Build Resilience and Thrive in Adversity
TOOLBOX: Prior to the pandemic, many of us may not have described ourselves as being “resilient” – or have even thought about our own resilience, for that matter. Regardless of whether or not this character strength and its corresponding coping skills were on your radar before early 2020, its definitely on your mind now… Or at least, it should be.
Life in a mask
Personal, professional, and financial lives have been stressed, shaken, or completely screwed up by COVID-19, thanks to stay-at-home orders and physical distancing mandates.
During average, ordinary days and times, when a healthy adult incurs a stressor, they can cope reflexively and effectively. In the face of frustrations at work or a conflict in a relationship, a trusted coping strategy can help us to “shake it off” or “push through” in order to solve problems. These strategies might include a long ride, dinner with friends, a hot bath, or even a good cry.
But when stress stretches itself out across our work, family, and leisure, and days turn into weeks, and weeks into months, we all need more than a bike ride and a tear-jerking rom-com to cope. We need adaptive thinking and behaviors that can help us to persist. To maintain hope. To access our strengths in the face of long-term adversity.
Some people out there (and reading here) were already struggling with anxiety, depression, or the effects of trauma before the pandemic amplified all the challenges of life – but many others were not. Regardless of which category you fall into, you need resilience! The upcoming months and perhaps years will be uncertain and stressful, to say the least. So regardless of your mental health status, using and enhancing your resilience will serve you well.
Luckily, there is an entire field of psychology devoted to the enhancement of all people – not just those suffering with a mental health concern.
Over the past 20 years, positive psychology has offered evidence-based recommendations for living well, coping effectively, and thriving (Peterson, 2006). The benefits of optimism, positive emotions, personal strengths, gratitude, meaning, healthy relationships and other optimal experiences in life have been examined, evaluated, and clearly identified as real, measurable, and worth-while. This research, and the resulting recommendations for coping and living well offer a rich variety of skills that are relevant, important, and I believe essential in the current climate.
There are entire courses on positive psychology and a huge body of literature that is well beyond what can be addressed in this little article! But, if you’re interested in better understanding your existing resilience skills, and working to build them up, here is one basic, widely applicable strategy that you can easily integrate into your mental skills and coping strategies:
Know and Leverage your Character Strengths
What is the best of you? Are you hard working? Do you have a fabulous sense of humor? Are you kind, or do you bring humility to your work and relationships? Your strengths are not just traits to feel proud of, but a rich source of skills and abilities that can help you to face adversity with strength and confidence.
In my work with patients, clients, and fitness professionals, I’ve found that most people gravitate toward addressing weaknesses, blind spots, or shortcomings in their thoughts and behaviors. Most clients want to “work on” what’s “wrong”, or “not good enough”. However, understanding and leveraging the best of you is a potent resilience resource (Petersen & Seligman, 2004). Your personal character strengths can contribute to coping and even thriving in adversity. Whether they be optimism, diligence, or spirituality, the best of you has much to offer in the face of the worst times in life.
So, instead of focusing intently on what to improve in yourself, how about focusing on what is already excellent, and then intentionally drawing from those assets when meeting challenges and difficulties?
Thibait Pinot has been fighting adversity in the Tour
If you’re game, let’s go!
1. Get clear on what your strengths are: go to https://www.viacharacter.org/ (VIA stands for Values in Action). You can take the free survey, which will illustrate your personal strengths in rank order. The strengths listed at the top of the survey results represent your signature character strengths.
2. Identify a current stressor, or something coming up that will be demanding. This could be work-related, training/cycling-related, or relationship-focused.
3. Write out or talk with a friend about how you could use a character strength to meet the challenge of the event or problem you identified.
For example, in a recent session with a consultee of mine, she identified her strengths of kindness and honesty as two tools she could utilize to combat the compassion fatigue and burnout she was feeling at work. She laid out a plan to begin interactions with all of her clients with a kind observation, and to focus on how to provide honest feedback that would be kind and compassionate.
This approach helped my client to shift the focus off of where she felt she was “failing” and on to ways she felt effective and productive.
Research has identified multiple benefits to using your signature character strengths (Gheilen, van Woerkem & Meyers, 2017), and of finding new ways to leverage your strengths (Schutte & Malouff, 2018), including increases in life satisfaction, happiness, and hope, and decreases in depression. These effects have been observed not only in personal domains, but in professional life, as other research on utilizing character strengths demonstrates positive effects in the workplace (Heintz & Ruch, 2019; van Woerkem & Meyers, 2019).
Know and Leverage Your Character Strength for Cycling
You might be asking yourself, “What do my character strengths and resilience have to do with cycling?” Well, I’m so glad you asked…
Your strengths and resilience are directly transferable to your cycling, and reciprocally, the strengths and skills you possess in cycling are directly transferable to your life.
For example, if one of your signature strengths is “Appreciation of Beauty”, then leveraging this strength may help you to better enjoy long rides, or at least to focus on the beauty of nature, instead of your burning lungs and quads.
Similarly, if a cycling strength of yours is “Perseverance” and stick-to-it-iveness, then you can apply that never-give-up mentality to meet the challenges of working from home and/or supporting your children while they learn from home.
When we stress, it’s natural to focus on what’s wrong, bad, or “not-good-enough” within ourselves. But that negative focus can have a negative impact on performance and wellbeing. This fall, experiment with harnessing your strengths to cope with adversity and uncertainty. Those assets have so much more to offer you than self-doubt and -criticism; at work, in your relationship, out on the road, and up on your trainer.
Thibait Pinot need all his strengths (and team) to finish Tour stage 8
Ghielen, S. T. S., van Woerkom, M., & Christina Meyers, M. (2017). Promoting positive outcomes through strengths interventions: A literature review. Journal of Positive Psychology, 13, 573-585.
Heintz, S., & Ruch, W. (2019). Character strengths and job satisfaction: Differential relationships across occupational groups and adulthood. Applied Research in Quality of Life, 15, 503-527.
Peterson, C. & Seligman, M. (2004). Character Strengths and Virtues: A Handbook and Classification. Oxford University Press: NY.
Peterson, C. (2006). A Primer in Positive Psychology. Oxford University Press: NY.
Schutte, N. S., & Malouff, J. M. (2018). The impact of signature character strengths interventions: A meta-analysis. Journal of Happiness Studies, 20, 1179-1196.
van Woerkom, M., & Meyers, M. C. (2019). Strengthening personal growth: The effects of a strengths intervention on personal growth initiative. Journal of Occupational and Organizational Psychology, 92, 98-121.
VIA Institute on Character. https://www.viacharacter.org/. Retrieved August 30, 2020.