Author, speaker, trainer, and consultant—Michael Ballard—was 27 when he received a cancer diagnosis. Naturally, it was a cause for great anxiety, so he asked the medical professionals around him, “What kind of support is out there for people, like me, who are going through this kind of thing?” To his surprise, not many of these professionals could give him a definitive answer. This really got him thinking about what he was going to do in order to cope mentally and emotionally as he went in and out of hospital for several years—facing two bouts of cancer and a failed medical procedure. This experience was the determining factor in becoming, what he calls “a student of resiliency”.
He also realized that if people could learn resiliency skills to use when facing challenging times, they “…could increase the quality of the experience and might just change the quality of the outcome.”
It’s Normal to Shrink in the Face of Adversity
With this in mind, Michael realized that there were common threads throughout most major life challenges that people face, including: chronic illness, divorce, and bankruptcy. But he also realized that, despite the kind of challenges people face, it is the same kind of skills that get people through. For example, he explains, “…that when big stuff happens to us it’s normal to shrink away from it. It’s a safety response… shrinking is a safety response and it’s very good in the short-term, but in the long-term doesn’t necessarily do you any good at all because you’re stuck there.”
He goes on to explain that, once we have allowed ourselves to shrink for the short-term in order to adjust, it is important to stretch ourselves in order to cope and make sure that we do not stay where we are. We must stretch ourselves out of hiding in order to overcome. One of the most important skills to help us do this, he states, is to ask ourselves necessary questions like,
Who do we need to have on our team?
What are the resources we need to cope with this right now?
Essentially, it’s about, mentally, putting a support system in place so that, when we start to stretch ourselves, we have the safety net of people and resources that will catch us if we fall.
Mags, of SwanWaters, says, that healing—in all its forms—is a process. Whether someone is healing from years of abuse, or fighting a terminal illness, it is all about gauging where we’re at as individuals and working from there. She also goes on to say that a big part of this process is being realistic about what you need to do in order to overcome and thrive, but to also be self-compassionate. Because we grow at the pace we grow. She says that when it comes to certain issues of healing, it can simply be a matter of her “…not [being] ready yet, or I haven’t figured it out yet, or I’m not at the right position yet to face this particular thing.” Michael agrees with her on this point and encourages all people who are pursuing their healing to do this—while also maintaining an attitude of forward focus.
Resiliency is Partly a Belief System
“It’s really interesting, our self-definition,” Michael says, “how we’ve allowed life to date to define us. It’s our job to do housework.” Which is to say: we need to sift through the attitudes we have in order to see which ones serve us and which ones continue to cripple us. Because our success, as resilient people, will be determined by how we direct our mind—and whether we’re committed to keeping it turned in the direction of overcoming or giving up.
Mags interjects with one of her own experiences, “I was always told I was really bad at learning languages. People find that really odd, but I’m not bad at learning languages at all. I just had a couple of bad teachers who didn’t quite tap into, who just made people learn vocab lists. That bores me, but if you just put me in a situation where I have to learn a new language, then sure I’ll pick it up in a couple weeks.” In sharing this, she made the point that she could choose to define herself as inadequate because she didn’t learn like other people seemed to, or she could appreciate the fact that she had a unique learning style. How she chose to see herself, versus just accepting the default views of various others, is what determined whether she saw herself as a success or failure. Because being successful, healing, and finding strength—no matter the challenges we face—begins with how we choose to think about ourselves.
Self-Validation is Key
Both Mags and Michael point out that at the end of the day, our ability to stand firm during life’s struggles is to learn to validate ourselves. Because a person’s true resilience is dependent on being strengthened and sustained by an internal locus of control—they know that the outcome of their lives is determined by their choices and attitudes. Versus a person who has an external locus of control—that their lives are outside of their hands and other people are to blame.
Resiliency in a Nutshell
The harsh reality is that life isn’t fair—and bad things happen to good people all the time. But it’s about playing the hand we’re dealt and doing what we can with it.
So how do we be resilient? Let’s recap:
- Face reality and face the pain
- Put a support network in place so that you have people, and resources, to call upon when we aren’t coping
- Shrinking is a natural response to fear and pain, but we must remember that we are responsible for our own happiness. Onward march.
- Keep our minds set on overcoming rather than defeat
- And self-validate in the face of difficulties and/or the opinions of others
This article is based on the podcast Michael and Mages recorded on how resilience helps with life’s big stuff.