What is mental resilience? – 10 foundations of mental resilience

On Saturday, April 18, 2020, as part of the online meetup series [Startups Vs Covid-19], we hosted Mirna Šmidt, a trainer and coach in positive psychology and interpersonal skills, and the founder of Happiness Academy and Trainers Toolbox. Mirna provided an answer to the question of what mental resilience is and how to maintain it.

Mentalna čvrstoća - slika

What is mental resilience?

Mirna explained through her lecture what Mental Resilience is, also known as psychological resilience in Croatia. Mental resilience is the capacity to deal with positive or negative things that happen to us. Two spectrums are crucial for mental resilience: 1. Internal feelings – how well we emotionally cope with challenging situations, and 2. External results – how successfully we deal with external circumstances and what results we achieve.

We found the metaphor of the reservoir particularly intriguing, as it explained the essence of mental resilience.

In short, if you imagine a water reservoir, like a lake, you know that certain flows bring water into that reservoir and some that drain it. The same goes for the reservoir of mental strength; certain things increase its capacity, while others decrease it. We would add here, referring to the same metaphor, that certain things may look very nice from the outside, like beautiful waterfalls. However, if they reduce the capacity of the reservoir to a greater extent than it is filled, then we have a problem regardless of how beautiful the waterfall is. The first step in exploring our mental strength is to ask ourselves, “What helps me fill my reservoir?”

10 foundations of mental resilience

After clarifying what mental resilience is, Mirna explained the 10 foundations of mental resilience and provided examples for each of them. If you are interested in ways to fill your mental reservoirs, be sure to watch the lecture. Below are the 10 foundations:

10 foundations of mental resilience

  1. Mindset and thinking patterns
  2. Personal responsibility
  3. Physical well-being and energy management
  4. Positive emotions and gratitude
  5. Self-awareness
  6. Self-regulation
  7. Attitudes and self-confidence
  8. Finding meaning
  9. Social relationships and environment
  10. Adaptability

You can download the PDF version of the ten foundations of mental resilience here, and Mirna explained the details of each in her lecture, which you can watch in the recorded session.

FAQ – Most common questions on this topic

During the meetup, we collected the most common questions that participants asked Mirna, and below are the answers she provided. Do you have a question you would like to add to the list? Write to us in the comments or via email.

Why is it our natural instinct to isolate ourselves when we need company?

On one hand, positive emotions make us more open, creative, receptive to new learning, curious, and more focused on the “big picture.” On the other hand, negative emotions make us more focused on closing ourselves off, details, searching for small mistakes, as if we lock ourselves into a “small picture.” When we experience positive feelings, we are more open in relationships, while in negative feelings, we tend to withdraw. This could also be related to shame or the low energy that negative emotions give us. In a negative emotion, the instinct is to isolate ourselves because we lack the energy for contact, to step out. In the end, contact and society may not always be the first and most important thing we need, but it often helps nonetheless.

How can we compensate for physical contact given the current situation?

It is very important to be aware of what we need in that specific situation. The theory of the 5 love languages is very interesting in this regard. In this theory, one of the love languages is physical contact. Therefore, it would be good to explore how this one, physical contact, can be compensated for with the other four. Perhaps through verbal expression, small favors, quality conversations, etc.?

Today, it would be very meaningful to be “mindful,” to be more present in contact or conversation, to listen carefully to others, and to share our emotions and perspectives. This situation has the potential to move in that direction, which we can take advantage of because we have fewer external stimuli. For example, the goal is not to talk to many people but to those we talk to, to dedicate our time to them. Presence, listening, sharing more about how we feel, and entering into depth with them during the conversation, may help compensate for the lack of physical contact.

Why is focus important?

Today, it is easy to have many different passions, hobbies, and things we love, and then we often find ourselves in a situation where we are doing multiple things in parallel. Simply put, we tend to spread ourselves thinly across various things. The negative side of this approach is that over time, we get the feeling that we are not creating anything because we simply do not finish things (there are many in progress). So everyone should work on protecting their focus so that they can devote themselves to things that truly deserve to be done in the best and highest quality way. Most often, these things are related to creating something new. For some, this crisis may be an opportunity to reconsider their focus and return to the most important ones, what deserves our focus. Focus starts with choosing priorities.

A large part of the population is concerned about the security of their income and job; how to cope with uncertainty?

If we are dealing with positive psychology, then we are more concerned with things on the prevention and development side when things are more or less okay. In other words, how can we strengthen certain capacities, learn from exceptional people, etc.? We do not provide counseling to people who have problems because they need people with specific certificates in the area where the problem is. Therefore, we would not think about what we can do when we are already in a crisis but rather from the perspective of the future, which things we want to strengthen. Different people cope differently with this situation; on one extreme, we have people for whom this situation has a positive or very negative impact, while most people are somewhere in the middle.

In any case, to better cope with the situation, it is necessary to start by accepting the position where we are and that it is okay, wherever we are. Namely, even if we feel okay, we mustn’t push certain things under the rug and pretend that we are super strong but be aware of what is happening and try to understand why it is happening. In the end, it is best to work on psychological resilience when we are okay.

If, on the other hand, we do not feel well in the current situation, it will help us a lot to become aware of which aspects of the situation we have an impact on or control and actively approach them, and which we cannot influence and burden ourselves with them as little as possible. It often helps to focus on “small steps,” small actions, or the next task directly in front of us, so that we do not feel overwhelmed by a situation that seems too big and demanding to cope with.

Most people are concerned about economic opportunities; how to deal with them?

Two strategies are crucial, and both relate to mindset. Therefore, there are two aspects of focus: the first concerns what we can control, and the second involves what we cannot control. On one hand, much of our energy is consumed by worrying about things we cannot control. We should try to remove such concerns from our thoughts as much as possible.

Even if we cannot entirely influence these issues, we can, for example, allocate half an hour a day to worry about them. We can even keep a journal about it, but it’s important that after that half-hour, we stop thinking about those issues. On the other hand, we should focus on things we can control. We need not only to recognize them but also to act on them. We might even ask ourselves, “What can I do in this situation that I wouldn’t have done if the situation hadn’t occurred?”

In conclusion, the advice is not to worry about things we cannot influence but to actively address those we can change.

What about the media, which fills us with a lot of negative energy and is beyond our control? 

The truth is that we cannot directly control the media, but we can control how we consume it. We can choose sources and control what we consume from them.

The same applies to Facebook; we can always choose who to follow and what we want to see in our news feed, etc. Our media tend to be very negative.

Should I formulate my opinions or actions affirmatively or more combatively? 

Generally, a positive approach is better, but it’s not always the best approach. Sometimes it could be counterproductive if forced. If we are focused on the problem, it might be extremely challenging to push people to think positively. It largely depends on the problem we’re talking about and how, so we need to decide which approach would be better accordingly.

Where can we find more interesting articles or sources? 

Happiness Academy has “12 pillars of happiness” on the blog. The attempt with the “12 pillars of happiness” framework is to present things with solid research in a balanced picture. There is a situation in positive psychology where certain topics are disproportionately represented, sometimes unjustifiably. The effort was to provide a quality overview of these topics through the “12 pillars of happiness” and “10 foundations of resilience” models and round up all topics in positive psychology into one whole, in a quality framework.

Furthermore, it is recommended for those starting in this field to read Ilona Boniwell’s book: “Positive Psychology in a Nutshell.”

A list of books and articles that I recommend: A list of books on positive psychology.

I feel like I should have more time now, but I accomplish fewer things or it seems that way to me. I feel frustrated. I lack better self-organization. Any tips?

The first piece of advice would be to start tracking exactly what you are doing. Create a table in which you track your activities over time, and you will then see which activities are there. It will then be clearer which of them do not contribute to creating value and which ones do. After that, for a start, you can work on eliminating activities that do not create value. You might be surprised at how many of these activities do not create value. That would be a good start.

Also, choose 2-3 priorities that are most important to you that day and do them first.

Third, focus on developing good habits, such as Pomodoro, and do the most important things first.

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