If you’re like me, you might freeze on the TED homepage, overwhelmed by all the choices. I often heard about the talks, but didn’t know where to start, which probably stopped me from exploring the wealth of information on the site. About a year ago, my employer was undergoing a series of rapid organizational changes – leaving us all feeling a little panicked and stressed out – and so my manager vaguely suggested that we should check out some of the TED Talks on resiliency. I wasn’t really expecting much, and gave it a half-hearted search, but was pleasantly surprised when I stumbled across Lucy Hone’s 3 secrets of resilient people.
While I strongly suggest you watch the video for yourself, I’m not going to judge you if you don’t have 15 minutes to spare. Maybe you’d rather just spare 5, and let me tell you why this talk is awesome 😉
Without spoiling it (in case you do end up watching it), this talk is delivered by a woman who was forced to undergo one of the worst challenges imaginable, and still manages to not feel sorry for herself.
It doesn’t mean that she didn’t treat herself with compassion at the time, or that she denied herself the opportunity to grieve. But it does mean that she was able to do face tragedy without feeling like a powerless victim. Instead, always maintaining a certain element of control, hope, and gratitude.
She starts out by highlighting that resilient people accept that “shit happens”. The part that stuck with me the most in this talk is when she pointed out how often people ask “Why me?” when something terrible happens. She challenges us instead to ask “Why not me?”. She polls the audience and guides us to realizing that no one is immune to adversity – people lose jobs, lose loved ones, struggle with physical or mental illness, and yet we are still often shocked when something bad happens to us. I started paying attention to exactly how often I would catch myself lamenting “Why me”…and was truthfully a little embarrassed by often it happened, with even the tiniest things. I do it all the time: when I catch a third red light in a row, when it’s raining outside and I remember that I forgot my umbrella, when I accidentally spill coffee on my shirt at a time when I’m running late for work. I’m not sure why I acted like I was entitled to have everything go my way, 24/7, instead of just being able to roll with the ups and downs that anyone in the world experiences. Did someone else deserve the red light more than I did? Was my day really going to be de-railed because I have to quickly change my shirt before leaving for work, etc. It’s a simple shift, but incredibly powerful. I’m catching myself much more easily and things are throwing me off a little less than they used to. The above examples are obviously super trivial things, but it’s starting to work with the bigger stuff, too, which is great.
This is assisted in part by her second secret – cultivating gratitude. I get that gratitude has been all the rave lately (I feel like it’s all I hear about?), but it’s more complex than simply jotting a few points down in a journal and calling it a day. She explains that we’re hardwired to focus on negative experiences, and often pay the positive ones only a moment’s notice. While there is an evolutionary basis for this, resiliency requires that we focus on the positives, as well. I’m throwing in a related link to another helpful article I stumbled upon, that’s about hardwiring your brain for resiliency. It’s not about burying your negative thoughts and feelings (you’re allowed to have them!) or forcing positivity. But, we should try to be more balanced. I’m totally guilty of this one, as well. If I feel humiliated by a mistake a colleague brings to my attention at the office I can easily stew in it, and let it set the tone for the rest of my day. But, if I had instead had a positive interaction with a colleague, let’s say she had complimented my outfit or something instead that morning, I likely wouldn’t be thinking about it repeatedly throughout the day, or getting absorbed in the experience with the same intensity.
Finally, another beautifully simple question she suggests we ask ourselves: “Is what I’m doing helping me or harming me”. It’s actually something one of my counsellors had suggested to me before I had even heard this talk, and I was glad to have the reminder about how important it was. It’s kind of funny how often I catch myself doing something that is most definitely not helpful. Like doomscrolling through a news website, getting increasingly worked up and agitated by yet another grim story. I’ll remind myself that I can (and should) just be turning my computer off, at this point. I’m trying to remember that it’s a good idea to pause once and a while (or better yet, often!) and check in with yourself for a second. I’m learning to tune into what I am really thinking/feeling/needing at the moment.
All of the above things might seem simple…and they are, in theory. But that doesn’t meant they are easy to put into practice. I definitely haven’t even approached mastery yet (see my previous post where I discuss just how hard self-improvement can be!) but I’m committed to keep trying. Oh! One last thing. While not addressing resiliency directly, I would be remiss if I didn’t pop in two additional resources that I found pretty helpful during challenging times: The self-compassion book written by Kristen Neff, and the episode titled “Pain Is Unavoidable, Suffering Is an Option” from Jade Wu’s Savy Psychologist podcast. Both have a few tidbits that have just stuck with me, over time, and helped me cope. I would love it if they could help someone else cope too.