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Kevlar for the Mind: Defining the keys to resilience

Sep. 25, 2013 - 05:20PM   |  
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The military uses the term resilience to describe everything from physical and emotional conditioning programs to the vague but beneficial psychological state one should be in before, during and after deployment. Broadly defined, resilience is the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties and spring back to one’s original form.

More important than the definition are the things that make a person resilient. Indeed, common-sense principles with practical applications are more useful than theoretical concepts.

In his new book, “Roadmap to Resilience,” Donald Meichenbaum, psychologist and co-founder of cognitive-behavioral therapy, lists characteristics of resilient and nonresilient people. Some of the more critical ones:

Resilient people

■Positive vs. negative. Resilient individuals tend to foster positive emotions more than negative ones. They view life optimistically and are hopeful about the future. They appreciate humor and can laugh at themselves. They choose gratefulness over cynicism.

■Task-oriented. Instead of passively waiting to see what happens, resilient people identify issues that can be changed and then change them. And when something can’t be changed, they learn to accept it.

■Flexible thinking. Cognitive rigidity is the enemy of resiliency. The ability to think on your feet and generate alternative solutions, thoughts and ideas is key to maintaining psychological strength. Limited options lead to limited solutions.

■Fitness and health. An important aspect of resiliency is maintaining adequate physical health and avoiding risks. This includes regular exercise, proper nutrition, limiting or eliminating the use of alcohol, tobacco and caffeine, and avoiding careless and reckless behavior.

Non-resilient people

■Self-focused defeatism. Nonresilient individuals adopt a defeatist attitude, seeing themselves as victims and bystanders with little control over what happens to them. They entertain such thoughts as, “I’m broken,” “I’m weak” or “Life is just too hard.”

■Emotional disengagement. It’s easy to emotionally withdraw. What’s harder is to purposefully confront the thoughts and feelings that make us uncomfortable. Denial, isolation and avoidance are hallmarks of a lack of resilience.

■Avoid competing viewpoints. We tend to gravitate toward people who agree with us — and when we find those people, we latch on. While it can be helpful to align with people who share our views and support our positions, we risk having any of our maladaptive thoughts and behaviors reinforced. Finding people who aren’t afraid to challenge you every now and then can help your resiliency.

Bret A. Moore is a clinical psychologist who served in Iraq. Email kevlarforthemind@militarytimes.com. Names and identifying details will be kept confidential. This column is for informational purposes only. Readers should see a mental health professional or physician for mental health problems.

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