Resilience in the face of change: How can communities navigate uncertain times?

Change causes instability; it uproots our certainties and causes us to stress about the future. It is also – like death, taxes, and rain when you have planned a barbeque – inevitable. So dealing with change in a healthy way is perhaps something we should give more thought to than we often do.

This has rarely been more obvious than during the last 12 months, as COVID 19 has flipped much of the world on its axis, ripped through communities, and left us in a seemingly constant state of flux. So as society begins to open up again after the third UK lockdown, Aspire4u would like to help organisations understand how they can deal effectively with change by exploring the psychology of resilience.

Resilience & Optimistic Thinking

Psychologists define resilience as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, or significant sources of stress (APA, 2021). To be resilient is not to be totally resistant to difficulties, but to suffer them and have the capacity to bounce back. Crucially, resilience is something that anyone can build. With the help of some simple psychological exercises, we can all become more resilient.

Most of the things we can do to cultivate resilience revolve around the idea of ‘optimistic thinking’ as developed by Martin Seligman. Known as the father of positive psychology, Seligman offers courses on how optimistic thinking can help people recover from difficult situations. According to Seligman, people who don’t give up have a habit of interpreting setbacks as ‘temporary, local, and changeable’. In other words, they have developed optimistic thinking, or resilience (Harvard Business Review, 2011).

Below are some ways we can think and act optimistically, and foster resilience in the face of uncertain times.

Minimize Catastrophic Thinking

In the face of the traumatic changes, it is important to avoid thinking traps wherein you focus on the negatives of the situation. Although it is completely normal to dwell on what has been lost, it is not particularly healthy. Seligman’s course offers a ‘worst-case, best-case, and most-likely outcome test’ as a way to stop focusing on negatives. For example, after thinking ‘my business is going to suffer because of social distancing measures’, you would force yourself to consider the most positive situation that could arise from social distancing measures, and the most likely. You may conclude that it is possible to adapt so your business begins to thrive. It is likely that business may suffer in the short-term, but will ultimately bounce back.

Be Informed, Be Flexible & Communicate Clearly

A practical way to be optimistic in the face of constant change is to keep yourself as informed as possible about the world around you. By following developments closely, and keeping up to date with new rules, you can stay on top of the uncertainty that often causes stress. The more prepared we are, the easier it is to be resilient to change. Of course, sometimes events mean plans have to change. So while it is important to be as prepared as possible, it is just as essential to accept that your preparations may go awry and be flexible to changing them.

When changes happen, it is important to communicate what you are doing about them to members of your community. You should utilize modern communication methods – such as social media and reliable news sources – to keep you and your community up to date with goings-on.

Change the Narrative

One creative way of fostering an optimistic mindset is to use expressive writing to explore your feelings around a subject. By writing freely for 20 minutes without worrying about judgement, we can confront our fears and give them some structure. Writing them down makes us see our thoughts for what they are. It allows us to explore solutions to problems in a systematic and measured way. Try using expressive writing to change your personal narrative and become more optimistic.

Compassion and Self-Forgiveness

When you are worried about change it is important to practice self-compassion. Recognize that suffering is a central part of human existence. Plans may go wrong, and that is okay. Life might not feel like it did before lockdown, and that is okay.

To practice self-compassion, we should first be mindful of how we feel in the moment. By noting to ourselves ‘this is difficult’ we take control of our emotions. We can then remind ourselves that ‘everyone feels this way sometimes’. Finally, we give compassion to ourselves by saying something like ‘I accept myself, and how I feel.’

Change is difficult to deal with. However, by maintaining an optimistic mindset and taking practical steps to be prepared, we can be resilient to the problems it causes. If you can learn to be kind to yourself and your community, there are few difficulties you cannot recover from.


Written by David Bond

For Aspire4u CIC,

The Mindset-Led Organisation

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