Thriving in the face of adversity – Mary T. O’Sullivan, MSOL

Mary is on vacation – here is a re-print of one of her earliest columns – printed in the spring of 2020 –

By Mary T. O’Sullivan, MSOL

“What is to give light must endure burning.” – Viktor Frankl

His famous book, Man’s Search for Meaning, tells the story of how Viktor Frankl survived the suffering and degradation of the Holocaust by finding personal meaning in the experience, which gave him the will to live through it.

In his book he says, “Everything can be taken from a person but one thing: The last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances. After enduring the torment in the camps, Frankl validated his conclusion that even in the most absurd, painful, and dehumanized situation, life has potential meaning and that, therefore, even suffering becomes meaningful.

And so it can be for us, in this time of our great adversity, fear of the pandemic COVID-19.

Over the years, scientists have studied people who have survived adverse situations, from Holocaust survivors, to veterans with PTSD, to children who survived crushing poverty, and abused women. There were several common qualities that the studies found each of these groups possessed to make them resilient.

Today, these qualities are no less applicable to making sense out of the pandemic of 2020. There are six steps involved in developing and keeping resiliency.

  1. Strengthen Our Support Networks
    1. Clarify Our Purpose
    2. Develop Our Self-Awareness
    3. Enhance Our Self Care
    4. Leverage Our Strengths
    5. Deepen Our Coping Skills
    6. Perception is key to resilience: Do we think of an event as traumatic, or as a chance to learn and grow?

And research has shown that we can train ourselves  to be resilient, we can consciously practice these steps over and over during this time and learn to become more resilient for the rest of our lives. Human nature shows us that it’s only when we are faced with obstacles, stress, and other threats that our resilience, or our lack of resilience, comes to the surface. What do we do? Do we succumb or do we learn to overcome?

What modern studies have found is that resiliency is all about our mindset. Neuroscientists at Columbia University demonstrated that: People can be taught to think of worries and concerns in different ways—to reframe them in positive terms when the initial response is negative. And we can be trained to react less emotionally when the initial response is emotionally “hot”—And the training changes how we will experience and react to the negative situation. Believe it or not, people can be trained to better regulate or control their emotions, and the training seems to have lasting effects.

Just like Lamaze training or even training our dog to obey us. The same goes for changing our central or core belief system: A more internal focus is linked to perceiving less stress and performing better. Changing our center from external to internal leads to positive changes in feelings of well-being and work performance or productivity. Mission Health conducted an analysis of 20 years of studies that verified that people can be trained in practicing behaviors that enhance feelings of well-being — just like we train our bodies to achieve better physical fitness. The results of the training directly correlated  to the study subjects’ overall safety, retention, customer experience and quality improvements.

Resiliency in the face of our current crisis: What’s the Answer? Practice proactive behavior versus reactive – focus on what we can control. Work on developing emotional intelligence – situational awareness. Make a point of building a supportive network.

  • Develop Support, wherever we can find it. Eliminate or overcome disablers as much as possible. But we can’t fall on our sword! Learn the rules. Take time for self-care and rest.

Strengthen Support Networks: Work at increasing the breadth and depth of our support networks. Networks help us maintain or regain balance in the midst of adversity.

Clarify Purpose: Focus on understanding our values, passions, vision, mission, and goals. We can develop our sense of optimism, a sense of positive thinking. Align our behavior with core beliefs. Take realistic, manageable action.

Develop Self-Awareness: Build awareness of our thoughts, emotions, and where we need to get better. We can improve our ability to consciously manage our behavior.

Enhance Self-Care: Improve our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being to increase our energy and protect or inoculate ourselves against stress. Use appreciation of beauty and nature as beginning avenues to self-care. Practice gratitude.

Make our strengths Work for us. Build confidence, gain the courage to take risks to achieve more effective results.

Broaden our coping skills: Strengthen the skills we need to reframe this challenge we are experiencing now. Make intentional choices that lead to growth and thriving, not just surviving. Ask what we can control, what is realistic and what can we maintain over time

Where Can We Ask for Help? Men and especially women both continue to face unique challenges that block success and confidence.  Resiliency is an important ingredient for happiness and well-being, when we proactively develop resiliency resources. There are six resiliency strategies that will help us thrive in an adverse situation by protecting ourselves against future difficulties or regaining our resiliency after a major setback.

But today, we’ve really only scratched the surface. My mission is to support you as you work to refine your skills and get even better at what you are already good at. Nobody overcomes adversity alone! We all need help, we just have to admit it, and ask! And get the right expert to guide you through it. We have to convince ourselves that it’s okay to ask for help!

What’s Next? You’ve begun the work to gain power over adversity and learn to be more resilient. But let’s step back and take a look at the whole picture, you know it’s not all resolved in a one essay.  Where is that missing piece of the puzzle and how to you get it in place?


Read all Mary’s columns here:

Mary T. O’Sullivan, Master of Science, Organizational Leadership, International Coaching Federation Professional Certified Coach, Society of Human Resource Management, “Senior Certified Professional. Graduate Certificate in Executive and Professional Career Coaching, University of Texas at Dallas.

Member, Beta Gamma Sigma, the International Honor Society.

Advanced Studies in Education from Montclair University, SUNY Oswego and Syracuse University.

Mary is also a certified Six Sigma Specialist, Contract Specialist, IPT Leader and holds a Certificate in Essentials of Human Resource Management from SHRM.

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