Improving resilience and the power of empathy

Life is a series of ‘ups’ and ‘downs’, and this is something we have no control over. What we can change, however, is how we respond to the negative situations, or ‘downs’, and perhaps even more importantly how we bounce back. In this article, our Director of Wellbeing Sue Jones talks about how improving empathy can help to form powerful social bonds which is key to developing resilience.

The importance of resilience

The good thing about resilience, and part of the reason why it’s such a hot topic, is that it is controllable and so can be developed. Stressful situations often can’t be avoided. But our ability to deal with them can then be controlled. Developing resilience is therefore a very positive adaptation to make, and one which has been studied extensively in recent years in the context of children, adults, teams, organisations and even countries.

Studies have found that one of the main overriding factors of resilience is the importance of self belief. That is the strength of mind to know that you have the ability and drive to overcome hardships. The impact of positive psychology is huge. You only have to look at the power of the placebo effect in medicine, or how in sports when a long-standing record is broken, many more people then follow in quick succession. The four-minute mile is a good example of this. Once one person broke this running record, and disrupted the mental barrier people had put up, many people then soon achieved this new sub-four minute time. This is all because of belief.

How to develop self-belief

One way of building self-belief with regards to difficult situations is to get through them and then have that attainment as a reference point; knowing that you can get through something as you have got through it previously. This is why people that have been through many periods of hardship are often seen to be more resilient than others. Early studies of resilience were conducted on children from deprived and difficult backgrounds for this very reason. If however, you haven’t got an example of overcoming a particular difficult situation, you could extrapolate skills you’ve shown in a different situation, and create a positive mental attitude to drive you through it. This is why some people use the expression ‘fake it ’til you make it.’ This is the idea that you almost put on a different persona showing a great deal of self-belief to get through a particular challenge.

Building social connections through empathy

Another key factor that has been found to be at play in developing resilience is the power of social connections. The expression ‘no man is an island’ epitomises this. Humans are social creatures by nature and we achieve more together, not only from a perspective of pooling skills but also that ‘togetherness’ and a social bond makes us feel supported and encouraged to bring the best out in ourselves. There is therefore a synergistic effect of working together and using your support networks to help you through times of difficulty. If you isolate yourself, doubt yourself, brood over bad decisions, let your emotions take over and see your stress levels rise it’s likely it will be tougher to overcome these difficulties.

Empathy is another factor that plays into this. If you can empathise with others when they are going through periods of hardship, we are more likely to feel supported with our social connections when we are struggling. It is therefore important to form these deep social bonds and to help others as we would wish to be helped ourselves.

Finding your purpose

Purpose is also fundamental to resilience. It is healthy for us as individuals to know our direction, set and achieve goals and to be clear on who we are. Purpose acts as a driving force through times of change so to be clear on this is a real motivator to get through challenging situations. However, it is also important to have that flexibility and adaptability. After all, when does life ever go as planned!? Being too rigid in your approach and not allowing for any flex is a sure-fire way to feel despair. Those who see challenges as opportunities and so approach problems with a positive mindset, more often than not see the best outcome.

In summary, resilience is so important because resilient people lead more authentic, fulfilling, balanced lives. Resilient people aren’t easily knocked off their course. They know their purpose, they achieve their dreams and goals, they connect with others and they follow their hearts. Resilient people also experience less stress, less depression, and better physical and emotional health… so who wouldn’t want to be more resilient?

We Are Wellbeing offers in-depth resilience training so if you want to know more please get in touch with our team.

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