Your thoughts matter. The way you think about an event, matters. Whether you interpret an event as stressful or not, will determine how you are able to cope with it. Whenever something happens in our lives, we assess it based on our own view of the world and ourselves. This assessment helps us figure out if we should be fearful, stressed or excited. And because we are all unique, each of us can assess the same situation in a different way.
A couple of weeks ago I was running late to catch my bus to work. When the bus eventually arrived, it was a few minutes late. I checked my watch and knew it would make me a few minutes late for work, so I pulled out my phone and began checking my emails to give me a head start to my day.
I glanced up at one point during the 20-minute bus ride and noticed a woman standing in the aisle, near the door. She was tapping her foot frustratedly and glancing over at the driver, willing him to drive faster. As we got closer to our destination, she began to sigh loudly and was clearly angry and annoyed at being late.
At her stop, she hurriedly jumped off the bus and walked angrily down the street toward her office. I got off at the next stop, thanked the driver and walked to my office, knowing that I had already achieved the first task of my day.
Neither of us wanted to be late. We had both caught that bus because we expected it would get to our destination at the time we needed it to. When it was late, I adapted. She didn’t. Neither of us was able to change it. I assessed the situation and what it meant to me. I found something I could control. It meant that unlike the other woman, I walked into my office, calmly and in control – a much more positive way to start the day.
George Bonanno is a clinical psychologist and professor at Columbia University who is known for introducing resilience to the study of loss and trauma. He states that we can reduce our overall resilience when we create or exaggerate stressors easily in our own minds.
Consider how you approach a potentially stressful situation. If someone suggests it is hard or stressful and you take that on, you may struggle to find a way to work through it. If however, you can approach the same situation in an open, flexible way, you may find that you can shape how you respond, and in turn, how you feel about it.
Next time you are faced with a situation consider if there is a different way to approach it. Consider the things you can control and focus on those. Continue to practice this with the little things (like the late bus) and move up to the larger things. This will build your resilience, your courage and your confidence, to step up and take control of the world around you.