God grant me the serenity
To accept the things I cannot change
The courage to change the things I can
And the wisdom to know the difference
Reinhold Niebuhr 1934
This is the element of resilience which evokes the work ethic. It echoes the Al-Anon slogan “When I got busy, I got better”. It says that doing something is probably better than doing nothing.
We all need moments of quiet reflection and peace to absorb the implications of our circumstances, the point of this element is not to make this a lifestyle choice. Quiet reflection can slip seamlessly into rumination, regret and self recrimination. Or it can give rise to a renewed, refreshed approach to a tricky situation, at which point we probably need to act.
The solutions to our difficulties are not always obvious, but if we don’t believe they are possible, we have no chance of discovering them, even when they are right under our noses.
Frank, who suffered for years from severe anxiety which prevented him from working, and for many months from leaving his home at all, said that one of the strategies he employed to get to work in the morning was just to focus on the next task, and not on the ultimate destination. “If I thought about going to work, I would become paralysed with dread. I taught myself to only think about the next thing. Shower. Brush Teeth. Get dressed. Eat breakfast. Go to the bus stop.”
In this way he focussed only on the immediate present time, and only bothered with solving the next problem.
This is not unlike the 1939 “Keep calm and Carry on” poster produced by the British Government on the eve of the 2nd World War.
When we are confronted by a catastrophe, we will respond in a range of ways. We will have an emotional response, but feelings may be overwhelming. We will have facts to process, but facts, particularly in the aftermath of shocking news, can be difficult to absorb. In this situation our attention may be better focussed on tasks we can achieve, and depending on the situation, practical tasks which are familiar and form part of a routine. While we are carrying them out , we can continue to process mentally the facts and emotions surrounding our situation.
Max Edwards, who blogged as “The Anonymous Revolutionary” was diagnosed with terminal cancer at age 16. He wrote:
“As for comfort, I don’t feel I need comforting. The initial shock wears off very quickly, and after that, life seems to become quite ordinary. The satisfaction of daily routines is enough in the way of comfort.”
The Resilience literature is full of stories of people who have made major life changes in the wake of devastating events, involving a review of their values and motivation. Sometimes disaster can trip us into a level of self-knowledge that was previously unavailable. In the aftermath of devastating life events, having a reason to get up in the morning may become very precious. People who have caring responsibilities will say that they keep going for the children/the person they care for. For people who don’t have caring responsibilities, the question “what gets you out of bed in the morning” is deep and compelling.
Self help literature, and management literature is also full of advice on how to develop a problem solving approach. This generally involves a series of steps, the first step being make a plan, or take an overview, or write a list, then decide what you should do first and do that. If you encounter an obstacle, get help and advice.
There are only two reasons why a problem can’t be solved. The first is that no one looked for a solution, and the second is that the search was abandoned too early. Obviously not all problems have to be solved, some can be avoided altogether and some may require too great an investment of time, energy or finances to make them worth solving.