How to be more resilient: Key learnings from The Resilience Project

“Developing Resilience in Young People” was the title of the event facilitated by Hugh van Cuylenberg of The Resilience Project. The event was supported by Wodonga Council and Gateway Health, through Healthy Together Wodonga.

Here’s my key take away messages of how we can boost our own resilience and that of the young people in our lives by practising empathy, gratitude and mindfulness.

1.     Pain can be transmuted into gold.

Hugh described the devastation and helplessness felt as an older brother witnessing his sister’s battle with Anorexia Nervosa. Years later, whilst teaching in a remote Indian village, he was profoundly struck with the deep happiness described by the residents, many of whom were homeless, orphaned and without ready access to safe drinking water. Intrigued by this village’s incredibly low mental illness rates (1/85) compared to the current crisis facing Australia (1/7 children and 1/4 adolescents diagnosed with a mental illness), Hugh embarked on exploring the topic of resilience and sharing his knowledge with Australian schools, workplaces and communities. His expertise and research knowledge is conveyed with deep passion from his personal experiences. Stories of suffering are imbued with heart felt meaning and inform his drive.

Look closely: consider how you might reconstruct your pain and create something from it.

2.     Noticing moments for gratitude

Gratitude is about focusing on what you already have, not the “If and when” model of happiness – (‘I’ll be happy when I get a promotion/bigger house/ sports car/ top marks/when I lose x amount of weight’). The “If and when” is not a sustainable approach to happiness.

Hugh told a story of a student at the remote village school in India who he describes as ‘the happiest person’ he’s ever met. Stunzin, who was homeless and an orphan, spoke very little English. He slept outside under cardboard for shelter and warmth. He would smile often and point to what he was grateful for, saying “Dis” (This): shoes, despite his feet growing too big and having to cut the ends off to fit; the shop awning for keeping him dry whilst he slept at night on the street; the water he walked for hours to retrieve in heavy buckets for boiling at school and so on. Stunzin noticed and gave thanks for what he had. If you search #dismoment on social media, you will see that Stunzin’s approach to life has inspired many.

Notice: where can you stop and acknowledge what you have with gratitude? #dismoment. This is a practice you can do yourself, but imagine the power as you show others this practice…Your children, work colleagues, friends?  

The sun. Welcomed after a pretty cold and gloomy NE Victorian Winter © Naomi Morrow, 2016

The sun. Welcomed after a pretty cold and gloomy NE Victorian Winter © Naomi Morrow, 2016

3.     The Gratitude Questions

Ever tried to keep a gratitude journal but started to recycle the same responses over and over (eg. my health, my family etc) and got tired of it?

Try answering these questions daily to keep things fresh and unique:

  •                   What is the best thing that happened to me today?
  •                   Who am I most grateful to today and why?
  •                   What am I most looking forward to tomorrow?

Research shows a multitude of benefits for keeping this daily practice going. Keep writing for 21 days and your brain can retain a pattern for scanning the world not for the negative but for the positive.

If you keep going for 42 days, you: are less likely to get sick; have higher levels of energy; feel happier; are more enthusiastic; are more attentive; are more determined; are more optimistic; have a better quality of sleep; and have lower levels of depression and anxiety.

Journal writing on gratitude is a quick, creative, free + effective way to boost resilience.

 4.     Wear your friend’s shoes (or: show empathy)

The audience giggled as Hugh told a story of asking a group of children what they thought empathy meant. One young girl suggested it was when you wear your friend’s shoes. She was on the right track! The metaphorical ‘stepping into another’s shoes’ is the willingness and capacity to try to understand the situation and feelings of another. Showing empathy is a key step to developing resilience.

How to cultivate this? Encourage your child to plan one act of kindness to carry out during the week. Who are they going to help? How? Review at the end of the week. What did they do? How did they feel doing it? Also keep an eye out for an opportunity to engage in a random act of kindness during the week. Give it a go yourself too. Each time you do something kind for others, your brain releases oxytocin (the feel good hormone) – which leads to increased confidence, energy, happiness and positivity. The boost to your wellbeing by engaging in these kinds of acts is long lasting.

5.     Influence the strength of your emotion.

Within seven seconds of hearing your favourite song, you can increase your positive emotion or decrease your negative emotion. Within 30 seconds of exercise you can make a change. Laugh – and the change is immediate.

You know what song you like. You know what exercise you like to do. You know what makes you laugh. Seek out these things and keep them in your bag of wellbeing tricks.

For the young person in your life – what song do they like? What exercise do they enjoy? What jokes, movies, stories make them laugh? Use them.

You can control the strength of your emotion. You can teach your child that they have power over theirs.

6.     Practising mindfulness.

An adolescent brain now takes in the same amount of information in a one week period than 20 years ago, where that same amount of information was absorbed over a whole year.

It is vital that adolescents, children and adults alike have opportunity to practise mindfulness and reduce mental clutter and overwhelm.

Mindfulness colouring can be a way to experience ‘flow’ – that is to experience enjoyment, lose sense of time and not be distracted by worries.

A number of mindfulness meditation apps exist. The Smiling Mind App has been proven to reduce anxiety, depression, relieve stress, prevent heart disease, improve sleep, reduce chronic pain, lowers blood pressure, enhances decision making, improves focus and decreases drug and alcohol abuse.

The problems are complex.

The solutions need not be complicated.

© Naomi Morrow, 2016