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Building Resilience: Connection, Purpose, Competence, And Motivation



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John Woodall, MD, is a Board Certified psychiatrist who lives in Newtown. He has provided the following commentary as Newtown moves toward the December 14 date.

There is a simple way to get a resilience-building process moving in your life and in your family. It is deceptively simple to do, but in fact mobilizes a series of resilient skills and adds immeasurably to the quality of your life.

To make sense out of why this one simple act is so important, a little background. It is helpful to think of resilience as the skills needed to strengthen four aspects of life:

1.) Our connection with others in family, among friends and the community;

2.) A purpose in life worth living for;

3.) Competence to pursue that purpose; and

4.) The motivation to pursue these three.

If we had to rank these four according to their importance to our resilience, the first, the quality of our connection to others, would have to be seen as most essential. This is especially so for children and teens.

When we are living a full and resilient life, each of these is functioning well. Even one of these elements, if working in our lives, can pull us through when the others are weak. Tragedy and loss, unfairness and trauma can weaken our grip on these four pillars of resilience in our lives.

So, what is this deceptively simple way to begin to build resilience? Years ago, when I was at Harvard, I asked a very famous psychologist, Jerome Kagan, what it was that people most want in life. He responded, “It’s simple. People want their virtues recognized.” So, that is where we will start. By engaging a friend or loved one at the level of one of their competencies or virtues, (#3, above), we automatically activate the other three components of resilience. Here’s a simple way to do this.

The next time you are with someone you care about, look for a strength in their character they are displaying. It might be a concern for fairness masked as frustration, the quiet courage it takes to be honest with oneself, an extra effort made when discouraged, a kindness when exhausted. It might be an anxiety that shows how concerned they are to do the right thing. The point is to recognize something in the moment that shows a strength. It should be something that you just witnessed for best effect. Something real and in the moment. Then, briefly and simply, without flattery, comment on it. That’s it.

What this does is put the focus on the immediate and the present. Most of our disempowering worries that sap our resilience are about things we have no control over, things that might or might not happen. This simple observation of a strength is empowering to you and the person you make the comment to, in that it places the focus where we have control, our immediate life with someone in our immediate circle. It also makes a deeper connection with that person (#1). This leads to an appreciation of a purpose in life to be there for each other (#2). When we have a sense of competence that we can achieve a goal and we can do it with the support of another who sees the best in us, our motivation is stimulated and we begin to acquire “grit” (#4).

Do this as often as possible. This is the easiest and fastest way to develop resilience in yourself and someone you love.

Comments are open. Be civil.

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