When I was a child, The Sound of Music was one of my favorite movies. Julie Andrews’ spinning in that opening scene of mountains and blue sky was my pattern for what a happy life would look like. “How do you solve a problem like Maria” became my theme song (a flibbertigibbet, a will-o-the-wisp, a clown!).
But if you remember, the underlying story of Sound of Music was not a happy one. Maria was devoted to her vocation, but the Mother Superior sent her on a trial return to the outside world before allowing her to take vows. She became the von Trapp family’s governess and subverted the widowed father’s militaristic parenting approach with music and love. At the end of Act I, Maria returned to the convent, suffering a “dark night of the soul,” considering her life path. The wise Mother Superior encouraged her to “live the life you were born to live,” and she returned to the von Trapp estate. And, of course, the shadow of WWII loomed over the whole romantic story until the family fled over the Alps to escape the Nazis.
How is it that some people can sing their way through adversity? It’s not just the technicolor optimism of a 1960’s movie. Resilient people have a robust toolbox of skills and attitudes to draw on. Let’s explore how The Sound of Music can expand your resilience skillset.
Like the Mother Superior, our mentors can put us on the right path or help us “climb every mountain.” Healthy families grow in strength as they support one another and stand together in adversity, much like the von Trapp’s.
What people do you rely on when you have a challenge? Listing their names can help you feel more confident that you aren’t alone.
If you are an introvert like me, you may have a tiny circle of people you consider friends. In my first attempt to make my support list, I overlooked quite a few people. My spouse, my siblings, and a very few close friends are all I would claim.
Try this exercise — run through your contacts list and identify people who have helped you deal with personal and professional problems. Doing this made me realize that my safety net of people is much larger than I originally thought.
My list encompasses everyone from my favorite bartender to my family doctor. How often have they listened to me in times of grief or everyday frustration? I don’t hang out with my colleagues at work, but they are there for me every day. We share the load of work obligations and help out with little things like rides to the airport or pet-sitting.
We are part of interconnected communities. If you feel that you aren’t part of such a community, consider ways that you can enhance even your most casual of relationships. Make an effort to get to know people as individuals and they will reciprocate.
When the dog bites, When the bee stings, When I’m feeling sad, I simply remember my favorite things, And then I don’t feel so bad.
Being resilient doesn’t mean that you deny your emotions. Resilient people identify and deal with their negative emotions and they find ways to move through and beyond them.
What strategies have you used to help yourself cope with negative thoughts and feelings in the past? Jot down a list of them. Which ones worked the best? Do you have some unhelpful strategies — like binge eating or drinking— that feel good in the short-term but may have negative consequences? The wider your range of positive coping strategies, the more resilient you can be.
Some approaches I have used recently include gratitude journaling, talking with friends, cuddling with my spouse, and getting outside. You can read about my strategies a bit more in "Winter blues in a Pandemic February."
Maria’s strategy, “I simply remember my favorite things” is a kind of gratitude exercise. Taking time daily to list things you are grateful for is a proven way to increase well-being. So if you enjoy “snowflakes that stay on [your] nose and eyelashes,” take a minute to savor the sensation and be grateful for the experience.
Some of us go straight to problem-solving when we encounter an obstacle. Others deal with their emotions first. Whichever direction is your go-to, be sure to step back and address the other side of the equation, too. Both your heart and your mind need attention in tough times.
How have you sought solutions for recent dilemmas? Did you problem solve? Search for additional information? Make a plan? Negotiate? Change a behavior? All of these responses can be part of your toolkit of resilience.
Words of Wisdom
Do you have quotations, song lyrics, poetry, Bible verses, spiritual writings, or sayings from someone you admire that help you move forward in troublesome times?
I have a section of my journal where I gather such things. Maybe you have them pinned up on a bulletin board, or printed on decorative items in your house.
Reminding yourself of these sayings can provide comfort and wisdom when you are going through a rough time.
“When the Lord closes a door, somewhere He opens a window.”
For me, this quotation comes to mind often at times of change. (Just don’t say it to someone immediately after a door has slammed — they might throw you out a window.)
I use it to remind me to think creatively and look for opportunities I might miss when focused tightly on a goal. Maria’s closing door was that of the convent and her chosen vocation; the window that opened for her at the Von Trapp’s was nothing she could have ever imagined.
When I think of this adage now, I am reminded of one failed interview that led me to meet my now-husband. I saw myself living and working in that little college town and felt hurt when they didn’t choose me.
But I turned the connections from the interview into a year-long gig on that campus. I could easily have walked away and missed the opportunity, but I pried open a window. And I just happened to meet my life partner, which made the year all the sweeter.
Your Resilience Toolkit
The next time you face a challenge or difficulty, consider how you have dealt with such problems in the past. Applying practices that worked in the past and learning from mistakes you made can help you bounce back more quickly the next time.
These might include:
Supportive relationships you can lean on.
Positive coping behaviors to help you feel your emotions while staying on an even keel.
Actions you can take to engage with the problem and make it more surmountable.
Words of wisdom that give you comfort, hope, and direction.
You, too, can be one of those people who seem to maintain a positive outlook in the midst of catastrophe. The next time you have one of those weeks when every little thing seems to be going wrong, think about your resilience toolkit and see if you can find a better balance. When the little things stop feeling like big hurdles, you can more easily apply the same skills to bigger challenges.
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Shatte, A., Reivich, K. (2003). The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles.