Resilience & Flexibility

I was inspired to discuss this subject after reading an article in Scientific American Mind on Resiliency.  This term has been popular in the psychology world since the 1980s, so it being important is nothing new.  That said, its core premise is simultaneously simple and huge to our quality of life.  

Resiliency is our ability to cope with stress

And we all know




What makes one person go into a spin after not getting the grade he or she had hoped on a paper, and another able to handle it with ease?  These situations happen to everyone, everyday, big and small.  It could be something as small as getting an unexpected bill in the mail, or as large as the death of a parent.  In addition to our happiness, our level of success is directly linked to resilience.  We know from studying successful people that learning how to fail (and therefore bounce back) is the base for becoming successful.

There are numerous important ingredients to having resilience:

  • Having a strong support system.  Do you have at least two confidants?
  • The ability to remain subjective and have perspective on difficult situations
  • Not taking ourselves and our stories about ourselves too seriously.  Do you have a sense of humor?  Do you recognize that life will move on and continue to change whether or not we always get what we want?

Almost everyone could benefit from increasing their resilience and psychological flexibility.

While at least part of resilience we believe is inherited, it is not static or unchangeable.  These are somethings we can practice everyday to increase our resileince: 

  • Be willing to do things outside your comfort zone.  It could be river rafting, speaking in front of a group or just being around people you dislike.
  • Exercise, period.  We are all aware of the plethora of reasons to exercise for our physical health.  It also protects our mental health (reduces incidences of panic attacks as well as symptoms of depression).  Another important element is being able to do something that doesn’t always feel good (see above).
  • Learn to work with negative thoughts.  Maybe you weren’t born an optimist.  Learning to let negative thoughts pass can help us boost our positive emotions.
  • In difficult situations, remember your values.  What do you want your life to be about, and how can you move towards those things on a daily basis?  It makes the process more important than the results.
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Many people are talking about ‘Mindfulness’, including doctors, therapists, yoga instructors and even educators. I feel it is important to clarify what we mean by this, as it refers to some ideas which are not new, but quite old. Mindfulness essentially means to pay attention to the present moment in an open and purposeful way.

When we are being mindful we are awake to what is happening inside us, and in our surrounding environment:
What is happening right now? Are there birds singing? Am I uncomfortable in my chair? Am I feeling irritated about a conversation I had yesterday? What is happening with my breathing?
It means slowing our entire human experience down to just what is happening now. It also means being accepting to whatever those things are. As most of you probably know, this is not easy, as we are wired for problem-solving, completing tasks, and avoiding things that may cause us pain or harm. Our brains are very helpful, and have catapulted our species and aided us in creative and intellectual endeavors. But, how do our brains relate to our happiness? And is being stuck in our head all of the time serving us well?

Now, given all of this, why would someone want to practice mindfulness? Essentially, practicing mindfulness will greatly increase your quality of life and well-being. It is helpful for some people to think about it as training for the mind, in the same way exercise is training for the body. In addition to these important reasons, there are currently rapidly growing scientific research backing the benefits of a mindfulness practice, to work with specific mental health conditions (such as anxiety, depression, phobias) as well as medical conditions. For many people, the results of mindfulness practice inevitably reduce their level of stress. Learning to manage modern-day living in a healthier way is a very common reason why people are attracted to begin practicing.

Okay, so now what? For many people, a mindfulness practice means practicing mindfulness meditation. But, it can also mean living our life and doing what we normally do with a mindfulness bent: eating mindfully, walking mindfully, or speaking mindfully. Really, the list could go on and on. The important piece is just choosing somewhere to start, and making it doable.

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What is ACT?

ACT is a type of therapy and coaching, which is short for Acceptance & Commitment Therapy. It is pronounced ‘act’ (as in action) and involves taking action on your life to re-focus on living by your values, embracing your life and getting out of your head.
ACT is based on science behind human learning, behavior and cognition. It takes values, increased contact with the present moment, and mindfulness practice to help us create change. It works with a wide range of personal issues and seeks to normalize regular aspects of the human experience (which are often turned into a diagnosis). Examples of this are worry, fear or sadness.
ACT results in increased well-being, flexibility and as a result a reduction of the ‘symptoms’ one may have been experiencing.
ACT flew under the radar for several decades, as developers Dr. Steven C. Hayes and colleagues gathered significant scientific backing for the approach. As of today, there exists much empirical research behind this approach, and it is recognized as evidence-based practice for many types of issues.
As a practitioner, I take the science behind what I do seriously. However, what I love about ACT is how it helps us develop compassion (for ourselves and others), live our lives by our values, and slows down the complicated process of what it is to be human.

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