Text Size

The Selwyn Institute

In the spirit of ageing well

Resilience will help you bounce back from life’s inevitable setbacks

Resilience is the ability to ‘bounce back’, or return to normal functioning, after an abrupt, or sustained, period of adversity. 

As such this idea of a ‘struggle’ muscle is something that you gravitate to in youth to help cushion the blows that life inevitably delivers. Or it is the subject matter of how elite people push on to achieve extraordinary feats, goals and accomplishment. So what makes resilience a matter of attention in the context of ageing? 

Quite a bit it would seem particularly when ‘blended’ with a spiritual orientation. People in this case are more resilient in the face of trauma which, as the years go by, may tend to mount including dealing with a myriad of ‘stressors’ including divorce, death of a loved one, financial pressures and even a loss of meaning and purpose. 

Armed with the ‘wisdom’ that comes from life experiences may give older people a particular advantage. Author of a book called Option B:  Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy Professor Adam Grant, maintains there is a naturally learnable set of behaviours that contribute to resilience. These are ones we gravitate to as we age. 

Events that require resilience, he says, often happen without notice making it difficult to prepare for the event or onslaught. There are, however, practical initiatives that can be followed to help with your emotional rescue and recovery. 

  • Atheism (there are no atheists but rather those holding a belief in something transcendent such as a benign spirit. Centenarians tend to be spiritual more than religious). 
  • Lamenting and complaining.
  • Your belief in cultural attitudes will kill you before your genes do.
There are some timeless and ageless strategies that can be put into play to help people move away from the ‘quick sand’ of trauma include the following. 
  1. Activate optimism. Being part genetic and part learned accentuating anything that might be positive (in an otherwise negative event) can help halt a psychological decline. Part of this is affirmation. This doesn’t mean distorting reality or ‘sugar coating’ the outcome. Instead it is starting to visualise what the ‘road back’ might look like. Being around optimistic people and embracing positive environmental ‘energy’ can also work.  
  2. What’s the story? Rather than being solely black and white in telling your own ‘horror story’ focus instead on the discoveries you made that gave you a fresh perspective and meaning for life.
  3. Don’t take it personally. If something negative happens it doesn’t mean the universe is exercising a personal vendetta. Nor should you take responsibility for only the bad things that might occur. A myriad of different contributors might have been involved. Don’t dwell in despair but instead focus on the steps that are needed to work things out, and through.
  4. Been there, done that. Remember the last time you were faced with a daunting event or negative experience... and made it through?  Use that tenacity and elasticity to wash away any residue that is holding you down and back. The Japanese martial art Aikido has a useful phrase: Fall seven times, get up eight. 
  5. You’re not alone. People are more resilient when they have strong support networks—be it family or friends—to help in a crisis. Giving (and receiving) support from friends or family can help in crisis coping. Remember, though, that it is better to give than receive. The former will provide an even bigger resilience boost.