I’m convinced that the key to survival in life is the ability to bounce back. Back from whatever life, your job, your family, your health, mother nature, or even your own self-sabotaging tendency has thrown at you. Apparently psychologists and social scientists call this ability “resiliency.”

That’s what I’m working on this week…. the old bounce back. 

After last week when I let a few bumps in the road throw me off course. You know, bouncing back is usually my strong suit. I’m normally pretty resilient. Quite good at being optimistic and navigating through adversity, at least as much as I’ve encountered so far in my life. Although I must admit I’ve not had to face anything as catastrophic as other members of my family have faced. My brother, for instance, with his overwhelming and relentless health issues. Or my mum who was widowed at twenty-three with three young children. 

narrow gravel road with large overhanging cliff, near Salta Argentina
Navigating a narrow, winding, and bumpy road in Argentina

I wrote about the idea of adversity and optimism a while ago in a post on “refashioning my new self in retirement.” Because as much as retirement is welcomed, it can also be stressful, and even traumatic for some. In that post I talk about Kate Bollick’s book Spinster: Making a Life of One’s Own, and her reference to a study by Hazel Markus and Paula Nurius, social scientists who postulate that people who survive trauma well do so because they have positive views of their “possible selves.” The subjects in the study were all dealing with some loss in their lives, all of them viewed their “current selves,” and current situation, in negative terms. But the ones who eventually coped with loss best were the ones who viewed their “possible future selves” in a positive way, who saw their “miserable present as transient,” and who were able to see themselves as better, more confident, or more successful in the future. 

This idea struck a chord with me. I thought it might be one reason why some people navigate retirement better than others. That maybe if we see retirement only as an end, and not a beginning, we sabotage ourselves. After all, the idea of a beginning would seem to suggest hope, and challenge us to plan for the future. 

But this week, I’ve not been thinking exclusively about retirement. But about some of the other situations which people of our age… somewhere between forty and a hundred … have to navigate. Have to survive and then bounce back from, if we’re able. Things like illness, financial insecurity, the loss of a spouse, or even getting back out there into the dating world. And I read a really interesting article in The New Yorker by Maria Konnikova, who writes about bouncing back in her piece How People Learn to Become Resilient. She says researchers think the difference between people who bounce back and those who struggle to do so is how we perceive “potentially traumatizing experiences.” Whether we see them as “traumatic” or as “opportunities to learn and grow.” And we can learn to be more resilient if we learn to “regulate emotion,” and not to “create or exaggerate stressors”… like, ah,  at three in the morning when we convince ourselves that whatever can go wrong will go wrong. We can live through adversity more easily if we “frame adversity as a challenge.” Apparently, framing adversity as a challenge means we “become more flexible and able to deal with it, move on, learn from it, and grow.” Huh. 

So this week I’m tackling some of the “stressors” that I identified last week. And I’m doing what I usually do when I stress about weight, or fitness, or middle age middle, or the fact that I have too many chins. I get moving. And moving more becomes a “project.” And a “project” for me involves setting measurable goals, and then planning how to achieve them. We did this kind of goal setting all the time in the classroom. No sensible teacher ever set as a goal “to make kids love literature.” Because how can you measure that, or even know if you’re making progress? That would be like my saying that I want to get fit or healthy. How would I measure that? It’s too vague, too abstract. But saying that I want to do 300 minutes of cardio a week, and two weight workouts…well, that I can measure. And when I achieve my goal I feel great… and even more motivated. And my fitness improves almost as a secondary result. 

For this project, I’m changing up my weight work-outs. I bought a couple of fitness magazines, and with Hubby’s help, I’m going to design a new plan for muscle toning. I’ll incorporate into my plan the stretching and strengthening exercises from my physiotherapist. I’ll stick to my cardio routine of cycling, walking the trail, or riding my exercise bike when it’s raining. And I may even give yoga a try again. Lisa over at Privilege wrote a post with some really good resources for beginner yoga. And she says it won’t make me “feel dumb, or overly annoyed.” That’s a tall order for this avowed yoga hater… still… I can be open-minded. But no golf. I draw the line at golf. 

Cover of Self magazine

Pretty much everything you read about how or why some  people are more resilient than others in the face of adversity has something to say about strong support networks. Friendship, family, strong social connections, people who listen without judging. So my walking buddies and I are getting our Thursday walking group up and running again in the next week or so. We walk, at a pretty good clip I must say, for at least an hour, yakking the whole time, then we go for coffee and yak some more. Exercise, and fresh air, combined with the chance to vent and have friends listen without judging, is a healthy combination, I think. 

I’ve some other plans in the works for dealing with what’s been getting me down. Some of them involve the blog. I’ll fill you in on that in a week or so. I’ve been happily researching, and making lists, and checking them twice. Ah, list making, one of life’s little joys. 

I don’t believe that we can successfully tackle all of life’s adversities simply by making plans and lists, and turning them into a “project.” And being positive. That would be incredibly naive. And while I will admit to being a Pollyanna most of the time, when I’m not in a funk, that is, I can be realistic too. It’s just that “framing” my “adversities” (as the psychologists say) so that I can turn at least some of the negatives into a possible positive is just how I roll. Annoying as that is to avowed skeptics, self-described realists, and cynics. Ha. Maybe they’d be a lot happier if they tried a bit of re-framing themselves. Eh?

Hubby and I are off camping tomorrow for a week. We’re all ready. The bikes are in the truck, the canoe on top of it. The cooler is stuffed with food and wine. We’ve lots of sunscreen, and lots and lots insect repellent in our packs. Now we’re just praying for sun…. and no rain. Or hail. No joke. This is the view out our sun room door the other day.

And speaking of bouncing back. Hubby is hoping against hope that his vegetable garden will bounce back. It took a severe beating in that rain, wind, and hail storm. All that work… poor Hubby. On the positive side. If we’re away… fishing and swimming and reading and toasting hotdogs… it will take his mind off the garden. 

I’ve scheduled a reprise post for later in the week. One that I think most of you won’t have read. Hope you enjoy it. 

And I won’t be replying to comments until we get home. I won’t have any WiFi where we’re going… because… ah… wilderness. 

Linking up with:  Saturday Share over at Not Dressed as Lamb and Thursday Favourite Things at Katherine’s Corner.  


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11 thoughts on “Bounce Back”

  1. Even decisions and list making are making one feel better,no?
    I hope that you'll have good weather and a lot of fun in the wilderness-a week (even a day or two) of changing environment (and a frame to "old" things,thinking and emotions) could heal and get a new
    So sorry about your Hubby's garden-we had a couple of blusteries and hails here (a lot of damage to gardens,crops….),but the temperatures are over 30°C for a month (not usual for June)

  2. Wishing you garden resilience, happy camping and tons of bouncing back. A most thorough piece on something that affects us all. However, you are missing out on a very positive side of golf. Creativity. I have discovered new creative heights since I started playing. Thinking up excuses to get out of playing tomorrow, next Friday, this winter. I haven't witnessed my own creative brilliance in this area since school days, when getting out of games or P.E. So I suggest you don't overlook "not playing golf" in your plan.

  3. This is a fabulous post. Very readable and resonating. Like my friend above, Mary the Pout, ,I'm creative in finding ways not to play badminton. Back to the point though, I think you are so right to have a positive outlook.

  4. This is so interesting. I just wrote a blog post on a very difficult time in my life turning out to be one of the best things to happen to me. Getting past the initial phase of coping with my feelings was the hardest and took time but I was eventually able to "rephrase" the event so that it turned into a positive in my life.

    Have a great vacation!


  5. Resilience is a fascinating topic. How we manage it, why some do so better than others, what circumstances knock us down and how long until we get back up… or try. Support systems help, certainly! So does a core of steel. And perspective works wonders.

    DO have a fabulous week camping! We look forward to hearing about it when you're back.


  6. Resiliency… Whether it's physical, mental or spiritual, the ability to bounce back from anything… and I do mean anything, is one of the top two things that have helped me go to Hell and back. The other, which came later in life, is my faith in God.

  7. I reckon gardeners need resilience as ' mother nature ' is always catching us out , so we hope next year will be better . Enjoy your wilderness , I love wilderness – for a while
    Wendy in York

  8. With a plan such as yours I am sure you will bounce back. I know this sounds very simplistic but I have always said you have to have your downs in order to have your ups. Life for most of us is, I think, a continual swing between these two states of being. But with a plan of realistic goals that are measurable then I am sure you will be on the upswing. Nothing like some time spent in the wilderness to help this along. Enjoy.

  9. Resilience is so interesting. I'm currently reading the Joy of Happiness by Desmond Tutu and the dalai Lama and find it fascinating. One lived through apartheid and the other has been exiled since 1959 from his homeland, and they are both happy and in their 80's. I would give yoga another try — with the right teacher it's wonderful.

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