By Dr. Ken Manges
As a forensic and clinical psychologist, I frequently encounter clients’ expressions of exasperation and frustration when things in their lives go sideways. “Why me?” is a common refrain.
Having traded in my crystal ball for something less magical, like what’s the odds of such an event happening, I delicately respond, “why not you?”
Not intending to be callous or insensitive, I wonder aloud why an accident, mishap, calamity or good fortune should not happen for them? After all, with over three hundred and thirty million people in the United States and having had Homo Sapiens on earth for about three hundred thousand years, we have some reliable data on just how frequently accidents and the winning of the lottery are going to happen.
We can however change some of the odds. No, I don’t have the answer to how you can win the lottery, but I do have some suggestions about how to be prepared for a mishap and what you might consider doing to overcome the “woe is me” refrain if and when your plans get reduced to rubble.
Running late? Leave earlier!
There is a great book you might want to consider putting on your digital or real shelf, it’s called Resilient, by Rick Hansen. The premise is that the path our lives take depends on the interaction of three circumstances, sort of like the alignment of the planets, how we manage our challenges, how we protect ourselves by knowing our vulnerabilities and by the ways in which we plan by growing and supplementing our resources. I’m reminded as I drive on the interstate, one of those bulletins where they tell you there’s an Amber alert. One of their messages speaks to the point I’m trying to make and it says “ Running late? Leave earlier!”
Hansen makes the point in his book about growing our resources in our minds, as something unique, formidable and under our greatest control.
As our luck would have it, the planets are not always aligned in our favor, but how we respond to the sideways shot we sometimes get is always under our control.
Who’s in charge?
We are the architects, choreographers and directors of our responses, reactions and emotions.
We may not be in control of the weather and our car skidding into something it wasn’t supposed to, or our child making a poor choice about their choice of relationships, but we are in charge of how we take on our disappointments and our fortunes.
Why do millionaire lottery winners go bankrupt?
Speaking of fortunes, it remains a wonder to me how seventy percent of big-ticket lottery winners end up in bankruptcy after five years! Theresa Dixon Murray of the Plain Dealer reporting on the National Endowment for Financial Education, says that lottery winners give away too much of their wealth to friends and family or invest in businesses without doing their due diligence.
But this column is about building our mental resources in order to reckon with the more mundane disappointments and the common mishaps we encounter as a part of our life experiences. Any recent or past memorable experiences come to mind? Have you lost out on an exceptional life experience because you procrastinated? Have you incurred debt or embarrassment because you acted too impulsively ? Don’t fret, these are all part of our life experience. Resilience and overcoming life’s obstacles is not as “easy as pie” but it’s not rocket science either.
Rabbi Hillel is known for many wise and memorable statements, one is “If I am not for myself, then who will be for me? If not now, when?” In consideration of building our resources for mishaps, Hillel’s words take on weight as the saying both informs us about our responsibility and commitment to ourselves as primary but being about ourselves is not all that’s intended by Rabbi Hillel’s observation. He also recognizes that if we are to thrive and survive, we cannot only care about ourselves.
Want to build resilience? Put on your check list being compassionate for yourself. Self-acceptance, and patience will enable you to withstand both the little disappointments and some of the big hits as well. Take a look at your past fortunes and misfortunes. How did you react? What led to your recovery, and how did you connect with others in the moment? Was your behavior something you want to repeat? If not, great! Now you know what not to do the next time.
What are some of the other building blocks of resilience?
Other building blocks to resilience include mindfulness, getting out of your comfort zone and engaging in a new learning experience, along with being passionate about your future imagined self.
Mindfulness and meditation is in the news and on different phone apps. You can subscribe for free or sign up for a subscription. Whichever you choose, the object is the same. Meditation helps to allow the emotion, whether it be joy or grief, engage and enjoy or to engage and grieve in a productive, supportive but without self-centered or self-destructive reactions.
What to consider when revisiting engaging experiences from your past.
What new learning task have you taken on for yourself lately? Other than going to school, what have you sought out to grapple with because it took you out of your comfort zone? If you remember, how did it make you feel? I’m talking about the sense of mastery you experienced when you realized your success. Want to feel that mastery again? Go for it! What is outside of your wheelhouse that would be a new accomplishment?
You might even consider growing or enriching a past learning experience you truly enjoyed. There are different ways you can enrich that experience. You can make it longer, staying with the activity beyond the time you had before. You can intensify it by bringing more energy to the task or event. You can expand it by bringing the experience to parts of your day or doing it with others if you had done it by yourself in the past. You can make it fresher by doing research to see how it’s changed. You can increase its value by journaling about it. Take notes about how it has changed you and engaged you so you can replicate the experience again. Enjoy the ride!
Walt Disney said, if you can visualize it, if you can dream it, there is some way to do it. Why worry? If you’ve done the very best, then worrying won’t make it any better.”
Resilience is your ability to respond to disappointment, failure and fortune. Can you come back from failure and disappointment? Can you continue to push on, even when you’ve reached success? Imagination is a source of fuel you may want to consider.
As far as we know, humans are the only species with the capacity to imagine the future. But stay tuned because we may eventually find that other species also have that same ability. However, for now, we know we can imagine and that capacity to visualize a wish or an imagined self can be your secret back pocket winner.
When you set about your daily activities, no doubt you sometimes imagine yourself in an exchange, a conversation, or a confrontation and you may even imagine a script. This is an important building block. Don’t minimize your capacity to project yourself as you want to be. After the experience you imagined, take some notes. Not about success or failure, but rather how you could have used your imagination to refine your ability to succeed the next time around.
I hope you enjoyed today’s column. Thanks for taking the time. See you here next month when I’ll be talking about Artificial Intelligence
Be well. Stay safe.
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