It’s hard to be resilient if you feel like you are constantly being bombarded by life’s events. A good way to create resilience is to create as calm a life as possible before we are caught in a downpour. I know, easier said than done, but we can create more order and peace than we have now.
A good measure of a calm life is Emotional Pennies. We only have so much of ourselves to give each day. Think of the emotional energy that you spend as Emotional Pennies. Imagine that you start each day with 100 Emotional Pennies. You can’t carry any over to the next day and the goal is to end up with as many Emotional Pennies as possible at the end of each day. The more pennies you have at the end of the day, the more energy you will have to enjoy your evenings and get a few things done.
Some common things that we spend emotional energy on are work, family, health, other people’s problems, spirituality, friends, and things over which we have no control. Your list may not have all these items, and it probably has quite a few more. Which of these are wise investments, and which are wastes of our Emotional Pennies? As a general rule, we want to avoid any situation that constantly drains our emotional energy with no hope of the situation improving or resolving.
A good test question to ask is “If I face this situation and invest some emotional energy into it, can I resolve it so I never have to put another Emotional Penny into it again?” It’s worth a try if you think you can improve things. If it turns out that you can’t, do everything possible to remove yourself from all Emotional Penny-sucking black holes.
When I coach people, the common black holes for Emotional Pennies are a lack of organization and routines, negative people, and a negative attitude. You may have different things that use emotional energy; the key is to identify and eliminate those things.
Count up how many Emotional Pennies you spend each day for a week. When I did this exercise for the first time, I was surprised to learn that I had spent all 100 Emotional Pennies on my son’s school before lunch most days. I spent some extra Emotional Pennies trying to fix the situation, but in the end, I decided to homeschool him for that year.
In addition to eliminating things that unnecessarily drain our emotional energy, we want to build some positive things in our lives to help us be resilient. One of the most important things to create is a community that we can depend on.
In general, I have done a terrible job of doing this. Thank goodness my sister and a few good friends were willing to jump in and help when I had brain surgery while my husband was deployed to Afghanistan. You never know what rainstorm is going to fall on your head, and it’s an absolute necessity to have a community of family and friends who are ready to support you.
I did some training for the Military Child Education Coalition (MCEC). A group of facilitators would go in and talk with community representatives about how to help military children who face quite a bit of adversity. My big takeaway from that training and the research of Dr. Kenneth Ginsburg is that to make it through adversity, children need support and hope. That’s what adults need, too.
We get our support from our community, and a big portion of our hope comes from it, as well. It’s important to have people around who tell us that it’s going to be okay at a time when we aren’t so sure about that ourselves. Hope requires a big picture perspective that is difficult to get on our own when we are mired in emotional turmoil.
We can also foster hope by creating a positive attitude. A positive attitude is something that we can choose and create. A great beginning is to notice the good things that happen each day. We are hardwired to notice and hang on to the negative events of life, so it’s important to intentionally notice the positive things.
In addition to noticing, put a positive emotion to the event. Here is a list of positive emotions from Dr. Barbara Frederickson: awe, interest, inspiration, serenity, amusement, gratitude, pride, joy, hope, and love. Noticing and naming positive emotions is the first important step to creating a positive attitude and outlook. Research shows that an increase in positivity results in an increase in resilience.
Here’s a summary of what to do to create a life that makes you more resilient:
1. Get rid of unnecessary energy drains in your life. Getting organized can be a huge help.
2. Gather a community to support you. It can be family, friends, and your spiritual community.
3. Create a positive attitude. Begin by noticing the positive events each day and naming the positive emotions they evoke.
Resilience is a trait that we can cultivate, and creating a peaceful life is the first step because it gives us a firm foundation to stand on when adversity and change threaten to wash away the ground beneath our feet.
Note: I’m re-running this series on resilience that I wrote back in 2017. Life isn’t normal right now, but we can still check in on our Emotional Penny use. I find myself spending Emotional Pennies trying to maintain the same standards that I do during normal times. I keep reminding myself that we are in the middle of a pandemic, and it’s okay to relax my standards a bit. I’ve lowered the bar in all facets of life and feel less stressed for it.
What are you spending Emotional Pennies on that you could let go of during this time of enormous stress and uncertainty?
We can still have community by phone and video. If you reach out and don’t get the response that you need, consider a therapist, coach, or counselor. Many are meeting clients virtually now.
A positive attitude can go a long way – even during a pandemic. Noticing the small moments and naming the positive emotions that you feel can create huge shifts in difficult times.