Resilience Is A Choice

I’ve been researching, developing and delivering resilience training for 20 years and consider myself to be a subject matter expert. But sometimes being too close to our subject matter gets in the way of our ability to communicate it clearly to others. So I’m always looking for ways to talk about resilience in ways that people can better relate to and understand.

A couple of weeks ago, I met my 90 year old mother for dinner. Mom's driver, more of a friend than a service provider, joined us. She asked me what I did, and I gave her my standard one-liner: “I develop and deliver training that helps people stay focused, energized, engaged and optimistic – in a word, to be resilient.” She wanted to know more, so I told her that our resilience training model has its roots in cognitive psychology which teaches that it’s what we think that determines what we feel and what we do, and that if our thinking is faulty, we may feel and do badly for no good reason.

She stopped me to say that in fact she had seen a cognitive psychologist earlier in her life, and she found the experience life-changing. I asked her why, and she said, “I went into therapy believing that the stuff that came into my head was the way it was and I had to live with it. It may sound silly to you, but what changed my life was the realization that I could choose what I think. And as I learned to choose to think better thoughts, I began to feel and do a lot better.” It didn’t sound silly to me at all. In fact, it sounded pretty brilliant.

On my drive home I reflected on her revelation. Of course we can choose what we think. I’ve stood in front of hundreds of resilience training classes teaching skills to thousands of people skills that help them change their thinking. But what she said was so incredibly simple and relatable, I couldn’t let it go. If what we think is a choice; and if what we think determines how we feel and what we do; and if the sum total of how we feel and what we do is a measure of our resilience; then that means that resilience is a choice.

As I continued driving and noodling on this, another car started tailgating me, even though we were on a dark road and I was going a bit over the speed limit. My first reaction was to think about what a jerk this person was, and I started to get angry. But then I thought of mom's driver's mantra and tried something different. I simply said to myself, “In this moment I choose not to let this person rob me of my serenity and my resilience.”

And in that moment, as I found a place to pull over and let the other car get past me, a feeling of calm washed over me that doused my rising anger. I realized that this was indeed a time where I could choose resilience, just like that - just by saying so.

Since that night, I’ve been thinking about other times and places where I could make resilient choices in the moment. Here are a few that worked for me:

  1. I choose to stay firmly rooted in the present and not think about what could happen next.
  2. I choose not to let this person's anger rob me of me own peace in this moment.
  3. I choose contentment over frustration; thoughts of abundance not thoughts about lack.

I’d like to hear what you think. Can you find opportunities to choose resilience – just by saying so?

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