Getting Yourself To Act On What You Learn About Building Resilience

Highlights:

It is important to get clear about the deeply held values that make your change of habits personally valuable. To do that, you have to spend some time looking into yourself and asking what you will get out of making the desired changes.

In addition to this self-analysis, we advocate using a tested method called “mental contrasting”. Mental contrasting involves imagining how you and your life will be different after the changes and specifically contrasting the new you in the new life to the way you and your life are now. This approach has been shown to help people stick with their goals.

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If you are anything like me, and far too many people are when it comes to the things I am about to discuss, you often fail to do things you know will help when you are stressed. This is a major reason why people can be given wonderful lists of things to do that will make them more resilient, and just let the list fade out of their lives.

I recently got a copy of Tal Ben-Shahar’s interesting book “Happier” Ben-Shahar is apparently the originator of Harvard’s very popular course in Happiness. The most popular course at Harvard is based on Ben-Shahar’s work. “Happier” is a nice introduction to Ben-Shahar’s approach to becoming happier.

“Happier” has an interesting section on creating rituals. This section goes directly at the problem of getting yourself to do the things that are in your best interest. I found it especially interesting because Debbie and I have just finished a book that also includes a section on how to get yourself to do the procedures. It is always nice to find someone who is thinking along the same lines you are. Creating rituals is a good way to describe a core part of what we had written.

Ben-Shahar quotes Jim Loehr and Tony Schwartz on the value of building rituals: “Building rituals requires defining very precise behaviors and performing them at very specific times- motivated by deeply held values” ( For details, click here). That is an excellent brief statement of what we need to do if we want to change our level of resilience. In fact, it is an excellent statement of how to build new habits in general.

Debbie and I see the path to change within a framework created by Rick Snyder in his work on hope. He divides hope into “will” and “way”. Will corresponds to the “deeply held values” of Loehr and Schwartz. It is important to get clear about the deeply held values that make your change of habits personally valuable. To do that, you have to spend some time looking into yourself and asking what you will get out of making the desired changes.

In addition to this self-analysis, we advocate using a tested method called “mental contrasting”. Mental contrasting involves imagining how you and your life will be different after the changes and specifically contrasting the new you in the new life to the way you and your life are now. This approach has been shown to help people stick with their goals. For example, middle-aged women who used this method to help then stick with an exercise program ended up doing twice as much exercise as those who just got instructions about how to exercise.

Another thing that Ben-Shahar and we share in common is recommending that only a few changes be attempted at any one time. He suggests no more than one or two rituals should be developed at a time, and we suggest no more than three. Either of these suggestions is just a rough guide, but the key idea is that you are less likely to succeed if you overwhelm yourself.

In our book, Debbie and I also share with him the conviction that writing your intentions out and keeping records of your results will help, and that when you fail to practice you should regard it as a mere slip and a signal to renew your commitment and practice.

Some additional advice we give is: a. If possible practice at the same time every day, or at least schedule when you will practice, b. Try to make your practice as pleasant as possible, c. Arrange your practice setting to be pleasant. This often takes only minor adjustments, d. Try to arrange for other people to join you or support you in your change enterprise.

So if you look at the list of activities people use to deal with stress and find some of them appealing, don’t just make a vague decision to put them into practice. Apply the principles covered here to enhance your success.

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