by Ryon Smith, LCSW
One of the many things I enjoy about working here at Aspiro Adventure Therapy is the emphasis placed on professional and personal development. This development includes many things such as consulting the team on complex cases, calling a colleague after hours to enlist support, joining our Friday yoga class, and more. One avenue of development that I appreciate most is our Book of the Month tradition. Titles in the past have included:
- “Braving the Wilderness” by Brene Brown,
- “Brainstorm” by Daniel Siegel,
- “Why We Sleep” by Matthew Walker,
- and a personal favorite, “Grit” by Angela Duckworth.
These monthly titles have given me an opportunity to contemplate work and life through many different lenses.
I’d like to share some thoughts and ideas I found noteworthy from a recent read, “Option B- Facing Adversity, Building Resilience, and Finding Joy,” by Sheryl Sandberg and Adam Grant. To provide some context, author and Chief Operating Officer of Facebook, Sheryl Sandberg, tragically lost her husband in a freak accident while the two were on vacation. As the title suggests, she recalls her pain, shares her growth, and contemplates what it has meant for her to move forward as a business leader and mother.
As it is with physical health and body strength, activity and exercise build muscle, while lack thereof results in atrophy. While I am not a physician of internal medicine, I confidently know this about our bodies, and as stated by my doctor during a recent check-up about my joints and muscles, “You use them, or you lose them.” Let’s call this the Activity vs. Atrophy example.
Resilience must also be built up and exercised regularly, just like our muscles. (Activity vs Atrophy). Resilience is difficult to measure, see, or touch and is a current area of research buzzing with interest. The research review on resilience from “Option B” covered everything from grit to post-traumatic growth, at-risk youth, as well as youth not at risk, and the conclusion the authors arrived at is “—resilience is not a fixed personality trait. It’s a lifelong project.” While the implications to this statement are countless, in this review I want to call attention to how we raise our children and manage our caseloads.
As both parents and professionals, we work to help build resilience in others. In order to do so, it is important that we don’t teach our clients or our children to remove the obstacles they encounter (or be the ones to remove them), but instead teach them to overcome, to experience difficulty, to find meaning, to learn and to grow. The authors describe that we can support the growth of resilience through helping the people in our lives realize the following four principles:
- They have some control over their lives
- They can learn from failure
- They matter as human beings
- They have real strengths to rely on and share
The book emphasized how resilience can be introspective in thought but is also vastly influenced by external factors. We each are responsible for building resilience in those around us every day. Let’s consider our bids to support a loved one in times of difficulty with a statement from the book, “In prosperity, our friends know us, in adversity, we know our friends.” We need to show up, not just say we will show up if needed. Sandberg, the author of the book, discussed differences in how people showed support soon after the death of her husband. When asked if she needed anything from someone, it was easier to say no, and awkward to ask for help. She recalled a sense of relief when someone just took initiative. As Sandberg described in the book, don’t ask someone if they would like you to bring them lunch, let them know you are doing so and ask them what they like or don’t like on their burger.
The book focused on supporting others in building resilience as well as building it ourselves. To do so, we need to practice self-care and allow ourselves moments when we can feel joy. As we take care of ourselves we are indirectly taking care of our clients and children. Self care also allows us to “take back joy” and give ourselves permission to enjoy small things. We are encouraged to create frequent positive experiences – big or small. Another tip in the book is to write down moments of joy every day. Doing things like this increases our ability to find joy during times of adversity, and the ability to do this is true resilience! As quoted in the book by a blogger, “Happiness is the joy you find on hundreds of forgettable Wednesdays.”
In conclusion, resilience must be practiced. It’s Activity vs. Atrophy. Lifestyle over time is a predictor of physical health, and the same can be said for resilience and mental health. Like working out, going for a walk, or hiking, strength is built from routine maintenance. Your resilience comes from internal and external factors, and both types of these factors are dependent on each other. Grow your resilience muscles. Make sure people in your life are seen and acknowledged by you. Take 2 seconds or 10 to seek understanding, to ask relevant questions and to do things for others, big or small. Show up. Live authentically. Love vigorously.