Bouncing Back

Real-world-tested tips for resilience.

Posted May 08, 2019

pxhere, public domain
Source: pxhere, public domain

Some people easily rebound from life’s slings and arrows. Much of that is because of intelligence: the ability to learn and problem-solve quickly in many contexts. Resilience is also a function of drive: Some people, from the womb, are more driven than others.

But what about people who aren’t driven brainiacs? These tactics have helped such clients of mine bounce back from setbacks:

Find a champion. You’re not the sharpest crayon in the box, are more kick-back than drive-forward, and now have had a big setback: Maybe you were fired, your spouse left you, or you made a bad decision that has put you a hair’s breadth from homelessness and a diet of ramen and cat food. You’re tempted to pull out the (cheap) vodka or vape pen and blitz yourself into oblivion. You need a lifeline, someone to pull you up from the pit.

So, is there anyone who believes in you or at least likes you? Yes, it could be your parent but it could be a friend, present or former lover (beware of the latter,) relative, coworker, professor, whomever. Reach out and touch someone: Without sounding like a basket case, crisply describe your setback and admit that you could use some cheerleaderly but honest reminders of why you’re not a total loser and maybe even a suggestion for a new direction and baby steps forward.

“I’ll prove ‘em wrong!” You got dumped, or someone said you can’t do X. Channel your anger into “I’ll show ‘em!” Aim for something or someone better. Many of my clients said that “I’ll prove ‘em wrong!” was the fuel that rocketed them from the dungeon’s depths.

Learn and pivot. So you screwed up and paid a big price. Rather than wallow your way into extended torpor, take a moment, yes just a moment, to think about any lesson(s) learned—Usually important lessons from a failure are immediately accessible, not requiring extended thinking, which would keep the failure rather than lessons learned top-of-mind. Take that lesson learned, identify a new or revised goal, and then force, yes, force yourself, to take the first baby step toward that goal. Objects in motion tend to stay in motion; objects at rest...(well, you know.)

For example, you got fired from that job of counseling deeply troubled clients. Should you work with a less problemed population? Learn a new skill? Watch a master in action? Change to a career better suited to your strengths?

Don’t metastasize failure. Even the most successful people fail; many have failed a lot. That doesn’t render them an irremediable, total loser. Compartmentalize it, excise it from your mind like a Stage 1 cancer lest it metastasize. 

So if you lost 30 pounds and, like 98% of people, gained it all back and more, fine; join the club and accept that the best you’ll probably be able to sustain is keeping your weight stable. That doesn’t make you worthless. Redirect your mind and efforts toward goals that you’re more likely to achieve.

Selective acceptance. The corollary of the previous is to accept that we’re not infinitely malleable. We must come to accept that which likely is immutable. For example, nearly all my attempts to fix things around the house have resulted in my needing to call the plumber, electrician, whoever, usually for a more expensive repair than if I had called right away. So now, if a repair is much more complicated than changing a light bulb, I resist the temptation to pull out the wrench or voltmeter and just call the pro. This is basically the Serenity Prayer’s message: Grant me the wisdom to know the difference between what I can and can’t change.

The takeaway

As I am wont to do, I feel the need to give myself an out: Nothing here is sure-fire. That said, all these tips should boost your chances of bouncing back.

I read this aloud on YouTube.