I know we are beginning the month of March, but it’s never too late to awaken to the moment. In my effort to be the best version of myself and live a resilient and optimal life, daily stresses and periodic emergencies have their way of taking me off The Path. We all have this “survival bias”, an automatic tendency to look for the dangers in our lives that shifts us away from avenues of new growth and creativity.
There is something about the beginning of the year that serves to wake me up, to bring me back to my intentions. The mark of the calendar serves to reignite these intentions. I’d like to share this process with you, as it is an approach that can serve you as well.
One thing that stress tends to do is shift our thinking and behavior into “instinct mode”. With danger comes a shift from creativity and expansiveness, to more habitual behaviors. This might include taking the easier tasks first and leaving more important ones that then don’t get done. Or it might mean excessive worry that causes procrastination, fatigue and loss of sleep. These old patterns keep us stuck in life. When you keep doing things the same way, you get the same old results. New approaches are important for greater resilience and success.
In fact, one way of defining resilience is to consider it the ability to adapt. We are all born with this innate ability. For the most part, we all do a great job of adapting to the environment we are born into and grow up in. We try really hard to learn what pleases our mothers and fathers. After all, we are dependent upon them for our survival. But a strange thing happens on our way to adulthood and independence: our adaptation process freezes to this early environment. These lessons, the lessons that help us survive childhood, go in very deep and literally shape the neural circuits of our brain (Sideroff, 2004). Despite the fact that we only have our tiny childhood environment as a sample, we automatically assume it represents the real and the entire world. Why would we think any different?
For example, if we learn that people are judgmental because we are always seeing our parents judge—either us or others—we expect this from the outside world and we brace against it. If we learn that the world is dangerous, because one of our parents always appears anxious or they can’t pay the bills, this becomes our view and expectation of the world. These views become very resistant, even to new information. The result may be our reluctance to venture forward and to always expect negative outcomes.
Early Year Process
I begin my early year process by setting aside time to review my past year, and to reestablish my intentions for this coming year. In my review, it’s important that I acknowledge what I have gratitude about, along with noting my progress; lessons learned and what worked, while holding myself accountable and identifying where I have been resistant or simply forgetful. In this process I am careful not to put myself down for mistakes. In fact, it makes more sense to have compassion about mistakes, because I know they have already resulted in a cost to me.
So, what can you feel grateful for? When you experience gratitude, you actually enhance the functioning of your body. This is reflected in your heart rate rhythms, which become healthier and tend to help balance the two branches of your nervous system. Next, can you note areas in which you can identify progress that you made or areas you feel good about? This can be in your career, or your relationships. It is always helpful to acknowledge these achievements. They are a source of emotional nourishment and encourage forward movement in your life.
My review, as well as my intentions, typically follows my nine pillars of resilience. Thus I first want to determine how well I have been treating myself. Have I been good to myself; accepting and loving? Or have I been too critical and judgmental? I also remember how well I have taken care of myself and my body. I want to notice if I’ve enhanced my relationships with others and note any new and supportive relationships. And finally, within the area of relationships I identify what I have done to engage with the larger community and even global community through giving service, spirituality and furthering my purpose. Feeling more connected helps me feel more secure.
Next, I reflect on how well I’ve taken time to balance out the stresses in my life by taking time to do relaxation training. This doesn’t mean watching television, but actually practicing optimal breathing methods and meditation that help train my nervous system into a better place of balance (you can go to my website: www.DrStephenSideroff.com for a free relaxation download.) Am I thinking in positive ways and not allowing negative thoughts to persist. Have I taken note of the positive outcomes of my behavior, validating continued positive expectations? And finally, how well have I maintained emotional balance. This means that I made sure that I was aware of my feelings and engaged in a process of letting go of non-productive upsets, rather than carrying them around like excess baggage.
And finally, as I reflect, I want to make sure that I did my best to be enthusiastic. This is possible if I’m present—in the moment—so that I don’t engage in my old automatic patterns. Working on these pillars of resilience and success puts you directly onto The Path. You are on The Path when you are doing your best to follow the nine pillars of resilience and success. Therefore anyone can be on The Path, and The Path is only a step away, traversed by being present in the most optimal way.
Having followed the above process, I identify my intentions and goals for this year. What are your intentions? One important question you want to ask yourself is, “where am I resistant in my life?” “Where am I holding myself back?” It’s these areas of discomfort that offer your greatest rewards and growth. I encourage you to go to these difficult places and learn to tolerate the discomfort. As a guide to this process, consider improvement along my nine pillars of resilience and success. This means:
1. Can I do a better job of being accepting, loving and supportive of myself? I know, personally, I have to improve on my eating habits, exercising three times each week, as well as being less critical about what I don’t get done or when I make a mistake.
2. Where is your growth in relationships? I want to make sure I’m doing everything possible to develop and maintain healthy relationships that are nurturing. I also want to make sure I’m setting good boundaries and not allowing myself to be taken advantage of. Are you present—paying attention and listening—when in contact with someone, and not in your head, thinking about what you need to do tomorrow?
3. I feel fortunate, and have gratitude for the gifts I’ve been given in my life. This propels me to volunteer and give back to the community. When I do this, I have purpose, I feel connected and good about myself. How are you connected with your purpose and your community?
4. I get to sit with clients each day and remind them about keeping their body in balance. Every time I do this I have an opportunity to check in with my own body and how it is in balance. But it’s something that I can easily forget. Thus I create reminders to check the tension in my body throughout the day and consciously “let go” of this tension. Do you have a regular practice of relaxation? This is necessary to recover from stress.
5. I address cognitive balance and mastery by making sure that I’m framing my experience and expectations in the most positive way. I don’t ignore problems, but by maintaining a positive framework, I support my forward progress with less need to worry or procrastinate.
6. It’s important to always be in touch with your feelings and not let them unconsciously control what you do. Old feelings can sabotage present experience. Make sure to notice your feelings and keep them current. This means not holding on to anger and resentment that doesn’t serve you.
7. As I noted right at the top of this essay, stress can be distracting and thus take us away from the moment. One of my exercises to remind myself to be present is to use “portals”, or doorways as cues for remembering myself. As much as possible, when I walk through a doorway, or entryway, I bring myself present—notice my surroundings, and notice what I’m feeling. How can you remember to be present throughout your day?
8. Being able to adjust and be flexible in an ever changing world is at the heart of resilience. Can you identify an area in which your stubbornness has gotten in your way? How can you be more flexible to better get your needs met?
9. My ninth pillar of resilience and success is power, which I define as the ability to get things done. As I look to this New Year for greater success, I want to practice persistence in achieving my goals and in particular, summon greater courage to take the difficult steps leading to success. Where do you need to summon greater courage to take difficult and uncomfortable steps? Can you commit to taking these steps to achieve your own success?
I hope this guide to resilience and success serves you in making this year one of growth and good health. I welcome your feedback.
Sideroff, Stephen I., (2004) Primitive Gestalts: Early developmental patterns and their effect on later life. Somatics, 15(1): 10-17.
Full article in Psychology Today