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Rita Schiano

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How Well Do You Weather Life's Storms?

Posted: 08/12/11 09:21 AM ET

Willa Cather wrote: "There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm." How well we weather the tempests in life, how quickly we bounce back from adversities and calamities, depends largely on our level of resilience.

Research on resilience has shown us that people who cannot deal with their emotions may become more narrow-minded and rigid in their view of themselves and their place in the world. A lack of understanding of our personal histories -- what Aristotle called the habits that serve us and the habits that don't serve us -- keeps us from adapting when new stresses affect us. We fall back on old thought patterns, old behaviors that keep us spinning our wheels and stuck in the muck and mire of dysfunction. You know the scenario: Different situation, different set of circumstance, same old lousy outcome.

But, when we reflect upon and come to terms with our personal history and take steps to adjust those undermining attitudes and habits, our resiliency -- our ability to bounce back quickly -- strengthens.

According to The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), resilience is not a trait that people either have or do not have. The factors that make for resilience, and the characteristics and skills of resiliency, can be learned and developed in anyone.

How can you recognize these traits? First and foremost, resilient people have a positive, optimistic view of themselves and confidence in their strengths and abilities. They also have good communication and problem-solving skills. They have the capacity to make realistic plans and the follow-through to carry out those plans. And, people with well-developed resiliency have the capacity to manage strong feelings, emotions and impulses; they stay calm under pressure and persevere.

Now, if you are wondering how resilient you are, take the quiz below to find out which characteristics and skills you have currently. And, regardless of your score, you can build on and strengthen your resiliency by doing the following:

Adopt a "Where there's a will, there's a way" attitude. Resilient people have a penchant for learning. They have the ability to reflect upon and recognize objectively their strengths and weaknesses. This self-reflection helps them gain insight into their current circumstances, opening them to new ideas and new tactics for dealing with crises.

Be a flexible thinker. Resilient people have the ability to look at critical situations in a new way, finding creative approaches towards solving a problem. They recognize that life is a series of good times and not so good times, and that you need the bad to appreciate the good. Hard times build character, creating positive lessons that better equip us to cope in the future.

Have a healthy social support network. Good friends help us get through tough times. They help us get tasks done; they listen and validate our feelings. It is important to remember that no one person can be expected to be the "be all and end all" of support. Often it takes several friends, each of who provide different types of support. Resilient people are good at making friends and keeping them.

Have deep-rooted faith in a system of meaning (religious or philosophical). In 1902, William James wrote "The Varieties of Religious Experience" in which he detailed the universal belief systems of human beings. Now, a little more than a century later, scientists report they have located the part of the brain that controls religious faith -- known euphemistically as the God spot. The researchers' findings support the idea that the brain's evolvement to belief systems was a means of improving our chances of survival, thus a belief in God became widespread in human evolutionary history.

Regardless as to whether God exists or not, we do know that people with religious or spiritual beliefs tend to be more content and are better able to cope with tragedies and crises. Faith acts as a stimulus, driving us to aspire to achieve the seemingly impossible. Faith drives away fear. Faith frees us from the need to be in control during uncontrollable circumstances. As Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. wrote: "Faith is taking the first step even when you don't see the whole staircase."

Embrace an optimistic attitude. Attitude really is everything. Resilient people have a sense of hope and trust in the world. They believe in the basic goodness and decency of people, trusting that things will turn out all right in the end. This positive attitude allows them to weather life's storms and gives them the ability to hope for a better future.

How strong is your ability to bounce back? Take the Resilience Quiz!

Scale: 1 - Always; 2 - Frequently; 3 - Sometimes; 4 - Never


1. _____ I am usually optimistic.
2. _____ When there is a problem, I can usually find a solution.
3. _____ I am self-confident and believe in my abilities.
4. _____ In a crisis or chaotic situation, I am usually calm and focused on taking useful actions.
5. _____ I can readjust my existing goals to fit new situations.
6. _____ I see difficulties as temporary and expect to overcome them.
7. _____ I am able to communicate my needs.
8. _____ Even during crises, I find reasons to laugh.
9. _____ I seek out people who can offer me information or help me with my situation.
10. _____ I am a good listener.
11. _____ I keep in close and frequent communication with my friends.
12. _____ I approach difficult situations with common sense.


How resilient are you? If you scored:
10-12: You are very resilient!
13 - 24: Your resilience skills and attitudes need a boost.
25 - 35: You are struggling, so be sure to read this blog regularly.
36 - 48: Oh boy. You might want to seek guidance for help in building your inner strength and resourcefulness.


Rita also conducts stress management and resilience-building workshops provided by WorkTerrain, a division of KidsTerrain, Inc. and funded by the Massachusetts Dept. of Industrial Accidents, and she is actively involved with Maine Resilience, a program coordinated with the effort, materials and information offered by the American Psychological Association and the Maine Psychological Association through their Public Education Programs. Rita is an Associate Member of the International Positive Psychology Association (IPPA). Visit her online at www.ritaschiano.com and Red Room, where you can read her blog.