You don’t have to be reeling from a large-scale trauma to find great value in Linda Graham’s new book, Resilience: Powerful Practices for Bouncing Back from Disappointment, Difficulty, and Even Disaster, although if you are, you’ll want to work through it carefully and keep it close at hand.
But even if you’re dealing with the disappointments and smaller hardships of daily life — a toxic coworker who again ruined your day, your growing awareness that your relationship struggles have something to do with your responses, that clenched jaw you notice around 4 PM every afternoon — this book is for you, too. And if you’re sailing along in life but think perhaps you could strengthen your already-good resilience, you will also find a great deal between these pages to enhance your life.
Graham is a licensed marriage and family therapist in the San Francisco Bay Area. She teaches mindful self-compassion and offers training workshops, webinars, and speaks at conferences about her experiences integrating neuroscience, mindfulness, and relationship psychology. This book is a continuation of the practices she wrote about in her first book, Bouncing Back: Rewiring Your Brain for Maximum Resilience and Well-Being, and incorporates all she has learned in the intervening years.
After an accessible and very relatable introduction describing what we mean when we talk about resilience, Graham takes her reader through practices designed to strengthen somatic intelligence, emotional intelligence, relational intelligence within yourself, relational intelligence with others, and reflective intelligence.
The final two chapters step outwards to examine the bigger picture with exercises designed to integrate all the practices presented in the previous, focused chapters. Chapter 7 explores full-on resilience, because sometimes trouble comes in waves and are often not those things you’ve specifically prepared for. Chapter 8 examines lifestyle choices you can make to support your resilience.
This book is designed as a workbook, and the author recommends that readers work their way through the book as it is presented, beginning to end, because the exercises and practices build on each other. After once through, the organization of the book makes it easy to jump in and focus on a specific skill you want or need, and she encourages her readers to approach the exercises with a sense of curiosity.
As I read, I flagged specific exercises and a couple of whole chapters to return to, topics that are my personal sticking points. The material was so engaging and well-presented that I learned a lot about myself just from my initial read-through and spotted areas that could be further strengthened.
The organization of the chapters quickly becomes familiar so you don’t waste time and attention connecting your mind to the process. After beautiful introductions to the type of intelligence at hand, the exercises begin simply and move to increasingly complex ways your resilience can be disrupted. Most of the exercises are done alone, but there are some (necessarily in the chapter on relational intelligence with others) that are to be done with others. But even if you only focus on the exercises you do by yourself, continued practice with these exercises will stretch you and strengthen your ability to hold steady in the face of trials, to be compassionate with others (and yourself), to rebound more quickly, and to come through with growth.
As an example of the types of exercises Graham presents, those in Chapter 3 are designed to strengthen your emotional intelligence and begin by simply attending to an emotion. You are asked to attune to it (label it), make sense of it, and then taking action.
Graham also discusses ways of attuning to and conveying basic emotions, feeling empathy for fellow human beings, sharing kindness, practicing gratitude for the web of life, and priming the flow of compassion, as well as finding courage, giving yourself a self-compassion break, and recovering from a shame.
Even just presenting the titles of that progression of lessons felt helpful to me, in the same way that once you’ve worked through the book beginning to end, you can thumb through, dip in here and there, scan a chapter for a refresher sense of what you’ve learned, and continue to rely on this book as a very helpful guidebook. I will be keeping it on my bedside table for early morning reading, with a notebook nearby.
A critical theme of this book, and a point of the exercises quite specifically, is the blending of the latest psychology research and neuroscience with centuries-old ideas developed among Eastern philosophers and teachers: you can choose to choose experiences.
As that old saying goes, we can’t choose what happens to us, but we can choose how we respond to it. It’s easy to keep that idea in mind when the trouble we’re facing is today’s argument with our three-year-old child at dinner, but it’s much harder when the situation is not within our control, and the stakes are high. Graham knows the power of practice, and has provided these tools and choices to ensure that you will be able to bounce back from whatever comes your way.
Resilience: Powerful Practices for Bouncing Back from Disappointment, Difficulty, and Even Disaster
New World Library, October 2018
Paperback, 304 pages