Building Superhero Resilience for everyday life (pt.1)
Written by: Kevin Byer
One of the most important qualities to help individuals not only get through these times of struggle, challenge, and uncertainty is resilience.
Some may perceive resilience as more of an internal quality that one either has or doesn’t have based on their character. Some may perceive it as a more of a matter of willpower that we can choose to have. While both of those factors can play a role in one’s level of resilience, the truth is that research also shows it is a quality that we can cultivate and build within ourselves through different habits and practices, and that doing so can bring tremendous benefit, especially in difficult times. Resilience is not just about surviving tough times, but finding ways to thrive despite them.
Not only can resilience help individuals thrive in challenging, adverse, difficult or uncertain circumstances, but it can also help organizations because resilient staff members are associated with improved productivity and retention, as well as reduced absenteeism, and extended health benefits costs.
My story, superheroes, and how it led me to resilience
For me, my inspiration to learn more about how to become resilient started with superheroes (I know, shocking right?). I would watch movies and shows of characters like Spider-man and really relate with some of the struggles they face on an emotional level. While their stories are obviously much more fantastical, I could relate to their challenges of facing issues like trauma, loss, grief, self-doubt. I would also resonate with how inspiring it was to see the resilience they would show in overcoming challenges like this on their heroic journey. These stories gave me hope that I could do the same in my life in my own way. As I began to learn more about health and wellness, it motivated me to learn more about how to cultivate resilience and other heroic qualities I saw on screen with a sense of awe as a younger person, and still as an adult.
Learning more about some of the evidence-based ways to cultivate resilience helped me cope with uncertainty, trauma, anxiety and depression, and allowed me to connect to a greater sense of purpose.
Now as I’ve embarked on the journey of health and wellness promotion as a professional in organizations and schools, I love being able to share some of these tools and resources with staff and students to help support empowerment in wellness and resilience. I also love being able to integrate a unique superhero theme to these conversations when possible because it can help foster engagement, retention of content, and lessen the stigma of talking about mental health! I’m really excited to be able to share some of the ways that research shows we can build resilience, and hope they’ll help open paths towards thriving in your own life!
How can we build resilience?
There are 4 strategies I want to write about that are key factors in building resilience as shown by research, and they form a nice handy acronym: C.H.O.P. This stands for: Control, Hope, Optimism, and Purpose.
I’ll be writing about the first two key resilience strategies (Control and Hope) in todays article for part one, and the second two strategies (Optimism and Purpose) in a follow up article for part 2.
Control - What can I control in this moment?
Often with stress, it can become most overwhelming when we allow the past or future associations of the stressor to become tied in with it. When we dwell on negative associations or experiences from the past, it can feel like it’s happening all over again, even when we are completely safe and separate from that experience in the present. Alternatively, stress can really snowball when we start thinking about hypothetical ‘what ifs’ that could happen in the future, particularly because most of these ‘what ifs’ tend to skew towards negative or worst-case outcomes.
While these thinking patterns can help prepare us for different scenarios and are useful on occasion, they also activate the stress response in the body in the same way they would as if they were actually happening, which drains the body of resources and, over time, can lead to burnout. This is why it’s important to be conscious and selective with when we do this.
Building resilience through control
Control means shifting focus to the here and now, because that is what is always within our control. For example, if there’s a really stressful or busy week ahead, breaking that down into smaller and more manageable timeframes.
A great question to ask is: “What do I need to do right now?” The week ahead may be stressful, but if we break that down to this moment, when maybe we just need to read or respond to an e-mail for example, it becomes more manageable.
This also allows us to have more mental breaks, because when we’re showering, we can just shower, just enjoy the sensation of warm water on the body for those few minutes, and not have to worry about what is coming ahead. Through letting go of what is out of control, and focusing on what is, we gain a greater sense of empowerment, and help to reduce a significant amount of stress
Hope - A feeling or belief that a desired positive outcome CAN happen.
Hope is something that can carry a person through hard times and provides added energy to move towards goals. A superheroes’ greatest power is often the ability to inspire hope in others through embodying hope, and expanding on what others believe is possible for themselves. Through cultivating hope within yourself, you can not only improve your own resilience, but also potentially inspire cultivation of hope for those around you as well.
How can hope be cultivated?
SMART goal setting (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time bound): Research shows that one way we can cultivate hope is through setting small attainable goals that act as steps towards a bigger goal. Often goal setting fails when the goals are too big, or too vague, and then we feel discouraged because we feel unable to achieve them. With small, more specific goals that move you on the path that you want to be, you experience success, and progress, which builds self-efficacy, and hopefulness that bigger goals are also possible.
Stepping out of self and embracing ability to make a difference for others. As you have a positive impact on others with your actions, hope begins to grow as you see that you can make a difference.
Visit Meant2Prevent.ca for downloadable SMART goal setting worksheets
Check back next week for part 2, in which I'll cover Optimism and Control, with a special Captain America themed resilience building exercise!
About the author
Kevin Byer is a workplace wellness specialist that has worked for CAMH, and is currently working for the University of Toronto as a member of the Health Promotion Program team. He is a partner member with Wellness Works Canada, and is passionate about empowering individuals and organizations to create positive shifts in health and wellness through an evidence informed approach. He is also the creator of ‘Unleash the Superhero Within’: a series of wellness workshops aimed towards cultivating heroic character qualities such as resilience, mindfulness, compassion, leadership and courage. The superhero theme stimulates engagement while also helps to reduce stigma of challenges related to mental and emotional health and wellness
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