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

Rob Bell Wake Up Project Event: My top 5 Take-Away Messages

Admittedly, I wasn’t too familiar with Rob Bell and his work – but after I’d heard Elizabeth Gilbert refer to him as a “most inspiring spiritual leader” I was intrigued.

It was a clear winter day in Melbourne when Rob Bell spoke about all the big things: life, spirituality, love, suffering, creativity and mindfulness.

© Naomi Morrow, 2016

© Naomi Morrow, 2016

Listening to Rob speak, I felt more sure of who I was, who I am, and who I want to be. Yet for every time I thought YES, I now understand X or Y about me – there raised another three questions. That’s what happens when you go a bit deeper on yourself.

I filled half a notebook with AHA moments, phrases, snapshots of stories, wisdom + reminders. I can’t relay it all here, but if his work calls you – please check out his latest book How to Be Here.

1.     What can you create from EVEN this?

When we talk about life, living and relating to others – and finding our way in the world, we soon come to learn about suffering. When in the midst of suffering, whether it’s experiencing loss, illness, despair, pain – Bell suggests that we can always ask “I wonder what could be created out of even this?”

What new thing, action, belief, connections or presence could we consciously choose to adopt as a new creation out of our suffering?

This isn’t about looking for reasons why we suffer, but about finding ways to acknowledge that suffering presents us with an opportunity to know ourselves and our world in a new way. Could we choose to consciously become softer, more self-compassionate, more empathetic? Could we create new connections and reach out to others experiencing similar circumstances? Could we create a new path through life that acknowledges and transcends, rather than vainly tries to deny our experience?

Consider how many support groups and fundraising charities have been founded by someone who has lost a loved one to cancer. What can be created from even this?

As I listened to this message, it was impossible for me not to be thinking about the death of my mother last year. Every day following this loss, I consciously ask “How can I live wholeheartedly right now? How can I express my truth fully? How can I be my boldest self? How can I show love?”

Consciously create your life – pain and all.

2.     Is your ladder against the right building?

From a young age, we intuitively learn about ladders. We learn: study hard at school = get good grades. Get good grades = get into a good university. Get good grades = get a good job. Work hard = get a promotion. Work harder = get the corner office. And so on. All the ladders are there, waiting for us to climb up. We learn: keep striving, keep going up.

Rarely do we stop to ask “Is my ladder leaned up against the right building?”

Is this what I want? Many people get right to the top, achieve incredible success and wealth, but never have asked the deeper questions. Who am I? What will my life be about?

Some of us get really good at climbing ladders.

Is the endless striving and materialism fulfilling you?

Bell said “People make all kinds of radical choices to live the life that means the most to them.” They might choose to live frugally most of the year in order to travel extensively, or to sacrifice a certain level of income to maximise time with family or on a creative outlet.

Making a change and moving ‘down’ from the ego is a disruption of sorts. Moving toward greater vitality and health can challenge the assumptions of your society, tribe, family and/or workplace. The centre of consciousness has a message “This is how we do things” but you can make a disruption by saying “This is not my path.”

Ah. Being a disrupter. How does that sound? Waking up to what is possible and most meaningful for you. Do things your way. It’s certainly not going to be easy, because it will likely generate ripples of dissonance, but living in a way that’s not true for you won’t be a picnic either. What will you choose?

3.     What is that to you?

Ever notice yourself becoming too focused on what others are doing?

Wasting your energy comparing your parenting, business success, perceived wealth, physical appearance, accolades etc to other people?

Who you aren’t, isn’t interesting. (“I’m not smart enough, I’m not successful enough”)

Who they are, isn’t interesting. (“They are smarter, They are more successful”).

The time and energy you spend in this space takes you away from your capacity to live a rich, full and meaningful life. You are in control of how and where you expend your energy.

Decide now that you will not compare what you DO know about yourself with what you DON’T know about someone else.” – Rob Bell.

Ooh. Tough one but I’m going to try. I’ve already had my husband on to this for me, replying “What is that to you?” when I’ve been too focused on how I think someone should have behaved. It’s pretty effective when you boil it down. Keep your eyes on yourself, not over your shoulder or over your fence.

What is that to you?

4.     What is the number one here?

There’s that thing we want to do. But it’s big. And we’re stuck. We know what the first step is, but what happens at step 17? We don’t know. It’s unclear. So we don’t even start, because we want certainty and a smooth path.

And the longer we stay stuck, it gets harder to move into action. We get tangled in a sea of complicated thoughts, trying to second guess all the unknowns along the path. So to appear capable, confident, skilled. Not foolish. God forbid we make a mistake!

How do we cross over from spectating to participating?

Ask, “What’s the number one here?” Then just do it. Once you’ve done that, then you’ll do two – even if two may be different by then.

Step by step by step. It’s impossible to see the whole course, so commit to action, be curious and open. Keep moving. You don’t need to have a clear vision of step 17 yet!

Wowsers, some big truth telling here. As a new business owner, I’m faced with new. Different. Unknown. Unfamiliar. All the time. I’m committing to shifting my perception to one of excitement, intrigue and purposeful incremental action rather than anxiety, fear and avoidance of action.

Care to join me?

5.     What can you do to remind yourself that you have today?

A physical reminder, or moving meditation, can help anchor you into a space of gratitude and presence. Remembering that you are here and alive today.

Bell spoke of people who are thriving at a deep level, have a ritual that is personally meaningful for them that helps them feel into that place of aliveness.

He spoke about moving houses many times with his wife and family, and always carting around the heavy boxes of ‘good’ china that remained saved for a ‘special’ occasion – but were remain unused. Remembering that every day is a gift, they now use the special china for family breakfasts. It is a tangible, physical reminder to celebrate and mark life with gratitude for the here and now.

For some it might be baking cake, going for a hike in the forest, surfing, running, singing, sewing. The possibilities are endless. Choose what gives you that sense of awe and vitality and do it.

Are you putting off doing something special? Don’t wait.

© Naomi Morrow, 2016