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Positive Psychology in Practice: How to Strengthen Your Resilience

Updated: Aug 6, 2020

Resilience is effectively the ability to bounce back or recover from stress or adversity. People who are more resilient view and move past challenges in healthy ways. Resilient people have spent the time building inner resources in order to counteract the negative effects of stress. These same people view stress and obstacles as opportunities and they acknowledge the negative whilst exploring pathways to positive. But how can you become more resilient?

Positive psychology offers a number of roads to resilience. Defined, it is 'the study of positive aspects of the human experience that make life worth living' [1]. Positive psychology studies strengths and virtues that enable both individuals and communities to thrive, irrespective of circumstances. It denotes a departure from a deficit based model of mental illness toward a strengths based model of mental health. It focuses on what is 'right' with people instead of what is wrong. It's no wonder that the field of positive psychology helps individuals not only cope during times of hardship but flourish. Research demonstrates that if you have an active awareness of your character strengths, you’re 9x more likely to be flourishing. (Complete the free assessment HERE)

It would be easy for me to spend days if not months exploring and discussing all of the findings that demonstrate how positive psychology in practice contributes to resilience. As difficult as it was, I've limited this analysis to 3 core ideologies.

1. View stress as positive. Our mindset towards stress & challenge matters. When we have a positive view of stress and see challenge as opportunity, we can grow from that experience. According to researcher Kelly McGonigal, our view of stress literally impacts our body's response to stress ~ if we think stress is toxic and bad for us, our brain and body respond negatively and have difficulty recovering. Alternatively, if we view that stress is helpful and perceive it as a way to learn and grow, our brain and body respond in a positive way and we adapt and recover quickly. We need stress to learn and grow and should take the perspective that stress is necessary for thriving.

In terms of our overall mindset, according to Professor Martin Seligman, our ability to deal with setbacks is largely determined by 3 p's: personalisation, permanence and pervasiveness. Realising outside factors have led to the bad situation removes self-criticism and blame and leads to self-compassion. Recognising that setbacks are temporary improves our ability to accept and adapt for the future. Conceding that this one bad situation only applies to one area of our life rather than across all areas, also enables us to take a local perspective when needed. So ask yourself: is it personal, is it permanent and is it pervasive? This will provide you with a healthy perspective and enable you to take action.

2. Cultivate positive emotions, they transform us for the better. Our cells are in a state of constant renewal and when we make time for positive experiences, cultivate positive emotions and are intentional about where we place our attention, our new cells are formed in that positive state. In a nutshell, our emotions affect cellular change. According to Barbara Fredrickson, positive emotions broaden our awareness over time and change who we are in the future. Positive emotions enable us to remain present in the moment which improves our relationships, our resilience and self-reported health symptoms.[2] It's not simply looking at the glass as half full, but making the effort to be open, be curious, be appreciative, be authentic.

Don't let those positive emotions slide through,

be intentional about letting them sink in.

In terms of negative emotions, we need them to learn from, to motivate, to warn and to help us grow. While it's human nature to lock down negative emotions, it's imperative that we acknowledge them, sit with them, get curious about them and move on from them. Positive emotions enable us to do this as they help us regulate our emotions.

3. Make recovery a non-negotiable. We need time to refuel, to reflect and to be. We must make the time for metacognition ~ thinking about thinking. We must create the space to explore our mental landscape, our emotional triggers and our present-moment awareness. We need to be intentional about what activities we participate in that will bolster our physical, psychological and social resources. Adopting and implementing reflective practices is one way that we can do this ~ meditation, deep breathing, yoga, walking in nature ~ all offer us the opportunity to both examine and refine our mindset, our emotions and our response to challenge.When our resources are strengthened we are able to face the day-to-day challenges and bounce back from adversities through positive means. Spending time with friends and loved one's also contributes to our recovery through social connection and should be a priority in our recovery plan.

We need to be intentional about our mindset, strive for experiencing more positive emotion, and give ourselves permission to unplug and take a break.

Kirsten works with individuals and organisations to help them meet and rise above the challenges of today and tomorrow. Contact her today to receive a free Resilience Plan and to support you in developing your resilience and lead a happier and healthier life.

[1] Seligman, M. E. (2004). Authentic happiness: Using the new positive psychology to realize your potential for lasting fulfillment. Simon and Schuster.

[2] Cohn, M. A., Fredrickson, B. L., Brown, S. L., Mikels, J. A., & Conway, A. M. (2009). Happiness unpacked: positive emotions increase life satisfaction by building resilience. Emotion9(3), 361.

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