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Learn How To Build Your Strengths
By Lia Doyle Burke
Program Manager, Office of Case Management
The year 2020 brought many challenges. This goes without saying. Most of us experienced some combination of grief, loss, stress, financial hardship, isolation, physical and mental health challenges, the impact of the pandemic, social unrest, and significant life changes. Whoever you are, you made it through an extremely difficult time and, more than likely, the difficulties didn’t end for you when 2021 began.
Resilience is a term with many definitions, but I like to think of it as the set of tools that help us cope with challenging experiences. Resilience can also mean not just getting through, but growing through hardship. Each day that we live changes us.
Resilience is not something that you either have or you don’t have; it is fluid and depends on your unique context and set of circumstances. Resilience can also apply to families, groups, neighborhoods, or any other community. What may strengthen or add to resilience in one environment may not apply in others; what may have helped you build resilience at one point in your life may not work anymore.
In a series of workshops I led during fall semester in partnership with the CU Denver Wellness Center, I guided participants through building their own metaphorical “resilience toolkit” for coping with and growing through challenges. There are endless ways for you to build up or add to your “resilience toolkit,” all of which are unique to you. I will share some tips and strategies to get you started, and also tell you what I told the workshop participants: take what applies to you and leave the rest.
What strengthens your ability to cope with difficult experiences? You may be surprised to find out what you already have in your toolkit that you can continue to build upon. Examples could include certain friends, family members, qualities or strengths you possess, challenges you have already faced, and things that you love to do that provide you with energy, joy or hope. Try also thinking about a community or group that you identify with, and reflect upon these questions with that community in mind.
Practice: Set aside some time to think or journal about this. Keep your discoveries in mind as you move through challenges, or even little annoyances, throughout your day. Let this be a living document: add to this mental or physical list as you discover qualities within yourself and your life that strengthen your capacity to withstand hardship.
As John Kabat-Zinn describes it, mindfulness is the “The awareness that arises from paying attention, on purpose, in the present moment and non-judgmentally” (1994). In other words, mindfulness allows you to engage with your surrounding environment in a way that is true to the situation at hand. When you interact mindfully with your surroundings, you do not project preconceived judgements onto your experiences, but rather view challenges just as they are in a given moment. Getting closer to the truth of your challenges and all that they encompass better equips you to meet them.
As you reflect upon the challenges of 2020 and embark on 2021, I invite you to remember that you have dealt with significant challenges in order to make it to where you are right here and now. You therefore already have resources and strengths to draw upon within yourself and your surroundings. In the process of reflection, you may also notice some gaps—things you wish you had, but don’t right now. This may be uncomfortable, or even painful, to realize. Rather than approach these as deficiencies, try reframing them as opportunities for growth. We all have them. It isn’t easy, but the more that we are able to approach the areas that need improvement non-judgmentally and with gentleness towards ourselves and others, the more likely we are to strengthen our capacity to grow.
Check out these books, videos, and articles recommended by Auraria Library about resilience. For more resources, visit Auraria Library’s website.