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A Lesson In Resilience

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On a brisk September day in 1620, 102 passengers and a crew of roughly 30 left England embarking on a grueling 66-day journey marked by disease and death. According to history, the Pilgrims undertook the voyage to escape religious persecution in England. The Mayflower, originally destined for the mouth of the Hudson River at the northern edge of England's Virginia colony, went off course and settled in Cape Cod Bay. All surviving passengers moved ashore and colonized at Plymouth.

What we learn from the Pilgrim story is a remarkable example of the resilience. The resilient pilgrims had the ability to look at critical situations in a new way, finding creative approaches toward solving a problem. Weakened by their two-month voyage, the resilient pilgrims managed their emotions, stayed calm under pressure and persevered.

The resilient pilgrims had a penchant for learning. They had the ability to reflect upon and recognize objectively their strengths and weaknesses. This self-reflection helped them gain insight into their current circumstances, opening them to new ideas and new tactics for dealing with crises. They reached out for help to the native Wampanoag, who were willing to share their knowledge of local crops and help the colonists survive.

The resilient pilgrims recognized that life is a series of good times and not so good times, and that one needs the bad to appreciate the good. Hard times build character, creating positive lessons that better equipped them to cope in the future. Rigidity is detrimental to resilience; adversity builds resilience.

The resilient pilgrims had a sense of hope and trust in the world. They believed in the basic goodness and decency of people, trusting that things would turn out all right in the end. This positive attitude allowed them to weather the bad times and gave them the ability to hope for a better future.

So as you celebrate this Thanksgiving holiday, take a few moments to reflect on the resilient pilgrims. Your personal resilience journey involves behaviors, thoughts and actions that can be learned and developed. Here are a few skills and attitudes to consider:

• Build a positive belief in your abilities.
• Find a sense of purpose in your life.
• Develop and maintain a strong network of friends.
• Embrace change.
• Develop an attitude of optimism.
• Nurture a positive view of yourself.
• Hone your problem-solving skills.
• Establish goals.
• Reach out to the larger community -- volunteer.
• Reflect on your spiritual nature.

Identify which of the above ways that are likely to work well for you as part of your own personal strategy for fostering resilience. And when feeling doubtful about yourself or stressed about your life, remember the resilient pilgrims.

Rita Schiano is an adjunct professor at Bay Path College, where she teaches philosophy and stress management courses. She is the founder of Live A Flourishing Life™, which melds her three professions: philosophy instructor, stress management instructor and resilience coach, and freelance writer. Her book, "Live a Flourishing Life," is used for the college program and in private training programs.

Rita also conducts stress management and resilience-building workshops funded by the Massachusetts Dept. of Industrial Accidents. 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 her personal website and at Red Room, where you can buy her books.

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