Meeting Life's Challenge

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Life is difficult. This is a great truth, one of the greatest truths. It is a great truth because once we truly see this truth, we transcend it.

Scott Peck, The Road Less Traveled, 1978, lst publication date; 25 anniversary edition 2003, Touchstone.

Life is difficult. Everyone encounters challenging situations and events over the course of a life. No one escapes being human, and being human involves loss, disappointment, failure, shock, and betrayal, as well as boredom, tedium, exhaustion, and hard work.  How well we meet these challenges day in and day out, year by year, determines the quality of our lives.

The concept of resilience as a psychological quality has rightly become a topic of significant interest to psychologists in recent years. Although researchers and writers may define it somewhat differently, most agree that the concept describes an ability to adapt well to adversity, to, if you will, bounce back when trouble comes. Early offerings on the subject tended to treat resilience as if it was the rare gift of the fortunate few. In fact, most people are pretty resilient most of the time.

As psychologists have begun to study and think about resilience, we have also learned that this quality can be learned and developed. This is extraordinarily important information, which probably surprised only us. Psychology's very worthwhile focus on naming and understanding problems in order to be able to solve them or reduce their impact has perhaps prevented us from seeing what most folks just know. People learn to handle things.

Resilience is not an absolute. People are not either resilient or not resilient, but are more or less resilient at different times over the lifespan and within different contexts or life situations. Someone who has appeared remarkably resilient throughout his life can encounter a particular circumstance, such as the death of a loved one or personal illness, that presents a difficult adjustment. Or, the opposite can occur. A person who has shown little or no resilience surprises all with remarkable adaptability.

It's a good thing that we are now applying our skill at investigation and analysis to the problem of resilience, because in so doing we can parse out the important elements and attributes of resilience and develop methods for teaching or training people to enhance their ability to adapt and thrive in the face of difficult situations.

A simple and useful list of these attributes is included in a pamphlet published by the Discovery Health Channel and APA, titled The Road to Resilience.  (The entire article is available at

10 Ways to Build Resilience

Make connections. Good relationships with close family members, friends or others are important. Accepting help and support from those who care about you and will listen to you strengthens resilience. Some people find that being active in civic groups, faith-based organizations, or other local groups provides social support and can help with reclaiming hope. Assisting others in their time of need also can benefit the helper.

Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems. You can't change the fact that highly stressful events happen, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events. Try looking beyond the present to how future circumstances may be a little better. Note any subtle ways in which you might already feel somewhat better as you deal with difficult situations.

Accept that change is a part of living. Certain goals may no longer be attainable as a result of adverse situations. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter.

Move toward your goals. Develop some realistic goals. Do something regularly even if it seems like a small accomplishment that enables you to move toward your goals. Instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, ask yourself, "What's one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?"

Take decisive actions. Act on adverse situations as much as you can. Take decisive actions, rather than detaching completely from problems and stresses and wishing they would just go away.

Look for opportunities for self-discovery. People often learn something about themselves and may find that they have grown in some respect as a result of their struggle with loss. Many people who have experienced tragedies and hardship have reported better relationships, greater sense of strength even while feeling vulnerable, increased sense of self-worth, a more developed spirituality and heightened appreciation for life.

Nurture a positive view of yourself.Developing confidence in your ability to solve problems and trusting your instincts helps build resilience.

Keep things in perspective.Even when facing very painful events, try to consider the stressful situation in a broader context and keep a long-term perspective. Avoid blowing the event out of proportion.

Maintain a hopeful outlook. An optimistic outlook enables you to expect that good things will happen in your life. Try visualizing what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear.

Take care of yourself.Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Exercise regularly. Taking care of yourself helps to keep your mind and body primed to deal with situations that require resilience.

Additional ways of strengthening resilience may be helpful. For example, some people write about their deepest thoughts and feelings related to trauma or other stressful events in their life. Meditation and spiritual practices help some people build connections and restore hope.

The key is to identify ways that are likely to work well for you as part of your own personal strategy for fostering resilience.

This list of attitudes and behaviors probably also surprises no one: it's all good, practical advice that you've probably heard countless times in your life in one form or another. But it's worth repeating and worth applying to your own life because, when you do these things, you are able to meet the challenges that come your way. And it is in this process of meeting and solving problems that life has its meaning and that you become able to grow into the person you are meant to be. When we don't do these things well, we create baggage and we are so busy tending to the contents of our bags that we have no time and no energy for creating.We are meant to create, to add our bit to the whole.

So, review the list, see where you are strong and where you need to build and get to work. We need you.