If we learn to ritualize just three habits, then we will be able to maintain our resilience in any situation and lead our internal and external relationships constructively and powerfully.
Resilience Factor One: Being Aware of Your Thinking
As we know, every thought drives an emotion, and every emotion drives action and behaviour. If we develop the habit of becoming aware of our thoughts, then we can look at them as an artist might critically observe his work: Are the thoughts I am having about this situation helpful? Is there a way in which I can think about the situation more constructively so that I can lead this relationship to a healthier dynamic? Can I think more charitably about the motives of the other person? There are occasions when only space and time will enable us to change the thinking about the situation to something which is more constructive, and it is important to take that time when we can. The habit of seeing our thinking as separate from who we are, much like the ticker tape that runs along the bottom of a televised news broadcast, enables us to appreciate that our thinking is simply a conditioned mental reflex to the situation we are faced with. Our thinking may based on faulty perceptions of this relationship, and it is helpful to cultivate an attitude of curiosity or amusement as we observe that thinking and reflect on what thinking might be more constructive.
Resilience Factor Two: Being Clear about Your Needs and Boundaries
“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.” —George Bernard Shaw
Have you ever found yourself thinking, “He should have known,” or “She should have told me”? We all have a rulebook that we expect other people to have read. When they break the rules contained in our rulebook, we get angry or frustrated or irritated because, well, they “should” have known. One of our several cognitive tendencies is to believe that others see the world as we do. They don’t. If you are talking to a friend who continues to look at her mobile phone while “listening” to you, rather than becoming irritated, tell her that you’d like her full attention. If you feel awkward about making a “fuss,” then know that your irritation arises from your lack of courage in asking for what you need rather than your friend’s behavior. If you come down to the kitchen in the morning and notice that your husband has not cleared away the dishes from the previous night, before giving him the silent treatment, ask yourself first, “Was I explicit about what I wanted him to do?” Whenever you feel irritated about the behavior of another, check in with yourself to establish whether you were clear about what you needed, before reacting. Lead in the relationship by taking responsibility for being explicit about what you need, even if you think it’s obvious because it’s in paragraph fifteen of your rulebook. Unfortunately, telepathy is not yet part of our evolved skill set.
Resilience Factor Three: Exercising Understanding versus Judgment
Judgment is often about placing a label on an event or person which makes it/him/her “right” or “wrong,” leaving you stuck in the mind-set and the emotional repertoire that goes with that label. Seeking to understand requires us to fully establish the facts of what happened, without any preconceptions as to fault that may cause our confirmation bias to operate and miss vital clues in the fact-finding process. The questions appropriate to the process are fact focused rather than blame oriented: “Tell me what happened when . . .” rather than “What did you think of him when he did that to you?” The objective is to move past what has happened and learn from it, rather than remain stuck in a blame bog, where agreement on who is right or wrong is unlikely to be reached. Consensus about how to move on from what has happened is (eventually) much easier to achieve, and that will encourage resilience in others and lead the relationship to a better place.