“I want to say that we need to stay vigilant,” I mused to my wife when describing what I wanted to assert in this post, “but ‘vigilant’ doesn’t sound quite right . . .”
“How about ‘engaged?’” she proffered.
It’s good to be married to an English major.
Being engaged is exactly what we need right now.
Rather than shrugging our shoulders and giving in to what could become the new normal—an intolerant, fear-mongering government administration—we need to stay engaged with each other, with what is happening in our country, and with ways we can act up and speak out.
Three problems of staying engaged
Oh, we humans!
Our short attention spans are so challenged. They were like that prior to the electronics age, easily distracted by the next shiny thing. But now, with instant information on the Internet and so many shiny objects to distract us, I think gnats may be beyond us in ability to focus.
And then there’s our natural inclination to revert to the norm. You might remember the research I cited in a previous blog post about happiness and how we usually go back to our set point of happiness no matter how good or bad things get in our lives. Humans, at least in American culture, tend toward this norm-seeking behavior because we like to stay comfortable and we like to stick with what we know.
The third problem of staying engaged may be resiliency itself. Just like any characteristic, resiliency has its good parts and its not-so-good parts. One of the great things about resiliency is that we can often grow accustomed to a new normal when changes occur. And one of the not-so-great things about resiliency is that we can often grow accustomed to a new normal when changes occur.
Yes, you read that right.
Our ability to adapt can both help us and hurt us. While learning to adjust to something new in our lives often helps us function well and feel better, this same adaptability may also lull us into an unintended complacency.
And complacency is the enemy of engagement.
How many of us have disagreed with a political policy and not contacted our congressperson about it? How many of us have become outraged by a spate of hate crimes in our area but soon moved back toward our norm of thinking others will do something about it? How many of us have promised ourselves we’re going to be more active in our communities right after Monday-Night Football/I get my new iPad/my kids go off to college/I get that promotion/my life settles down?
So here we are: microscopic-attention-spanned, norm-seeking, adaptable lovers of complacency. How are we going to make a difference in our country and our communities?
By staying engaged.
If there is any time to overcome our natural tilt toward inertia, this is it.
How to stay engaged
It’s hard, this pull toward staying comfortable. You might remember my mea culpa in my last post.
To keep engaged, try these strategies:
- Make a habit of reading the news. I know. This is a tough one. It’s okay to take breaks from reading and hearing bad news occasionally, but it’s also important to keep up to date on what is happening around you. Build some tolerance around this because staying unaware is taking steps down the road toward complacency. And be sure that the news you are reading is factual, not the fake news that is so prevalent now!
- Hear stories from people who are affected on a daily basis. Join Pantsuit Nation on Facebook to read stories of heroism, anguish, joy, and courage as members post their experiences with hate crimes and harassment and their hope for our country. Look at MoveOn.org or search for a local group at Meetup.com.
- Find like-minded people. One of the main components of resiliency is social support. Find people who think the way you do. Getting together regularly or just checking in once in a while will help you feel better and keep you engaged.
- Find people who are not like-minded, but reasonable. What better way to understand the other side of an issue than to engage in discussion with someone on that side? When you go into a conversation with curiosity and willingness to hear, you can find common ground upon which to meet.
- Set up some accountability for yourself. There’s nothing like having a deadline or needing to report to someone to keep you on track. Have your like-minded friends ask you what you’re doing to stay engaged. Make yourself a promise that if you don’t _____________ (fill in the blank with “call my representative,” “read the newspaper,” etc.), you have to donate $10 to Donald Trump’s “Make America Great Again” foundation.
- Set a reminder on your phone. Have it go off a few times a day with a reminder that says, “Are you engaged?” or “Wake up!”
- Make a habit of calling or writing your representatives. Make your voice heard! Your senators and congresspersons are actually there to serve you, even though it often seems like it’s the other way around. Check in with them regularly with suggestions, criticisms, and encouragement. Maybe you want to do this every Monday or every other Wednesday. Put it on your calendar and do it.
Engagement is an important part of resiliency
I mentioned above that part of our happiness in life depends on what our natural happiness set point is. As a matter of fact, fully 50% of our happiness depends on our set point, according to happiness researcher Sonya Lyubomirsky.* Only 10% of our happiness comes from stuff—material things.
What about the other 40%?
That big 40% chunk of our happiness is the part that we can actively influence. It’s all about positive actions—doing things that are positive in our lives and in our communities.
That’s why engagement is so helpful to our ability to bounce back. It does two things for us. First, engagement is a series of positive actions that can directly enhance our happiness. Second, it can increase social support and sense of community, two things that research has repeatedly proven essential for resilience.
Only you can know what level of activist engagement you want and need. Maybe my suggestions here are a little too much for you. Or maybe you want to do more. Find the level that works for you.
Finally, remember that engagement also includes being fully engaged with yourself. So be sure to take care of yourself throughout. We need you.
And now it’s over to you. What are your ideas for staying engaged?
*If you’re interested, you can find Lyubomirsky’s paper on the components of happiness here.
Top – Felipe Cabrera
Middle – nucce
Bottom – DigitPedia
mid-15c., from Latin obliviosus” forgetful, that easily forgets; producing forgetfulness,” from oblivion
Sometimes it takes a hard smack upside the head to get my attention.
My friends, I suspended writing the Bounce blog for a while. Not because I don’t care about you and our discussions about resilience. I’ve been gone because I became oblivious (in the old sense) due to happiness!
I wasn’t unhappy before, but since I last wrote, I met the love of my life, got married, and I’m living happily ever after with her.
Despite my ongoing joy in a loving marriage, my greater world has been shattered by the devastating election of a racist, xenophobic, sexist, lying reality TV star to become the next leader of our beloved country.
So here’s the thing: I am returning to writing about resiliency and how we bounce back in this world. But my posts will be decidedly more about the American political condition than my past helpful but generic writings about resiliency.
I realize that some of you will unsubscribe from Bounce.
And that’s okay.
Ignorance is not bliss—it is oblivion. Philip Wylie
Because I remember again—snapped out of my oblivion—how very important my country is and my fellow Americans are. And I will not stand idle; I will not allow my voice to be silent.
I echo the words my wife wrote in a recent Facebook post after the election: “I will act up, speak out, and accept nothing less than liberty and justice for all.”
As a foundation for Bounce, let me be clear about what I do not accept as a part of liberty and justice for all:
I do not accept: racism
I do not accept: xenophobia
I do not accept: misogyny
I do not accept: intolerance
I do not accept: exclusivity
I do not accept: homophobia
I do not accept: violence
I do not accept: any other form of “going low”
In coming posts, we will learn how to be resilient in the midst of a culture that appears to be changing for the worse. We will learn together how to promote inclusiveness, tolerance, forgiveness, non-violent activism, and mutual understanding.
I anticipate that only a small percentage of you will stay with me.
Are you in?
Photo of Ani DiFranco: Susan Alzner
Quote: Angela Davis
The entire week is about failure and about “the value of having a go rather than playing it safe and perhaps achieving less.”
I love this. Here’s why: We need to become friends with failure in order to be able to bounce back in life.
Even though there is lip service paid to “it’s okay to fail,” the reality is that there is subtle and not-so-subtle pressure to do exactly the opposite – to be perfect.
But we’re not perfect. We’re human and thus vulnerable to all sorts of flaws and foibles, including failure.
So, we know failure will happen at some point. The question is, can we recover from it? And even more so, can we learn to value it?
Be like the rock in the river
We tend to resist things we don’t like. And failure is one of them. But resisting failure is like the jagged rock trying to resist the rushing river: The water will always pour over the rock, so why does it try so to make it stop? Perhaps, instead, it can allow the river to smooth its sharp edges and turn it into beauty that the rock never expected.
And so, as the rock and the river become friends, knowing that they will always be together, so must we befriend failure.
4 ways to friend failure
1. Friend failure, don’t become it.
I have heard many people say, “I’m such a failure.” No, actually, you are someone who has failed. You, yourself do not equate to failure. Be wary of labeling yourself.
2. Look for the side effects of failure.
Paul Iske, a business innovation researcher and founder of The Institute for Brilliant Failures, likes to give one example to illustrate that failure often has beneficial side effects: Viagra. The drug was created to treat heart conditions. It failed at that, but scientists soon began to note that it had a very noteworthy side effect. The rest, of course, is history
When I was an undergraduate, I failed my statistics class. And then I failed it again. I passed it on the third try (and with a different professor) but my plans to become a mathematician were derailed. I was dejected. I had never failed at anything I set out to achieve.
After awhile, though, I noticed something. Failing my statistics class forced me to look at other fields of study. And I realized that it was actually psychology that energized me, not math. The side effect of my failure was that I allowed myself to really look at what I was passionate about. And although my math classes were interesting and challenging, they did not stir my creative juices as psychology did.
The rest of that story is history, too.
3. Realize that it may not be failure, it may just be deferred success.
I’m sure you’ve heard by now that Thomas Edison tried 3000 times to invent the light bulb until he got it right. If he had quit after his first few tries, you might be reading this by candlelight on parchment paper.
One of Paul Iske’s favorite brilliant failure stories is that of Christopher Columbus. His original mission was to find a faster trading route to the far east. Instead, he failed spectacularly by discovering the North American continent. The success of his failure would not be known until later years.
No matter what is happening for you right now, it could be that you are experiencing success that is deferred until later, one facet of the gem that is failure.
4. Release control of your expectations.
One of the reasons we are so failure-aversive is that it feels as though we lose control when we fail at something. Letting go of your control and expectations about something will allow you to see the softer sides of failure. And, again, letting go does not mean giving up. It merely means to have no judgment about situations or yourself.
We can learn a lot from failure. You never know, it may just end up being one of your best friends.
How do you deal with failure?
But if you’ve lost a loved one during the year, this time of year may very well be the opposite of joyful.
I hope this short article I first posted on my therapy website is helpful for those of you who are struggling this year.
Holidays without your loved one . . .
can be painful and lonely. Especially if it’s the first time the holiday has rolled around after your loss.
Sometimes it’s helpful to create a small ritual to help you remain connected to your loved one while still acknowledging your loss on this special day.
Get your closest friends together, the people you feel the safest with, and create a ritual to remember your loved one during a holiday. Or do the ritual by yourself. Here are a few ideas to get you started:
- Write a letter to your loved one expressing your feelings during the holiday. Put it in a box and gift-wrap it. Then, put it under the Christmas tree or on a table – wherever you used to place it when your loved one was alive – and keep it as long as you like. Or try these ideas with your ritual group: bury the box in a special place outside; burn the box and visualize releasing your feelings as the ashes float upward; have one of your friends open the box and read the letter to your ritual group.
- Ask your ritual group to gather and have each person recall favorite stories about your loved one. You might want to structure it by having them tell stories about their holiday memories of your loved one, how they met your loved one, or what your loved one would say or do that would make them laugh the hardest.
Sometimes life is just really nasty and smacks us right down to the ground.
It feels awful and can leave us flailing, trying to figure out how to get back up again.
Here are ten things to tell yourself that might help you do just that. Be sure to check out the resources that go along with each idea.
1. I’ve made it through this (or worse) before.
Unfortunately, we can’t permanently escape pain in life. But this can actually be helpful: Remember that this is not the first time you’ve faced heartbreak, grief, emotional distress, or any other kind of calamity.
You made it through then and you will now even if you think this is the worst thing that’s ever happened to you. Read more…
How good are you at bouncing back?
Take this non-scientific quiz to find out!
Let’s hear how you did in the comments section.
You decide to join the Bounce community – and get a great ebook in the process – so you fill out the little form on the right that asks for your first name and email.
Not only do you receive the ebook, Bounce Back! 5 keys to survive and thrive through life’s ups and downs, you inevitably get an email from me asking you to share the biggest struggle you’re facing right now.
I get a variety of responses:
- Health problems
- Financial pressures
- Worry about children and family
- Indecision about career issues
- Struggles with mental and emotional health
- Relationship problems
- Lack of self-worth, self-confidence, self-compassion
- Caring for aging parents
- Dealing with past abuse
- Grieving the loss of a loved one
I answer all my email and always try to help in whatever small way I can.
Since there are zillions of different struggles that we all face, there are lots of suggestions that I make.
But I find myself asking the writer one question again and again: Read more…
My breath was coming in gasps and I fought to keep my bike upright.
I was working my way up a long, steep hill. My friend, Keila, rode to my left, listening to my panting.
She was not breathing heavily as she maintained a slow, steady pace.
We had ridden this hill before. It was three miles with an average grade of 6% – challenging, but in recent tries I had been successful making it to the top without stopping.
My heart thumped hard and fast. My mind screeched at me to stop.
I stubbornly kept on, feeling more and more irritation with myself that the hill was this hard for me.
I uttered an expletive that I won’t print here but sounds suspiciously like “Smucker.”
After 37 mostly horrible minutes, we reached the top.
I dismounted and stood over my bike, my elbows on the handlebars, head down, trying to get my breath back.
When my wheezing subsided a bit, I straightened up and looked over at Keila. She was also standing over her bike, but she had her phone out and was texting someone.
No sign of struggle there.
I shook my head and rasped, “I don’t know why that was so hard this time.”
Keila looked at me and said in a soft voice,
It’s because when you start to suffer, you speed up. And then you get mad.
The phone rang. I lifted my head up off the tear-soaked pillow and searched for the phone under a mess of tissues and blankets.
Hello, I said, doing my best to sound as if I hadn’t just finished crying.
Hey man, how are you doing today?
Damn him. I felt the tears welling back up, begging to be released.
*cough* I’m ok. You know…just taking it one day at time.
But I hadn’t been able to take it one day at a time for weeks now. My world had been shrink-wrapped and all I could manage was to pray that the next 60 seconds wouldn’t send me over the edge. Minute by minute, hour by hour.
I wasn’t battling my depression; I was trying to survive it.