have been, what could have happened, or what you wish you could have had, serve little purpose. It is far more useful to search for meaning in your current situation. What are you learning about yourself in this situation? How could you respond to this challenge in ways that will make you stronger? What do you need to keep a healthy perspective? Reframe your problem by seeing it as a smaller part of the big scheme of life. This, too, shall pass!
Maintain optimism and hope. Sports coaches often say “Attitude is everything.” They know the importance of staying positive! During times of upheaval, developing emotional resilience requires that you look for the silver lining in each cloud. Start a gratitude journal where you can record small victories and notice things that do go well. When you look for what is going right, chances are that you will notice more of that; the same goes for looking only at what goes wrong – the choice is yours!
Reach out to others. People who report the biggest gains after life crisis and change are often those who reconnected with loved ones and bonded deeper through greater transparency, intimacy and sharing. In Africa, people say that it takes a village to help raise a child. You and I are no different – we need a tribe of like-minded people around to boost our emotional resilience and help us get thru difficult times. And there is no better time to expand your tribe than right now, so they’ll be there when you need them!
Take care of yourself. This is an area I often see people neglect most during times of change. There is a tendency to think that you first need to get over the hump and then you’ll be able to take care of yourself on the other side… not so! By doing things that nurture, strengthen and support you during times of change, you’ll develop more resilience to handle the stress of change.
Redefine yourself. Change and crises have a way of destroying dreams, but you don’t have to stop dreaming! When one dream ends, you can develop another, better vision of what you want to do with this precious gift of life in the time that you have left. When you do that, you’ll emerge from the transformational fires of change with more emotional resilience and inner strength.
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