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Navigating a Brave New World

“Resilience is accepting your new reality, even if it’s less good than the one you had before. You can fight it, you can do nothing but scream about what you’ve lost, or you can accept that and try to put together something that’s good.” Elizabeth Edwards

These are what psychologists would refer to as VUCA (Volatile, Uncertain, Complex and Ambiguous) times. Things are volatile in that the circumstances seem to change rapidly and frequently; things are uncertain, in terms of our own/our loved one’s circumstances and the destiny of the world/society more broadly; and, it goes without saying, there is clearly much complexity and ambiguity at present. These are unprecedented circumstances, in so many of our lives.  At the same time, the present circumstances are shining a light on many positive aspects of human nature. There are many who are rallying around and supporting their communities (both real and virtual).  

So can we cope with this crisis better by asking ourselves:

What can I do? How can I do my bit to contribute? What can I bring to events?

Even though many of us want to help, our minds can play tricks on us by giving us thoughts that undermine our resilience (ability to cope with life’s adverse events). We can call these Resilience-Undermining Thoughts (RUT) and they can have an adverse impact on our feelings and reactions. A coping strategy is to change these RUTs to Resilience-Enhancing Thoughts (RET). These are thoughts that help us to maintain our resilience in times of change, challenge or adversity.

Examples of these are given in the table over the page.

Carry out the following activity to see if it helps you to change your resilience undermining thoughts to resilience enhancing thoughts.

First consider whether any of the resilience undermining thought patterns shown in the table below are present in your thinking. It’s important to note that they are all quite normal and are simply a feature of the way the mind works. No-one is immune to these. They can become problematic, though, if we become stuck with them or if they ‘take the wheel’ for us.

To challenge and change Resilience-Undermining Thoughts, it is important to use questioning to dispute them. Rather than taking the thought at face value, we can ask ourselves the following questions:

  • What is the evidence for your thought?, What is the evidence against your thought?, How does the evidence balance up?
  • How logical is that thought?
  • How helpful is that thought? What are the consequences of thinking that?
  • What alternative ways of thinking about it might there be?
  • What would you say to a friend who said that? (This can help us if we are being overly critical of ourselves, which we are less likely to do to others).

The key point here is: Just because we think something, doesn’t make it true
The next step is to create Resilience-Enhancing Thoughts to maintain our resilience in times of change, challenge or adversity.  Examples of these are also shown in the table over the page.


Resilience-Undermining Thoughts

Resilience-Enhancing Thoughts

Resistance to reality: “This shouldn’t be happening!”, “This shouldn’t happen to me!”

Acceptance of reality: “This is happening/has happened. Now what can I do?”

Awfulizing/Catastrophizing: “This is awful, nothing could be worse!” (It’s as bad as it could be); “It’s wholly bad!” (There are no good aspects / no good can come from this); “It’s the end of the world!”.
Or, predicting that the worst-case scenario will happen without considering other more likely outcomes

De-Awfulizing/De-Catastrophizing: “It is not as bad as it could be.”; “It’s not 100% awful. Some good may come from this.”; “It’ll pass/I’ll adjust.”; “Lots of good things have come out of this such as …”

All-or-nothing thinking: Evaluating experiences on the basis of extremes; things are either “excellent” or “terrible”, “perfection” or “failure”, with no shades of grey.
Also called black-and-white thinking.

Broadening the picture: Considering the range of factors influencing a situation (depersonalizing); considering the broader context in which an event/situation occurs.
Balanced thinking: Rather than evaluating events in extremes, looking at the details and acknowledging that there may be both good and bad aspects to a situation.

Personalization / Blame: “It’s all my fault/their fault!” (no other factors contributed) Ignoring context: Interpreting events in isolation, without considering the bigger picture or relevant contextual factors.

De-personalise / De-blame:  “Nobody is at fault, accidents happen”; “It happened because there was a lot of traffic on the road”; “It happened because they were rushing to get help”.

Self-doubt / Fortune telling / Jumping to conclusions: “I won’t be able to handle it!”, “It’s going to go badly”

Self-confidence: “I will handle it.”; “I have handled similar situations before and I can do it again.”.

Low Frustration Tolerance: “I can’t stand it!”

High Frustration Tolerance: “I might not like it, but I can stand it.”

Avoidance: Refusing to think about something as it’s too uncomfortable.

Facing your dragons: “What’s the worst that could happen? If that happens, how will I handle it?”
Being realistic: “That’s the worst that could happen… How likely is it?”

Condemning (self or others): “I’m useless!”, “I’m a failure!”, “He’s a total ****!”
Demands (musts, shoulds, oughts, have-tos): “I should/shouldn’t be…”, “Others should/shouldn’t be…”, “My circumstances have to be favourable or else it’s awful and I can’t stand it!”

Compassion (to self or others): Focusing on specific behaviours.
Not rating/labelling ourselves or others on the basis of specific actions.
Preferences (rather than demands): “I would prefer it if…”
Accepting self/other as fallible.

Negative filter: Focusing only on what is wrong or lacking without acknowledging positives.

Gratitude / Appreciation: Keeping in touch with the positive aspects of a situation (or one’s life more broadly)

Resilience-Undermining Imagery (Playing dodgy videos): Mentally running images of e.g. not coping, bad outcomes

Resilience-Enhancing Imagery: Imagining oneself coping with difficulty or experiencing success


Using a table like this, write down all your RUTs on the left hand side, then challenge your thinking and then write down all your RETs on the right hand side of the page.  

Keep thinking about your RETs and visualising them and see how differently you start to think, feel and behave.

In these times that are volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguous, it is imperative to be kind to ourselves and others and accept that we are going to have RUTs but we can also use our RETs to get through this with our family, friends and neighbours as well as every member of our community that contributes to our wellbeing whether that is the street cleaner or shop assistant or post person.

None of us are immune to RUTs but all of us can challenge them and create RETs. So why not just give this activity a try and see what happens.

“The human capacity for burden is like bamboo- far more flexible than you’d ever believe at first glance.” Jodi Picoult, My Sister’s Keeper

Dr Sima Patel
Chartered Psychologist and Coach
15 New Road | Brighton | East Sussex | BN1 1UF
01273 803 013
thewellbeingpractice.co.uk

Posted in Wellbeing Practice on Oct 01, 2020