The word resilient evolved from the roots “re” (back) and “salire” (to leap). To be resilient means to “leap back” or “spring back” when challenged with a setback. Many people think of resilience as a fixed character trait in people (“he is a very resilient person”). However, if you look at the word resilient as defined above, it is actually more of a verb than an adjective. In other words, people can be resilient by acting resiliently at some times and not others. Resilience is not about being “tough” and not feeling anything. It is perfectly possible to be going through intensely painful emotions and still be behaving resiliently. Resilience is about your actions, what you do after experiencing disappointments and loss. Of course, it is often very difficult to “spring back” when we are in pain. This is what makes resilience difficult, and what makes resilient behavior so rare and admirable when we see it in others. We know that they are likely suffering a great deal, and yet they are doing what they need to do, taking care of business anyways.
Putting our focus on the past or the future makes resilience much more difficult. Looking towards the past, we relive the loss or setback that we need to spring back from. It takes on more life as we experience it over and over again. We get discouraged as we focus on what we once had and where we thought we were going and compare it with our current situation. Looking towards the future, we see unclear or undesirable images as we adjust our expectations and simultaneously become overwhelmed by the amount of work it will entail to recover.
At these times, I find it best to focus on the present moment as much as possible. I know that I will be better off if I “spring back,” and that this can only happen in the present. If I spend my energy longing for what I once had, I become depressed. If I think about everything I’m going to have to do to get back to where I wanted to be, I usually become overwhelmed. However, if I think about the one thing that I have to do right now, the first broken piece I have to pick up, I can usually do it with relative ease.