Book: The Little Book of Resilience by Matthew Johnstone

Emma Thompson/Opis Counselling

I have written about some of Matt Johnstone’s books before, and The Little Book of Resilience: How To Bounce Back From Adversity and Lead a Fulfilling Life is similar to those in many ways.

Resilience is a vague concept.  It’s easy to say that resilience is the ability to recover from bad events, but hard to put into practice.  What exactly does resilience look like?  What can we actually do to increase resilience?

The book is divided into two parts.  The first part explains what resilience is and why we need it.  It provides examples of the kinds of life events which might cause us distress and why we feel how we do.  The second part gives practical suggestions of ways to care for yourself and approach problems to improve resilience.

As I have read elsewhere, when we feel at our lowest we tend to overestimate the threats and underestimate our resources.  This book discusses both.  It is worth building up and keeping aware of our resources before things happen, so they are easier to reach for when we need them.  It can also help to practice seeing things with curious, non-judgemental observation so we see threats more realistically when they arise.  Johnstone’s book explains how to do these things.  There is also a useful list of resources and helpful organisations in the back.  If we know what our immediate reactions to things are likely to be in advance, we are more ready to deal with them and remain in control in the moment.  A description of negative automatic thoughts and how to recognise them can be found here.

This isn’t a difficult book to read – it has short sentences and is filled throughout with the author’s charming illustrations.  If you want a really meaty, in-depth book of instructions then this isn’t for you.  Rather, this book is likely to be helpful and accessible when you feel overwhelmed and can’t think straight.  Its simple, clear guidance is gentle and uplifting, and won’t take more than an hour or so to read.

Cultivating an attitude of gratitude

I have written about gratitude previously, when I did my ten-part series on the positive emotions.  Gratitude is more than saying “thanks”, it is a deep and meaningful appreciation for someone or something.  It helps us to acknowledge what we have and our good experiences, and to strengthen our relationships with others.  Time has an article on the various health benefits of developing your gratitude, and just a quick google search will bring up many more.

So, am I saying that being thankful for things will solve all your problems and make everything okay?  No, I’m not.  What fostering gratitude will do is help you develop your resilience.

Resilience is our ability to keep going when times are tough.  It’s what enables us to take life’s knockbacks and keep picking ourselves up again.  Developing resilience is a skill.  It is affected by our optimism, our tolerance of our emotions, our ability to reframe things mentally, and our gratitude.

Many people find gratitude the easiest one of those to start with, because it gives you a solid foundation based on where you are right now.  You might prefer to start elsewhere, and later blog posts will focus on other aspects of resilience.

You might be in a bad place, and asking yourself, “What have I got to be grateful for?!”.  You might find it hard to think of anything, but working hard on this can pay off.  Start simple when thinking about what you have.  You have access to a computer to read this right now.  You have air to breathe.  You have time to be here.

Try turning what seems to be a negative into something to be grateful for.  For example, you might be feeling overwhelmed with the amount of laundry you have to do – but you can be grateful for having so many clothes.  You might be grieving for a loved one, but can feel gratitude for having known and loved that person.

Some people find it helpful to write a gratitude journal.  Each day, write in your journal three different things you are grateful for.  They can be big or small, silly or serious – nobody’s opinion on your gratitude journal matters but yours!  You might want to keep it to yourself, or share it with a loved one.  Make it work for you.

Developing your gratitude can make it easier for you to see and connect with the good things in your life when it seems that things are going badly.  It can provide you with a solid foundation of resources and identity.  When we are feeling low, we tend to overestimate threats and underestimate our resources.  Developing our gratitude can help redress that balance.

What are you grateful for?