I remember the day I arrived in New York City from Johannesburg, South Africa. It was 8 a.m. I had just disembarked from a 16-hour flight. I had two suitcases, a faux fur coat and a jumpy tummy. This was my new home, my new life, and I knew not a single soul. What I did have, however, was a blueprint of the way things were going to unfold for me here. My plans were naive, highly impractical and written in ink.
Since that day, I am happy to report that absolutely nothing has turned out the way I thought it would.
And I have to say, I am exceptionally pleased about that.
It left me with no option other than to learn how “to be able to get a little lost and then figure out the way back,” as written by Rebecca Solnit in A Field Guide to Getting Lost. It helped me learn how to be resilient.
I’ve realized that being resilient is much less about finding an impenetrable shield of invincibility than it is about cultivating ways in which to accept and adapt to your current reality; to the inevitable yet unexpected turns in the road. It isn’t about fighting for what you want to happen, but about moving through what is happening.
When you look at the definition of resilience, this becomes even more clear. “The definition of resilience is adapting and responding positively to stress and misfortune,” Ellen Hendriksen, Ph.D., writes in an article for Psychology Today.
Resilience isn’t something we’re born with or without. It’s a skill we can acquire and sharpen at any time, and one of the main ways we can do that is by practicing acceptance.
The American Psychological Association lists practicing acceptance as one of the many ways to build resilience. “Accept that change is a part of living,” they explain. “Certain goals may no longer be attainable as a result of adverse situations. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter.”
For me, acceptance is the secret password to whisper at the door of my Resilience Party—and, I promise, it’s not as cryptic as it sounds. Here’s my step-by-step acceptance practice that helps me accept change and press on in the face of it:
1. Breathe it out.
When catastrophe strikes (whether it’s life-alteringly big or even as small as spilling tea all over your desk), take a moment to connect to your breath before you react.
Try a 4-7-8 breath: Breathe in through your nose for four seconds, hold for seven, then release through pursed lips for eight seconds.
There are many, many complex and potentially disappointing things in the world, but just for a few seconds, all you have to do is focus on breathing in and out.
2. Arrive in the now.
If you want to accept your reality, a useful tool is wholeheartedly existing in your current reality. For a large part of the day, I find myself mentally drifting off into foreign lands. When I center myself in the present, it is far easier for me to accept my immediate world.
3. Create space for your feelings.
Try to watch your feelings, your state and your thoughts from the perspective of an observer. Without judging your reactions to the situation, allow yourself to simply be there with those feelings like you would notice a different shade of color painted on a wall.
Maybe the color is a little uncomfortable on the eyes, but take a minute to look at it without running to buy a new palette just yet.
For me, this is the most crucial step—acknowledge the situation and the way you feel about it with as much self-compassion as possible.
Honor your feelings, even your unsubstantiated thoughts. Allowing them to be there does not mean you are going to act on them or that they are right. It simply means you see them.
Finally, giving yourself permission to accept things is the cherry on top. In order to accept something, you are deciding to let the present be, even if it does not meet your ideals or expectations.
Try thinking of a mantra that can help you give yourself permission to accept the current situation. A go-to for many people is the Serenity Prayer: “Grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Accepting a situation doesn’t mean you’re giving up—it means you’re trusting your ability to get through it. And that’s what resilience is; it means getting a little lost but then figuring out your way forward.
This post originally appeared on Shine, an app that helps you feel more positive & powerful every day. This article was published in September 2019 and has been updated. Photo by @yonas/Twenty20