What is resilience?
A traditional dictionary definition is:
The capacity to recover quickly from difficulties; toughness.
But this definition is lacking something. My goal in this post is to address what's missing in the textbook definition of resilience and also provide some insights into why we should teach children resilience and how in doing so, we will also become more resilient.
Can resilience come from a pill?
Like it is with so many other things, there are those who want you to believe that a lack of resilience can be fixed quickly with a pill or they altogether misdiagnose the problem in order to push their own agenda.
According to a non-profit group called the Citizens Commission on Human Rights (CCHR):
- 20M school-aged children worldwide have been diagnosed with mental disorders and prescribed cocaine-like stimulants and powerful antidepressants as treatment
- Psychiatric drug abuse is surging worldwide
- The US mental health budget has more than doubled from $33B in 1994 to more than $80B today
CCHR goes on to say that despite record spending on psychiatric drugs, almost every country worldwide is facing escalating levels of child abuse, suicide, drug abuse, violence, and crime. These problems, as you will see by the time you're done with this article are almost entirely eradicated by high levels of resilience in our families.
Filling the void of psychiatric drugs
While drug treatments have their place in our world, I think it's safe based on the amount of data we have to rule out drugs alone as effective solutions for helping the masses cope with the challenges of life. To fill this void, we need a deeper, more actionable understanding of what resilience is or should be. Driven, a company whose self-proclaimed mission is to build resilience at a global scale, provides a modern definition of resilience:
Advancing despite adversity.
This definition seems like a more sustainable and outcome oriented focus that rules out anything a psychiatric drug can do. It's a goal oriented approach that requires us to work towards and build our own vision of success. It requires us to be proactive and not reactive to the adversity (both large and small in impact) in our lives.
According to Driven, there are 6 domains of resilience and by focusing on small and simple daily activities in each of these domains, we can dramatically improve our resilience.
Write, or if necessary, re-write your story
Resilience isn't just for kids.
It's something we all need.
I recently learned that a friend of mine has a 7-year old daughter who is battling cancer. I had no idea. We're not close friends, but I had spoken with him several times and even had him in my home on occasion during the time his daughter was going through her treatments. I mention this because for many years, all I observed in this person was success. Even what might have seemed like troubles or difficulties turned into significant gains for him. I started to wonder if he was exempt from true life challenges. When I learned about his daughter's battle with cancer and saw the pictures of this man and his wife with their bald little girl, I thought about how I would cope with such a challenge. I can't say I would do it as well as he has, but I have done some things in my own life to build a little resilience.
One of my favorite quotes comes from Tony Robbins:
If you want to change your life you have to change your strategy, you have to change your story, and you have to change your state.
I think we've proven that there is a better strategy for building resilience in ourselves and our children than psychiatric drugs. And, I think it's clear from the chart above that if we aren't eating, sleeping, and exercising properly, that our state can really take a hit and ultimately affect our reasoning, composure, and our tenacity. But what about the domains of vision and collaboration?
Familysearch.org recently published a great article about building resilience. The focus of the article includes specific and practical ways to assess the story or narrative we tell about ourselves and our families. I highly recommend reviewing the full article and going through the exercise.
Science shows that the more connected we are with and the more we know about our families, the more resilient we become. Emory University proposed 20 questions you can answer and you can also share with your family. It's called The Do You Know Scale. You simply write a yes or no next to the question:
- Do you know how your parents met?
- Do you know where your mother grew up?
- Do you know where your father grew up?
- Do you know where some of your grandparents grew up?
- Do you know where some of your grandparents met?
- Do you know where your parents were married?
- Do you know what went on when you were being born?
- Do you know the source of your name?
- Do you know some things about what happened when your brother or sisters were being born?
- Do you know which person in your family you look most like?
- Do you know which person in the family you act most like?
- Do you know some of the illnesses and injuries that your parents experienced when they were younger?
- Do you know some of the lessons that your parents learned from good or bad experiences when they were younger?
- Do you know some things that happened to your mom or dad when they were in school?
- Do you know the national background of your family (such as English, German, Russian, etc)?
- Do you know some of the jobs that your parents had when they were young?
- Do you know some awards that your parents received when they were young?
- Do you know the names of the schools that your mom went to?
- Do you know the names of the schools that your dad went to?
- Do you know about a relative whose face "froze" in a grumpy position because he or she did not smile enough?
A personal note about teaching resilience
As someone who has experienced more failure and setbacks than I care to admit, resilience is important to me. I want to get better at it, but what I want even more is to make sure my own kids are resilient. One thing I've done, and there is no research behind this practice (but to me it was fun and it's something I hope my kids always remember), is to create a chain of our extended family with my sons in the middle (if you make one of these yourself, be sure that if you print two pictures per person on each ring like I did, that you do one of them upside down otherwise depending on how the chain is turned, you'll have some upside down faces...dad gets a C+ in crafts).
I've hung these chains in their rooms and I frequently talk to my sons about being a strong link in the chain of our family's generations. I believe by them seeing how many people were required to come together and manage and work through life's ups and downs in order for them to be alive, they gain a great perspective of their importance and at the same time their commonalities with all other people.
Resilience is not some mysterious thing that some people naturally have and others don't. Resilience isn't obtained by psychiatric drug use. In its modern definition, resilience requires vision, composure, reasoning, health, tenacity, and collaboration. It's something that can be built up through practical activities like:
- Setting goals
- Learning how to breathe
- Planning and learning to problem solve
- Eating healthier food, getting adequate sleep and exercise
- Persisting towards our goals with optimism
- Talking with and getting to know our parents and children