“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing; the last of the human freedoms – to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way” Viktor Frankl, Man’s Search for Meaning.
I read this book a few years after surviving my traumatic brain injury, when I struggled with the loss of my career, suffered from depression, and lived with a sense of hopelessness. Frankl’s words transformed my way of thinking about my life changing injury. He helped me to live with my brain disability, learn to grow and finally to flourish. The key determiner of resilience is our ability to minimise negative thoughts.
“What matters in resilience is how we deal with adversity – and adversity normally leads to negative emotions” Dr Karen Reivich, The Resilience Factor: 7 keys to finding your inner strength and overcoming life’s hurdles.
Here are a few of my top, and fundamental tips, for building resilience through minimising negative thoughts. I have used and continue to use these in my life.
- Adversity, in whatever form, often leads to negative emotions.
I call these negative thoughts your withering whispers as they sit on your shoulder quietly, whispering negativity in your mind. How we deal with this negativity matters. Be aware of the repeating negative thoughts where you use words such as always, everyone, my, me and I.
Thoughts and words that sound permanent, pervasive, and personal are the most dangerous. “This is never-ending” “Why does it always happen to me” “Nobody likes me in work” “I am useless”
Be aware of the ‘tyranny of the should’ – “I should be grateful” “I should do more” “I should eat better” The ‘should’ can easily trigger guilt and lead to a downward spiral of negativity.
Listen to your withering whispers and when you catch one, challenge it, and correct it. This can be achieved through decreasing, distracting or disputing them.
- Decrease your withering whisper
Decrease your withering whispers through deep breathing exercises or progressive muscle relaxation techniques and/or the centuries old technique of meditation. I’ve used all of these and still do when needed.
- Distract your withering whisper
Distract yourself from your withering whisper by giving the voice a name. I have a tendency to compare myself against my non injured peer group who appear successful on places like LinkedIn, or I ruminate about what could have been if I had not been brain damaged. I’ve given this voice the name ‘Dave’ so whenever I catch myself feeling jealous of others or self-pity about my situation then I tell ‘Dave’ to f*** off. I may have to say it a few times as he can be a persistent whisperer, but he always goes.
- Dispute your withering whisper
Dispute your withering whisper through writing. Poetry, for example, is a great tool for introspection. I have written poems about my emotions and experiences several times, which helped me unravel and understand my whispers. Alternatively, you can dispute your whispers cognitively, through logic. Identify a withering whisper, write it down and then dispute it. Where is the evidence for this thought, where is the evidence that contradicts or challenges this thought, is there an alternative explanation? Write them down and dispute them.
- Humans evolved with a negativity bias, so it is impossible to eradicate negative thoughts.
We build resilience through minimising this negativity. The danger is that we don’t often notice this accumulation of withering whispers.
Every one of us is capable of building resilience and there are numerous benefits such as reduced stress and anxiety, being better able to deal with change and manage disappointment, and a lower mortality rate and increased physical health.
As Frankl said, choose your attitude. Catch your withering whispers, decrease them, distract yourself from them and dispute them. Build your resilience for a better life.
Written by Stewart Hill
If you want to hear more from Stewart Hill he will be speaking at our next event The SHE Show North East, 26th April 2022, St James’ Park, Newcastle United Football Club.
Stewart is living proof of the brain’s ability to grow and of a person to flourish. Stewart faced many testing physical environments as a British Army officer, particularly in warfighting operations, all of which challenged his mindset and allowed him to become stronger and resilient. His life changed the moment shrapnel exploded into his brain, whilst on operations in Afghanistan in 2009. Medically discharged from the Army in 2012 after 3 years of rehabilitation it was an end to his 18 years of service, a life he loved. Nothing prepared him for dealing with the impact of his traumatic brain injury.
Stewart’s motivation and desire to succeed did not change but he had to significantly reduce his ambitions because his cognitive difficulties limited the type of work he could do and restricted his ability to hold down full time employment.
Stewart thought he was mentally tough but this broke when he could not deal with his brain impairments and the associated cognitive, behavioural and psychological repercussions. He has spent the past decade on a journey of self discovery and found a joy for living through other means; art, theatre work, poetry, singing and participating in charitable causes. He has also been involved in several charity events, including completing the 1000-mile Walk of Britain expedition with three other British and two American wounded veterans.
When he isn’t transporting audiences to Helmand on the speaking circuit, Stewart also participates in the arts – he has performed in a West End play entitled the The Two Worlds of Charlie F and, despite not drawing anything since school, has also discovered a passion for art as a way to create positive thoughts. He even donates paintings to families of the fallen.
Stewart has learned a fundamental truth from his rehabilitation and recovery; that a person should live with a commitment to personal growth and understanding this enables a person to flourish and to achieve optimal functioning, development and performance in life.
- The brain is our most powerful tool and understanding how the brain works allows a person to make a positive and productive step change in everything they do.
- The power of the mind can overcome any adversity; the quality of our thinking determines the quality of our lives.
- Well-being is critical to self development, happiness, health and productivity.
- Personal growth and achieving peak performance comes from inner strength and mental toughness.
- A life with purpose, positive emotions, engagement and kindness can give unlimited energy to one’s mind and soul.
Stewart speaks from the heart in an honest, humble and engaging inspirational story and shows how he has transformed suffering into new opportunities, fresh perspectives on mental health and a fascination with how we use our minds.
Please note, the views expressed by the original article author are theirs alone and do not necessarily represent those of Washingtondowling Associates Ltd or The SHE Show and therefore we take no responsibility for the content or accuracy of this post.