a flower grows out of concrete

Three ways to make yourself more resilient

April 16, 2024
Author: Albert Seinen

Wellness words from VIU Counsellor Albert Seinen

Recently a work colleague sent me a Ted Talk on resilience. My colleague and I discussed how we encounter people who do not seem to be aware of their own resilience. Why this happens is puzzling as we are all resilient people. Regularly I meet people with horrible traumas in their childhood who go on to become amazing people who achieve many things both socially and vocationally. So it seemed like writing about the message I heard in this Ted Talk might be helpful. It was presented by Dr. Lucy Hone, a New Zealand psychologist, who researched resilient people and distilled her findings into three habits that help people connect back into life after significant challenges. I am going to use my own terms but will remain true to what Dr. Hone presented.

Accept that life can be hard

The first habit of resilient people is acceptance that life can be hard. Life can throw horrible things that should never happen in our path. In trauma-informed practice we often talk about untold horrors. Recently, a good friend of mine talked about having a significant loss monthly, for six months running. Two very good friends had died, his boss who was like a second father died, two dogs he loved died, a family member, and there was more. He told me there couldn’t possibly be more than this, and I shared that I certainly hoped that was the case, but that life does not promise to stop giving us these painful experiences. In fact, it does promise that there will be more. We can all be certain that death will find us and the ones we love. There is no escaping this reality. When we accept this, we can empower ourselves to deal with these and worse challenges. I shared how Dr. Hone, in her Ted Talk, discussed how her daughter died in a car crash along with Lucy’s best friend. How she then went on to say that we need to accept that life can be very crappy. I gave my friend a hug and told him to let out his tears and to keep doing it till he was done. If he ever gets done. That I would be there for him. And that right now, his life was pretty crappy.

Take stock of what you are grateful for

The second principle Dr. Hone talks about is finding what we can be grateful for.  Her heart was smashed into pieces and it took considerable effort but she chose to find the strength to connect with her beautiful son and husband. She had two amazing people in her life. Now acknowledging this is not the same thing as feeling gratitude. Feelings are sensations in our body. Feeling gratitude in my body for the partner I have shared the last 30 years with brings tears to my eyes. In the novel, Keeper’n’me, by Richard Wagamese, Keeper, an Indigenous elder, instructs a young man about to journey on a vision quest, to search in all his experience for what that he can be grateful for. He further adds, there is so much to be grateful for in everything if we have eyes to see it. We do not ever have to be grateful for the death of a loved one, but we can be grateful for the gifts they gave us and what we continue to learn as a result of those gifts.

Question your thoughts and behaviours

The final principle Dr. Hone talks about involves questioning our thoughts and behaviours and making good choices. Socrates exhorted that the unexamined life is not worth living. And many of us feel this way some of the time, that life is not worth living. It might be good to examine what is going on. For example: we all develop bad coping behaviours. Sometimes we might get sucked into the vortex of the internet, social media or gaming. Or other addictions. This can be fun, informative or even useful in practical ways, but the question we need to ask ourselves, as Dr. Hone puts it, is whether what we are doing, thinking or believing is helping us. Are we getting what we need? Are we getting what we want? If not, what needs to be different? And the answer to that last question can’t be on the world out there, it needs to be on what we can change inside of ourselves: our behaviours, thinking and attitudes. 

I attended a recent workshop on grief by psychologist Janina Fisher. She introduced some ways to think about thinking. For example, in the wake of a series of painful experiences, a person might go over the same circuit of thought like, “I will never have anything good in my life,” or, “whatever good I have will be taken away from me.”  Sound familiar? These are not uncommon. Like Dr. Hone, she challenges her clients gently to ask themselves whether that belief is helping them. She said it can be like swallowing poison that then becomes toxic inside of us and in our relationships. As a body-based psychotherapist, she suggests we instead just feel the sensations of our pain to ride the waves of our grief. In western Eurocentric culture we have been trained to value thinking and doing over sensation and being. However, our brain is designed to continually experience and evaluate sensation. Thinking is the last thing our brain does with this information. It is good practice to spend more time noticing what is happening inside of us. The frontal cortex of our brain is designed to do this.

Back to principle one. No one said it would be easy. Accept this. Count on it. This takes discipline. Successful, resilient people have discipline. This means doing things we know are good for us, or others, despite how we feel. Acceptance Commitment Therapy focuses on being clear about our values – that which is most important to us – and committing to living according to them. Happiness is a natural springwater that flows from digging that well. Some of us may have to dig longer than others. The greater the adversity we have climbed out of, the greater our character development, patience, understanding, compassion, kindness, generosity and peace. And St. Paul wrote that the greatest of these is love. We all want peace. It starts inside each one of us, and we can share that with those we touch and they can do the same. It’s not easy, but I am grateful to be part of this incredible fabric of life that we are all woven together into. Our lives are about so much more than ourselves. Maybe that’s another principle for another blog.


Albert Seinen is a Counsellor and Educational Advisor at VIU’s Cowichan campus.

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