Last week The Coche Center Clinical Team integrated recent advances in our understanding of resiliency, the ability to bounce back from the punches life provides. We found expertise from Drs. Reivich, Schatte and Wolin, and created five characteristics of resilient people:

1. Positive world view: The ability to find the good things in life and live with optimism and hope.

2. Relationship-centered: The ability to engage others with empathy and reciprocity, making fulfilling connections to other people; also called “secure attachment”.

3. Applied intelligence: the ability to think independently and reflectively about self and life, distancing emotionally and physically from the sources of trouble in one’s life and to reflect and learn from them.

4. Grit: The determination to succeed by tenaciously taking the initiative and using one’s power to impact one’s world.

5. Adaptability Tool Box: The ability to integrate motivation, humor, and creativity in living life. The ability to use imagination and to have courage to do something different, creating something where nothing was. The ability to find humor even in hardship.

Let’s concentrate on the need to maintain a positive world view. Optimism, and the ability to find hope even in hardship, is a hallmark of those who enjoy success throughout their life. Being resilient involves hope about the future: a positive outlook allows us to muster creativity where others give up.

Lanna is a living example of this hopefulness. A petite 65-year-old grandmother, Lanna recently retired after a spectacular career as an antiques dealer. She traveled annually to France, importing the finest quality provincial furniture, then selling her treasures to high end decorators at a substantial profit. Despite the small likelihood of succeeding in international furniture sales, Lanna’s infectiously impish personality charmed her customers: interior designers around the Eastern seaboard consulted Lanna for their most discriminating clients. Recently, as her desire to spend more time with her family increased, Lanna cut back her business, inviting her family to their ocean front home in Stone Harbor, where she gladly fed, housed and cared for three rambunctious grandsons.

I met with Lanna recently because of a worrisome recent medical diagnosis. She was told she has early stage melanoma, a skin cancer that can be deadly. Lanna reported that her husband, Jim, was beside himself with worry. “He is horrible to live with. He thinks of nothing else and has already begun thinking about updating my will. I have to tell you, I am not nearly as upset as everyone around me. Friends are looking worried when they greet me, and my kids are so hush-hush about this that I can’t really even discuss it with them. The docs tell me that this is early stage and quite treatable. I have found the best care at Penn, and will do the needed medical stuff. I know this will be hard, but I love my life and I do not intend to get depressed. But I wish others could be upbeat with me. The people around me are more discouraging than the diagnosis! If everyone would just be a chipper as the docs, this would be much easier.”

As I listened to Lanna work effectively with the diagnosis she had just been given, I realized that she possesses one of the greatest gifts in being human: she has the natural capacity and the psychological ability to turn lemons into lemonade. Like lemonade, her diagnosis remains bitter to the taste and she is not minimizing its danger. But, just as lemons offer their bitterness so that we humans can create nourishing dishes, Lanna automatically began to strategize how to turn her sour diagnosis into a workable plan that leads her back to a full life as soon as is humanly possible.

Is there any truth to the widely held belief that a positive outlook can even help us beat cancer?

Dr. Timothy Moynihan, M.D., cancer expert at the Mayo Clinic, reports that, while there is no scientific proof that a positive attitude improves the chance of a cure from cancer, a positive attitude can improve the quality of life during cancer treatment and beyond. Lanna’s resiliency allows will allow her to be active and to maintain ties to friends which feeds her sense of well-being and provides her with needed strength to deal with the likely medical complexities in her future.

To consider: In the face of a terrifying diagnosis, which resiliency skills do I possess and how could I put them to good use? Would I?

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