In a previous article, I wrote about resilience and how it can be built. I introduced Martin Seligman’s PERMA theory, which outlines five areas where we can strengthen resilience and build positive mental health. In this entry, I’ll elaborate on two: cultivating positive emotion, and pursuing engagement in meaningful activities.
Resilient and mentally healthy people aren’t happy all the time. Feeling stressed, anxious, bored, or what have you are not signs of mental illness – to feel is human. All emotions deserve attention, for they convey important information about the world. We must learn to tune in to our emotions. Doing so can help us identify a need that may be unmet and, if we “stick with” our emotions long enough, we might be able to figure out an action that can help to meet that need. Although mentally well people don’t shy from difficult emotions, neither do they dwell on them. Feelings are experienced as temporary. Still, resilient people do tend to have more positive than negative emotions. Here are some ideas on how to cultivate a more positive frame of mind.
- Keep a gratitude journal. At the end of each day, reflect on three things that occurred that you appreciate/are grateful for.
- Keeping a record (e.g., journal) helps to reinforce theskill of looking at life in this way.
- Make a list of your strengths – if you struggle to identify what they are, you can visit this website for some help: https://www.viacharacter.org/
- Engage in “positive rumination.” Intentionally recall positive memories
- Practice self-compassion: https://self-compassion.org
- Learn to balance negative thinking:
When you notice a negative thought, ask if there’s another way to see it. Ask a friend to help poke holes in the logic of the thought(s). Ask yourself if this the absolute worst thing that could possibly happen? Is your life ruined because of this? Even when things are bad, they normally aren’t insurmountable.
Resilient people participate actively in life. They pursue goals and don’t shy away from challenges. They don’t always succeed at everything they try, but they keep trying, and their sense of self is connected more to the trying than it is to the succeeding. Carol Dweck studied children and resilience and noticed that when students (or their teachers/caregivers) focused on and were praised for achievement, effort and performance during difficult tasks waned. When the focus was on effort and skill building, performance
improved. She coined the term and theory of having a “growth” (versus fixed) mindset. Ways you can strengthen your “growth mindset” include:
Use the “SMART” acronym (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant [meaningful], and Time-bound).
- Reflect: Take time to acknowledge, reflect on, and embrace areas of improvement. Consider what is meaningful in your life – why are these your goals? Are you truly motivated to work toward them?
- Take on challenges: Don’t back down from things that are hard. Embrace them and try to focus on the effort and learning/growth, rather than on the outcome.
- Foster grit: Take time to remember times when you had to persevere through something challenging. What did you do? Who supported you? What did you learn?
Jason is a Registered Psychologist with over 15 years of experience counselling adults and adolescents with a variety of concerns. Areas of specialization include anxiety, AD/HD, identity development, relationship issues, depression and self-esteem. In addition to counselling services, Jason conducts assessments with learners of all ages. He makes a unique contribution to the Centre through his skill in career assessments.
Dweck, C. S. (2016). Mindset the new psychology of Success. Ballantine Books.