On Cultivating Resilience

08/17/2010 06:55 am ET | Updated Nov 17, 2011

When I was 350 pounds I didn't believe it was possible for me to maintain a normal weight. Now, having maintained a two hundred pound plus weight loss for nearly a decade, I am an example that it can be done. Transformation is not only possible, it happens. So whatever your age and whatever issues you are dealing with, I want you to know that change is not only possible, but also highly probable. By not giving up on yourself, by cultivating resilience and learning from experience, which makes resilience more likely, you can, indeed, teach an old dog, new tricks.

So what is resilience? What does not giving up on yourself look like and how do you go about it? Resilience is the ability the bounce back from an adverse event or situation. The dictionary uses the phrase to "recover readily" instead of bounce back. In either case, the emphasis is not on the negative thing or things that have happened, but rather what you do once they have occurred. After all, life is a roller coaster ride for most of us. Even Elvis and Frank Sinatra had comebacks which means they had setbacks. No one is exempt. The fact is it's not the issue you are dealing with; it's in how you deal with the issue that you will find your resilience.

We've all been through it. The only real questions are, "How deep is the hole?" "How long do we want to stay in it?" and "How do we dig ourselves out?" The answers to those three questions can be found in one of my favorite stories, "An Autobiography in Five Chapters." I hope it brings you as much pleasure and insight as it has to me.

Chapter One:

I walk down a familiar street. In the middle of the road is a giant hole. I see it clearly, yet I fall into it anyway. I work as hard as I can to climb out. It seems like it takes forever, but finally I get out. I continue to walk down the familiar street.

Chapter Two:

I walk down the same familiar street. Right there in the middle is the same hole. I see it even more clearly and yet I fall right back in. Now I'm pissed. I work as hard as I can to get out. Again, it seems like it takes forever, but eventually, I make it. I continue down the same old street.

Chapter Three:

I walk down the familiar street once more. (I know. I know). After seeing the hole, I try to maneuver around it. I get about halfway, but it's slippery around the edges and I fall in. Boy, this looks familiar. Using my experience, I climb out pretty quickly this time. Dirty but not worse for wear, I continue down the road.

Chapter Four:

I walk down ... well you know. Anyway this time I know what's coming so I am very careful as I work my way around the hole and I make it with out falling in. I'm pretty proud of myself at this point and although I'm tempted to look back, I avoid the temptation. I continue down the road.

Chapter Five:

I walk down a new road.

Here's an example that I recently experienced. I had a couple days of falling back into old eating patterns (the familiar road), but I didn't fall back into my old negative thinking patterns (the big hole) of "Oh well I blew it ... Now I am horrible ... I may as well go indulge for the rest of the week, month, year, etc." Nor did I severely restrict myself with a fast the next day. Instead, I saw the overeating as something normal people do, and then they just eat a little less the next day so it all balances out (the new road).

Our distorted thinking can lead us to build a monument to how disgusting or awful we are (the big hole), rather than just observing that we overate, and noting "Oh well, that didn't do anything but make me feel a little bloated and set me back a half a pound or so (the new road)." The overeating may just indicate we are tired or bored or didn't eat enough the day before. I found out that in this case when I was very tired, I laid low and watched too many cooking shows on TV (trying to get around the hole), which triggered my see-food, eat-food Pavlovian response. Being resilient I turned off the tube and went for a walk (the new road).

I'd love to hear about the familiar roads you might have chosen, the holes you found right smack dab in the middle, how you got yourself out, and perhaps most importantly, the new roads you've discovered. I'm looking forward to reading about your adventures with resilience.