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Beyond Adversity

Build resiliency against self-inflicted miseries

Do catastrophes happen for the best? It was once a quaint 18th century idea that even going blind had a silver lining. Voltaire, an 18th century French philosopher, had a different view. If he was alive today he would say that not every cloud has a silver lining. Some contain lightning bolts.

Major disasters grab the headlines. However, the majority of life’s calamities are self-inflicted. For example, failures are inevitable. You can fear them or learn from them. By recognizing and combatting as many needless stresses as you can discover in yourself, you are likely to experience a rising tide of resilience. You’ll have greater emotional reserves to address unfortunate situations that come your way.

Let’s look at a rational emotive behavioral perspective for decreasing stressful expectations and building an acceptant outlook. Then we’ll look at 10 tips for building a resiliency kit and two ways to benefit from watching what others do who cope well with setbacks.

Expectations and Exasperations

Albert Ellis, the founder of rational emotive behavioral therapy, thought that most people are their own worst pains in the duff, and much of this is due to irrational expectations. If you expect yourself to act infallibly, that expectation can distort your perspective in ways that lead to repeated needless exasperations. Believe that you should always be prepared for the unexpected, and I can practically guarantee that excess stress will shadow your days.

If you fall into the expectation trap, think about developing a softer, flexible, preferential view. Instead of expecting that life should be the way you expect it, teach yourself to think preferentially. “I prefer to do well” has a more realistic tone than “I must do well.” Preferential thinking is a path to cognitive flexibility and this flexibility is an important part of resiliency.

Three Dimensions of Acceptance

You may distress yourself by expecting that you, others, and life should conform to your expectations. These three tyrannical shoulds cohabit with needless misery. You may grow resilience by going in the opposite direction.

One of Ellis’ solutions is philosophical. It’s the unconditional acceptance of self, others, and life. This means you take things as they are.

Ellis encouraged an unconditional acceptance of reality, partially as a way to reduce the risk of secondary distresses. This comes about when you stress yourself over not getting what you expect or stress yourself over feeling stressed. The less you trouble yourself about unattainable expectations, the less needless stress you’ll experience.

Unconditional acceptance of self, others, and life doesn’t involve denying the hassles of daily life. Instead,once free from secondary distresses, you are likely to feel freer to cope with what displeases you, overcome what disadvantages you, or combat what is emotionally toxic. You are likely to feel freer to take reasonable risks and make useful discoveries.

What Goes Into Your Resiliency Kit?

If you choose to build resilience, what else might you do? Here are 10 resiliency-building tips:

1. Get adequate restorative sleep. Poor sleep patterns and stress go hand-in-hand.

2. Engage in adequate physical exercise daily. Exercise is a major buffer against stress, including stress from depression.

3. Maintain a healthy diet and keep your weight within a desired range. You’ll have fewer health-related problems.

4. Nourish your quality social support networks through reciprocally supporting others who support you. Quality social support correlates with higher levels of resiliency.

5. Meet challenges as they occur and avoid procrastination and the stresses that come from it and crises that arise from delays.

6. Build tolerance for ambiguity and uncertainty and you are less likely to experience anxieties related to a need for certainty.

7. Express higher-order values, such as responsibility and integrity. This gives you a compass for taking a sound direction.

8. Work to build high frustration tolerance. High frustration tolerance, cognitive flexibility, and problem-solving actions are normally interconnected.

9. Stretch to achieve realistic optimism. This is a belief that you can both self-improve and act to make things more workable for you. You exercise realistic optimism by acting to do and get better.

10. Boost resilience with preventive actions where you reduce your risk for negative thinking and increase your chances for realistic thinking. See The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Depression (Second Edition) for multiple chapters on reducing negative thinking.

Let's take a closer look at tip number four. Think about what you can imitate that resilient people do.

Who are the role models in your life? Some people are more resilient than are others. They recover more quickly from setbacks. Who are the people in your life who exhibit strong abilities to come back from setbacks? What do they do? What do they do that will work for you? For example, does the person deal with the controllable parts of a problem sooner than later? Does the person solicit counsel sooner?

Who are your heroes? Practically everybody has heroes they admire from a distance. Who is the person who first comes to mind when you think of a person who persevered in spite of adversity? What characteristics are possible for you to imitate?

This blog is part of the Pioneer of the Mind series to celebrate the contributions of Albert Ellis, the founder of rational emotive behavioral therapy and the grandfather of cognitive-behavior therapy.

Albert Ellis Revisited (Carlson & Knaus 2013) is the Albert Ellis Tribute Book Series centennial book. The publisher, Routledge, offers a 20% discount on the book. Control click on this link: Albert Ellis Revisited. Type the code Ellis for the discount. The book qualifies for free shipping and handling. Bill Knaus’ royalties from this book go directly to the Denan Project charity. When you buy the book, you are helping yourself by learning ways to live life fully, and you are helping bring irrigation, crops, and health care to destitute areas of the world.

For more information on rational emotive behavior therapy, click on Albert Ellis’ official website: Albert Ellis Network:

Special to this blog is The Fearless Skywalker PhotoArt image by Dale Jarvis, AreaOne Art & Design, Fayetteville NC.

© Dr. Bill Knaus