9/11, Resilience and You

It’s 9/11 and I’m sitting in the foyer of the Marriott in San Jose.

It’s 6-45 in the morning and the Starbucks is doing a brisk trade. I’m sitting here with a large Americano with an extra shot I really don’t need. The sky is grey, as it has been every morning. The sun will soon rise high enough to burn the grey away, ushering in another beautiful Californian day.

I’ve been watching the 9/11 ceremony from New York with my fellow foyer dwellers and I am struck by the amazing resilience of this country. The amazing ability to recover, not just endure. To recover and thrive. Unbowed.

What does it take to be so resilient?

Identity

It takes identity. A positive view of who we think we are. The label we place on ourselves. This label can have many authors: parents, peers, authority figures and, most importantly, us. But I’m afraid the other authors are not always entirely helpful. But we don’t have to let them write their bit on our label. We can and must define ourselves. This is the first part.

Interpretation of Events

Resilience requires us to interpret events in ways that help us, not hinder us. Information comes into our brains; we interpret it and decide what it means to us. This then defines our intentions and consequently the actions we take.

And there are two extremes to our interpretation –

a)      We set our goal; we didn’t get the result we wanted; we are a failure; there’s no point in trying again; we won’t try again.

b)      We set our goal; we didn’t get the result we wanted; we will try harder next time as we know we will get better; we want another chance; we go out and find that chance, now.

Same information. Different results. This is the second part.

Optimism

Resilience requires optimism. Optimism comes from sifting through our pasts for the good stuff and accepting the bad stuff as simply being “life”. Optimism comes from looking at the here and now and asking ourselves “what do we have to be grateful for?” Optimism comes from looking at the future and being exciting about our possibilities.

And if there are any pessimists in our lives…we need to be careful here because they are toxic. There. I said it.

Self-Efficacy

Resilience requires self-efficacy. We dealt with self-efficacy recently – here. Basically self-efficacy is our belief that we can control an outcome or event. A lot of people lose their self-efficacy between the ages of 16 and 26 when they realise they aren’t going to be a rock star etc etc. Self-efficacy is a real differentiator. If we don’t have self-efficacy…we’re f*cked. End of.

These four factors are the foundation stones of our resilience.

Each of them is a practice. They are not absolute. They are mental constructs. We construct what we want –

  • We can contribute to our identity along with others or we can claim it all to ourselves.
  • We can interpret events in any way we want (really).
  • We can be optimistic or pessimistic; glass half-full or half empty.
  • We can believe we have control or we can believe we have no control – whichever we believe will be our reality.

Our choices on these four factors are major contributors to our resilience.

I’m not going to score the USA on the four elements of resilience. The USA is self-evidently resilient because it chooses to be.

OK, so what about us humans, rather than nations?

We are getting closer to the core here. The nub. The heart of the matter.

When we wrap it all up – identity, interpretation, optimism, self-efficacy and resilience – we find that this defines what is currently understood by psychologists to be our psychology. Our psychology. Definition – the study of our mind and its functions.

So maybe we should look at ourselves and ask “what’s our psychology?”

Well that’s a big issue for a blog post, but let’s start with IDENTITY.

Here’s something to think about –

List the five most irritating “ingredients” that have been scrawled on your identity label. You may not think they are big issues, and they may not be. But if they happened years ago and they are still popping into your brain, they are still with you. And although they may not be doing you much harm it is unlikely they are doing you much good. And your identity is supposed to be for your good. So it’s time for action.

Again, list the five most irritating “ingredients” that have been scrawled on your identity label. By your parents (even although they loved you), your peers (even although they were kidding) and the authority figures you met when you were young and sensitive.

Look at the list. Does it describe you? If not, let it go.  We are our own architects. We design ourselves. The people that said this stuff about us, they meant no harm. And if they did, even more reason to let it go.

The sun’s coming out. There’s 350 million people here, and not one of them knows me…my identity is what I choose it to be. Now, where’s the keys to the Aston.

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