Over the last few months we’ve been talking about resilience. We’ve talked about what it is: the ability to bounce back or maintain our powerful center in the face of unexpected change. We’ve talked about what it feels like in our bodies. And we’ve talked about how we care for ourselves in terms of body, emotion and language in order to build up our capacity for resilience. In this post we’re going to focus in on that moment when the unexpected happens, when we are thrown off our game, and we need to call upon resiliency in the moment as a skill.
To be clear, these moments that throw us off don’t necessarily have to be “bad” moments. We tend to think of the moments of adversity as being a trigger but it’s really just the unexpected. Discovering you’ve won the lottery can be a moment that throws you off your game. Or an unexpected pregnancy. Or a job promotion. Some of these things have a perceived “goodness” and “badness” (or challenge) that go with them but what they really have in common is the unexpectedness of it. Basically, we get tied to a belief of the way things “should” go or “would” go in our lives (or in our day) and now it’s off course and we’re in survival mode. We call these moments “breakdowns.”
Step 1: ACCEPT the situation for what it is
So there you are. Survival mode engaged. Pulse has quickened. Brows furrow. Your inner monologue is screaming some familiar language like “why me? Oh no, not again. Doesn’t this just figure? FML.” Or “I knew this would happen.” You may be noticing emotions like panic, helplessness, fear, confusion, overwhelm. As soon as you notice the breakdown or the signs of being in survival mode this is the time to hit the PAUSE button so we can accept the situation for what it is. A breakdown has occurred.
It’s important to recognize that acceptance is NOT about agreeing. Often it’s the resistance to AGREE with the facts that is an obstacle to accepting them. When we can not accept the breakdown we find ourselves holding resentment about these facts of the past and this leads to resignation about the future. Resignation is the underlying belief that we are stuck – there is no way out. This is how we limit our possibilities. Listen to your inner monologue. “This always happens to me.” It’s defeatist. “I’m so alone and helpless.” From here you can’t even see your support network waiting in the wings to help you, because you are swimming in the assessment of being helpless. Or worthless. Or destined for failure. (Whatever your limiting belief happens to be – we all have them, just different flavors).
Accepting is just about acknowledging the facts. We do this by declaration. For example:
- Acknowledge the facts: “Ok – the stomach flu has made an appearance in the household. I don’t get to control this.”
- Declare acceptance: “ I accept this and I will work through it.”
Easy peasy, right? Eh. Probably not.
Step 2: SHIFT to your resilient self
You may have noticed that acceptance didn’t come easily while in survival mode. It’s hard to make a powerful declaration when we’re embodying resentment and/or resignation. So we need to embody something that will serve the declaration we need to make. I recommend the resiliency coherence you established and began practicing few months ago. Remember that one? Maybe it was breathing deeply and opening yourself up to the sky in softness and the recognition that “I am patient and resilient”. Maybe it was humor and flexibility with the acknowledgement that “this is going to be one helluva facebook status”. Find the body, the emotion, and the language that pulls you of resignation and supports the ability to accept and begin to move forward through your breakdown.
STEP 3: CONNECT to a larger purpose
Step 2 was a really important step to get us out of the swirl of resentment and prepared to move out. So the next step is to connect to a larger purpose. This is all about coming out of the minutiae of the breakdown. Sometimes this is about the big picture need…. If I walked out of the house and discovered my car won’t start, maybe the thing I need to connect to…. What did I really need to use my car for? The meeting that starts in 30 minutes.
Sometimes what we need to connect to is our higher intention. If I walk in the door and trip over a landmine of toys and book bags, maybe connecting to “get to the kitchen to make dinner” isn’t a high enough purpose – maybe my higher intention is that I want to be a parent who still encourages her children to take responsibility for their belongings in a sincere and loving way. Connecting to the larger purpose or higher intention is also about shedding the stuff that doesn’t matter and getting into the the thick of what actually does matter. It’s answering the question “who do I want to be right now?”
Step 4: INNOVATE towards solutions
Ok the last step is to INNOVATE for solutions. For many of us our natural inclination is to jump to this step but let me warn you – this step is not to be rushed in to. If we do not take the time to acknowledge the situation that is and settle into the our most resilient self we are not really innovating, we’re problem solving from a limited self which means we have a limited set of possibilities to choose from. Remember the inner monologue that says “I feel so helpless and alone?” This way of being does not seek to leverage her network of support because she doesn’t even see that she has one? It isn’t until we can fully embody our resilient self and connect to our true and authentic cares that we can expand our set of possible solutions.
When you’re ready – when you’re showing up as your best self – THEN start brainstorming possibilities. What can I do from here? What can I do in the future to avoid this? Who is in my network of support that I could call upon for help? Who might be able to offer some additional solutions? What steps should I take to be the person I want to be through this?
Resilience in the Moment – Summary Steps
Step 1. ACCEPT the breakdown for what it is
- What are the facts that that you can not change and need to accept? (Separating them from opinions or interpretations — assessments?
- What do you notice about our body, emotion and language?
- What declaration can you make to usher in acceptance?
Step 2. SHIFT to your resilient self
- What body disposition would help you shift out of survival mode and towards your resilient self?
- What emotion could serve you? (acceptance, peace, safety)
- What language could serve you (it’s going to be ok. i’ve got this. it could be worse.)
Step 3.CONNECT to the larger purpose or a higher intention
- What really matters right now?
- Who do I want to be?
Step 4. INNOVATE
- What solutions can you of come up with?
- Who is in your network of support that I can call on for help OR to help identify solutions…
Resiliency Skills and Parenting
Hopefully this is a useful practice for to consider. But what does this have to do with parenting your kids? As with many of the skills and practices we work on, we are inherently teaching our children these skills through our actions. One way this shows up is while we are supporting our children. From toddlers on up, our children are experiencing breakdowns and learning how to manage through them with our support and guidance. Imagine how great at resilience you would be if you had started practicing in your terrible twos? Good news, it’s not too late late for you and it’s not too early for your children.
Supporting others through their breakdowns is a skill to be practiced as well. Remember when we discussed not rushing to innovation? This is so key when we are supporting others and so hard for many of us, especially if we’re natural fixers. Imagine your child in the midst of a meltdown because he’s dropped his popsicle. Or was teased on the school bus. Or got a bad hair cut. Or got her first broken heart. Or didn’t get into the school of her choice. A lot of breakdowns happen every day and will continue to happen over the course of our children’s lives. Interestingly, many of us offer a level of sincerity of support based on how legitimate we assess the breakdown to be. Not unlike the concept of acceptance not being equivalent to agreement, recognizing and acknowledging our loved one’s break down is also not about agreeing with its legitimacy. The popsicle breakdown is just as much a breakdown to your child as your flat tire was to you. Moreover, every breakdown, no matter what the context, is an opportunity to learn and practice resilience in the moment.
Again, I cannot stress enough the importance of not rushing to innovation here. For many of us, especially witnessing the popsicle crisis, our reaction is to say, “get another popsicle.” Or “get over it.” It constantly surprises me when I do this personally since it has never once resulted in a calmer child and it certainly doesn’t result in a child with a greater capacity to problem solve. Yet again, I notice in the moment that I have been triggered (my default mood is to be annoyed when triggered), that I step into my limiting behaviors (to solve and be dismissive). I’ve neglected my higher intention to be a sincere and supportive mother who teachers her children critical skills that allow them to be productive and happy adults. Sounds like I skipped a few steps.
Children (and adults) in breakdown first need support for where they are. We serve them not by problem solving but by honoring where they are first. This could be as easy as saying, “I notice you are very upset. This must be quite a disappointment for you. I want you to know that when you’re ready, I am here and would love to help you.” This acknowledges rather than dismisses their current experience and allows them to move in their own time to being ready to innovate. Not only does this support them in their breakdown beautifully, it also builds a tremendous amount of trust and intimacy while providing a safe place to practice resiliency skills.
The other way we teach our children to develop this skill is through modeling. Our kids witness our breakdowns first hand. When we practice walking through the steps – even practice walking through them out loud – we are teaching them how to go through it themselves. Letting our children know that we are beginners, that we are learners and letting them witness that learning as we say, “ok – I’m feeling agitated. How would I like to shift? What’s really important here? What are my options?”
And finally, our kids also learn from how we support and help others through breakdowns. Our children are watching us support our spouses, other family members, and our friends through their breakdowns. They are not only watching us model resiliency skills, but also learning about supportive relationships through our behaviors. Our actions teach far more than our lectures and you’ll know that when one day you hear your child say to you, “Mom – I love you and want to help. How can I support you in this?” Or when you overhear them say that to a friend.
Additional Resources: White Paper on Relearning Resiliency by Dan Newby