My Sunday morning brightened up by a SMS from my friend Narayanan, a legal luminary heading the legal department in an organization of repute, which reads –
“A business man lost everything in fire. Next day, he placed a signboard which reads –
BUT LUCKILY, FAITH & CONFIDENCE UNDAMAGED.
BUSINESS RESUMES TOMORROW AS USUAL.”
This SMS gave me a lot of food for thought, for the whole day and well into the late night. Are all of us having similar attitude like this man? Do all of us behave in a similar fashion in a situation like this? Or, is there something unique about this individual? I pondered & pondered.
The anecdote of Farmer’s Donkey
Hold on. I remember a story. One day, the farmer’s donkey fell accidentally to a dry well. It brayed piteously for hours, eventually making the farmer alert. The farmer & his friends tried all possible means to rescue the donkey, but to no avail. With no obvious solution in sight, the farmer regretfully came to the logical conclusion that the only way he could help his dear donkey is to simply fill the well and bury the donkey to allay its sufferings. He enlisted the help of his neighbors to haul dirt into the well to end its misery. They all grabbed shovels and began to shovel earth quickly into the well.
At first, the donkey realized what was happening and cried hysterically. Then, to every one’s relief, the horrible sound from the well suddenly stopped. Thinking that the poor donkey must have breathed his last, the farmer, a few shovels later, finally looked down the well. It was a pleasant surprise for him. Lo & Behold! The donkey was still alive & seemed to be quite un-perturbed. He seemed to be progressing towards the top of the well slowly but steadily. Quite amused, the farmer threw one more shovel of dirt into the well, and then one more & looked down. The discovery made him stiff. With every shovel of dirt that hit the donkey’s back, it was doing something unimaginable. It was shaking the dirt off its back and taking a step up. It could keep on stepping on top of the earth as the level of dirt rose. With further shovels of dirt thrown into the well, pretty soon, everyone was amazed as the donkey eventually stepped up over the edge of the well and jumped off – triumphant as reflected from his brightened up face, even if quite exhausted. That which was intended to bury it, was the very means used by it for survival from the clutches of death.
I am not sure in which context the story was written and by whom. But, it means a lot for all of us.
Is there any common denominator in both these anecdotes?
Both our heroes, the businessman in the first & the donkey in the second anecdote, have one thing in common. They were not perturbed in pressing situations, even life-threatening situation for the donkey. They did not lose patience. They accepted the situation as it existed without blaming anybody or the un-seen hand, controlled their reaction & attempted to take advantage of what existed. They adapted to the adversity & bounced back. This is called Resiliency.
Resiliency is, in fact, a word from Physics.
In physics, resiliency is the ability of a material to quickly return to its original form after being bent, stretched, or twisted. Take two balls, one made of rubber & the other made of glass and throw with the same force to a brick wall. The glass ball will break into pieces, whereas the rubber ball will bounce back, may be with almost the same force. The rubber ball is resilient, whereas the glass ball is not. The concept of resiliency in Behavioral Psychology is pretty similar – the ability of people to return to normal by bouncing back from the vicissitudes of life. Resiliency is the skill and capacity to be robust and successful under conditions of disruptive change. It is not just about surviving.
Life is never smooth-sailing for all the people all the time
The bad news is that life tends to shovel dirt on top of each of us – all kinds of dirt – from time to time. But, fortunately, all of us do not face always the life-threatening situation. But, stress & pressure are the common visitors to all of us, though not always – be it in our relationships, health issues, financial problems, career setbacks, failure in the exam – anything. Even, we get perturbed by the mundane things such as highway traffic, an errant taxi driver cutting corners, a flight cancelled at the last moment, a dent in the car caused by in-disciplined children in the housing society etc. We get irritated, blood pressure shoots up, we react and sometimes violently. I am sorry if I sound pessimistic. But, in fact, that is how it is.
But, the good news is that we, if we intend to, can still remain calm, peaceful in adverse situations and get over the problems by taking advantage from the existing situations and it is definitely not unique to certain individuals. This is similar to converting threat to opportunity. All of us can learn to do it and can be winners.
As the Chinese saying goes – If you can’t beat the dragon, ride over it. Just remember, we have hardly any control over most of such situations throwing us into deep well of hardship. You can’t stop troubles or hardships visiting you. But, for god’s sake, do not offer it a cozy chair. You, and only you, have the choice to welcome such adversities or not. You have a choice how you react to such a situation. Though the event may not be under your control, the response obviously is. You have a definite control over the choice of your response. Your choice of response decides whether you will be the winner or the loser. The loser is the one who decides to mourn, blames the lady luck and gives up and the winner is the one who shakes it off, takes it in the stride and takes a step up. It is foolish to concentrate or focus on factors on which we have little, if any, control. The attitude of the winner is to plan for and take steps to minimize the possibilities that the troubles become a permanent pain in the neck.
As Earnest Hemingway puts it – “Life breaks everyone and afterwards, many are strong in the broken places.”
Irrespective of whether you are a C.E.O. or a manual labor, a minister or a poster-boy of a political party, a multi-billion dollar worth business man or a small-time vendor, you have the capacity to scrape through the vicissitudes of your life & career comfortably, provided you have the willingness and the determination to cultivate & enhance adequate amount of resiliency.
We are the victims of our own thought
We are much less victims of Life, but much more victims of our own thought. The world around us or the nature does not care if we are happy or sad, jubilant or angry and worried. The life goes on. The sun still rises in the east, there is still summer, rains, autumn, winter & spring. But, when uncomfortable things pass our way (a failure in the examination, a health problem, a job-loss, loss of a near & dear one, a financial setback, disappointing personal relationships), we are easily bogged down with the feeling “ poor me “, “why always this thing happens to me”, “why god singles out me to face such difficulties”, “I will never succeed”,
As James Allen outlines in his famous book – As A Man Thinketh –
“As you think, so you become, As you continue to think, you will become. You are where your thoughts have taken you.”
Our thoughts are a part & parcel of us and have an over-powering influence on every single incident of our life, regardless of its contents & the origin. If we fill our mind with destructive thoughts, destruction follows. Lofty & optimistic thoughts propel us ahead. As Robin Sharma mentions in The Monk Who Sold His Ferrari – “your mind is like a garden. You need to care for it, nurture it, and watch it grow. Root out the weeds and only let good things grow there.”
This wisdom is, however, not a recent finding.
It has been around for centuries. In Bhagwat Gita (Verses 17.3), Lord Srikrishna says to Arjuna,
“Sattvanupa sarvasya sraddha bhavati bharat
Sraddhamayo yani puruso yo yac-chraddha sa eva sah”
The translation reads as follows – “O Arjuna, the faith of everyone comes according to the perceptions of mind. One is known by one’s faith. One can become whatever one wants to be, if one constantly contemplates on the object of desire with faith”
We are the products of our own thoughts & desires and we are our own architects. There is a tremendous power in our thoughts. Thoughts control our physical, mental, financial and spiritual well-being. We are the cause of everything that happens to us.
Our mind is programmed for negative thoughts
When faced with some un-welcome happenings, this negative programming releases more & more negative thoughts for the present as well as for the future. It prevents us to be rational, prevents us from trusting our own abilities or thinking other possibilities. We derive comfort in repeating old self-limiting and self-defeating habits rather than changing our habits. Research proves that approximately 77% of our self-talk is negative and this explains why we pose a lot of resistance to change and fear taking risks.
Negative Thought is contagious. Negative talking and negative interpretation of your well-meaning friends, relations, acquaintances and colleagues fertilize your negative thoughts, even without your knowledge. Be careful of such negative people & unfortunately there are many.
I remember a story. This is the story of The Baby Frog.
Once upon a time, there was a bunch of baby frogs participating in a competition. The goal was to reach to the top of a tall tower. A crowd of people gathered out of curiosity to observe the race. Quite honestly, none of the onlookers believed that the baby frogs could actually accomplish getting to the top of such a tall tower. Baby frogs lined up at the bottom of the tower and the start short rang out. They started climbing up. Discussion continued among the on-lookers, initially murmuring sound and then quite vociferous – It is just not possible, an impossible task, Not a chance on in million – the tower is too high; the frogs will fall down and dye etc. The audience really meant for encouraging the participants started discouraging them. One by one most of the baby frogs fell off, as expected, except very few who climbed higher and higher fast. The crowd kept on welling – “It is impossible. Nobody is going to make it.” More baby frogs became tired and gave off. But, to everyone’s surprise, one kept on going higher and higher. He was not showing any sign of giving up. At the end, every one gave up except the one who was determined to go to the top. Now, there he was, sitting at the top of the tower and waving to his friends and the on-lookers. When he finally got down after becoming the winner, all the other participants naturally wanted to know how he had managed to do what none of the others had been able to do!. One of them asked him as to what was his secret. He just nodded his head and did not speak anything. One of his close friend finally said- “The fact is he is deaf & dumb.”
Got it. Don’t ever listen to people who are negative and pessimistic… …they will deprive you of your loveliest dreams and wishes you carry in your heart!. Always be aware of the power of words, as everything you hear and read will interfere with your actions!
Be realistic about the problem
A dent in the car or a missed flight is frustrating. But, it is definitely not a tragedy. There is no point in being stressed emotionally. Problem is a problem & needs to be fixed. For fixing a problem, what you need is cool & calm mind looking for rational ways & means. Getting worried definitely does not take us anywhere.
Change your paradigm
Sometimes some problems / adverse situations, on first sight, look to be un-surmountable and throw us off-balance. But, viewed from a different perspective, it may not be that big at all. And, believe me, viewed from a different angle of observation; it is likely to be viewed as an opportunity, which can be en-cashed for our benefit. The problem is not outside. The problem is within us, in our thought process. We generally tend to confine our thought process in closed boxes with self-imposed boundary, which does not allow us to see the entire picture – the holistic view. We need to expand our view beyond the current situation to visualize what opportunities might come which we have never anticipated, so that we can respond authentically. There are no mistakes in life, only lessons. Train yourself to always think what the up-side can be. Once viewed from different angle, we can reasonably find out new avenues, new relationships, new connections, new resources & completely different ways of handling the existing situation to our benefits.
Let me give a word of caution, lest I might be misunderstood. Resiliency does not mean inaction. You can’t put your both hands together and expect some unseen power to help you get over your problem. Either you have to act on the situation first or the situation will act on you in its own way. Indecision or the decision to do nothing in a pressing situation is the worst thing that can happen – it will make matters worse. A flat tire while going to the office is a flat tire. It needs to be changed for the vehicle to move. Denying that the tire is flat or wishing it should have been otherwise does not help. Positive action in an adverse situation is what resiliency is all about.
Do not blame – Take the responsibility
We have a tendency to blame our problems to other persons or situations. People think & act in different paradigms. Everybody has his own reason or logic to act or behave in the way he does. We need to understand that we can’t expect the plethora of people we interact with every day to act or behave in the way we like. We can’t change the behavior of others. Similarly, situations will happen, whether it is to our liking or not. It is also foolish to expect the situations will always be in the way we want. It is a waste of time & energy to mourn on situations not within our control. Learn to control the controllable. The only thing on which we have control is our responses to such people or such situations. It does not take us anywhere to devote time to factors that are beyond our spheres of influence. It is prudent to focus on & act upon the factors which are well within our control. Stephen Covey has rightly emphasized in his best-selling book “ The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People” that effective people focus on what they have control over, relegating to the background issues that are beyond their power to change.
Success results from shifting the focus from blame to responsibility. It calls for a change in paradigm – from blaming people, situations, even lady luck to a paradigm of holding the rein, accepting responsibility for our responses, our actions for a positive change. Resiliency solely depends on our own attitudes, feelings, responses, behaviors and actions and that is the key to happiness.
Count your blessings
The saying goes –
“Count your blessings instead of your crosses.
Count your gains instead of your losses.” (Author – unknown)
We do not see the glass half-full; rather see it as half-empty. It is easy to find things to complain about. Despite any hardship, we have certain blessings. Be grateful for everything you have in your life, instead of being remorseful for things you do not have. The choice is yours. If you have a colleague or a difficult boss driving you nuts, that means you have a job. Concentrate on how to make best out of it, than brooding over what you can’t. If you have a missed flight, there is no use blaming the airlines or your fate. Think of how you can utilize your available time for some productive work or even for relaxation. If you have an accident on the high way with your car badly damaged, be thankful that your precious life is saved. A damaged car is a damaged car & needs to be repaired. No point in being stressed. Remember that things could have been worse and celebrate that they are not. Be grateful instead of hateful. When the heart is filled with gratitude, there is little space left for despair.
Ask WHAT questions, not WHY questions
All of us, sometime or the other face adversities in life. Life is never smooth-sailing for all the people all the time. The losers ask questions like “why I am always singled out?”, “why God is unkind to me?” & spend time & energy in post-mortem on things about which nothing can be done. Past is history. By brooding over the past, you can’t play any role in undoing what has already happened.
When faced with adversities, the winners do not ask WHY, they ask WHAT.
What lessons I have learnt from this experience?
What should I do now to get over the situation?
What opportunity the situation unfolds for me?
What should I do to ensure that these things do not recur?
Why questions sap your strength. What questions give you power.
Use the power of positive self-talk
The law of positive self-talk states: – You can change who you are by changing what you say to your mind. In an hour of crisis, it is positive self-talk that acts as the key. No problem is un-surmountable. In our self-talk, we normally use self-defeating phrases like – what if the situation does not go the way I want?, what if certain person is angry with me?, I can’t succeed because I do not have the skills or the connections etc. and all those negative self-talks take their toll in restricting our power of resiliency. The best way to cultivate resiliency is to be careful when such negative self-defeating thinking patterns enter your mind and learn to convert the same to positive self-enhancing thoughts on the spot. Though not easy, it is possible.
The Ten Commandments for developing Resiliency
- Be aware of your thinking pattern. Use positive self-talk. Control your internal dialogue.
- Learn from the past, but never cling to the past, because past is history. Do not ever punish yourself for failing. Learn the lessons.
iii. Do not become easily bothered. Accept change as inevitable and learn to become more comfortable with change.
- Try looking at a bigger picture & search for underlining opportunities.
- Be realistic about the problem. Be confident that you can cope. Choose an optimistic interpretation of events.
- Trust that all of us have an innate capacity to bounce back,
vii. Understand your strength. Spend time in expanding your list of resiliency-builders.
viii. Turn fear & anxiety into action by setting realistic and achievable goals.
- Cultivate relationship with positive, optimistic & successful people
- Look for and en-cash opportunities for fun & laughter.
At the end, I could not make it better than quoting a stanza from the poem of an unknown author –
“Success is failure turned inside out-
The silver tint of the clouds of doubt-
And you never can tell how close you are,
It may be near when it seems afar;
So stick to the fight when you are hardest hit-
It is when things seem worst that YOU MUST NOT QUIT”