We all feel defeated by the challenges we face from time to time. I have talked with so many people recently who are facing what feels like impossible mountains to climb. I recorded today's episode as a result of these conversations—I wanted to encourage you personally as you face what's hard in front of you. Here's what we cover:
1. The phrase I lean on for resilience (6:58)
2. The 2 pitfalls that tempt us when we face challenges (15:06)
3. Scripts for parenting yourself through a hard time (19:51)
4. How to develop mental & emotional strength (23:07)
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Grit, The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth.
A trek into the wilderness (from my Instagram Stories)
Boundaries for Your Soul by Alison Cook and Kimberly Miller
Related Podcast Episodes
Episode 70: Mastering the Art of Emotional Intelligence—How to Harness the Power of Your Emotions to Improve Your Relationships
Episode 69: Your Future Self—8 Challenges to Resolve As You Become the Person You Were Meant to Be
Episode 71: All About Therapy—Do I Need a Therapist, How Do I Find One, and What Type of Therapy Works Best?
Episode 9: Hidden Pain and the Power of Facing Your Fear
TBOY Episode 72
Alison: Hey everyone. Welcome back to this week's episode of The Best of You Podcast. I'm so glad you're here and I'm so glad you are joining me for these foundational psych 101 building blocks that we all need to build in order to live the wholehearted lives mentally, emotionally, spiritually, and physically that God designed us to enjoy.
Today's topic is such an important topic. It permeates every conversation I have. Just this last week in conversations with family members, with friends, with myself, with clients, they were all talking about these hard challenges. What do you do when you are facing adversity, a really hard challenge in your life? And I'll give you some examples of what I mean, but the psychological word that we use when we're talking about this is this word resilience.
And it's something we all need to cultivate in our lives. We don't just automatically have resilience. It's not just something we get, it's something we have to develop mindfully with intention. It's a little bit like emotional intelligence, which we talked about in episode 70. It's something you have to develop mindfully and consciously as you face adversity.
I want to start just by offering a quick definition of resilience. You hear this word tossed around a lot. And one book in particular that I really that gets at the heart of resilience is called Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth.
If you want to go deeper on this topic, that's a great resource for you. But when we talk about resilience, we essentially mean your ability to recover from setbacks or adversity. Whether you're facing some adversity or some setback in your life right now, or whether you've faced a lot of setbacks in your life, including from your childhood, whatever they may be, resilience is your ability to recover and not necessarily let that setback take you out.
And then secondly, you're recovering from setbacks or adversity, and also you're adapting to it and even thriving in the face of challenges. Resilience is this ability to bounce back from negative events and even adapt as a result of negative events so that you can move forward with greater strength.
It requires a lot of mental and emotional strength when we're dealing with setbacks, when we're dealing with adversity. It's hard. It pulls out our fears. It pulls out our vulnerabilities. And so there's a skill here. There's a muscle to facing hard challenges with resilience, where we're not just muscling our way through.
We're pausing long enough to equip ourselves to face this challenge, to gain the new skills that we might need to overcome this challenge, but overall, it means figuring out how to do what we need to do to move forward in strength, claiming the life God has for us.
Resilience isn't the absence of hard things. We are all going to face hard things in our lives. It's just part of life. What do we do in the face of hard things? What do we do when those hard things happen, when those challenges arise?
It might be a challenge at work. You might lose a job. You might be struggling in a job, you, it might be a relational challenge. You might've lost a relationship. You might be struggling in a relationship. You might be dissatisfied in your relationships. It might be a parenting challenge.
Maybe one of your children is struggling with a really hard setback and it's pulling on all of your vulnerabilities and maybe you're feeling ill equipped and you want to equip yourself and become resilient so that you can be there for a child or for a family member or for a loved one who's struggling. There are all sorts of opportunities in life to develop resilience.
Something hard has happened. And what do we do? In that moment, how do you find the mental and emotional strength, both to process what's happening that's hard to come to terms with it accurately, not deny it, not bypass it, not minimize it, not pretend it's not there, but to face what's hard while simultaneously not letting it take us out?
How do we not let it get the best of us when we become so overwhelmed by the reality of what's hard that we actually can't gather up that internal strength that's going to be required for us to work our way through it? This is resilience.
It's a skill that we need. And so many of us were not taught it. Hard things just happened and we figured out how to survive. And then here we are as adults, just still trying to survive. Resilience is something a little bit deeper than survival. Although sometimes we do simply just need to survive. We've got to just gut things out.
But resilience is this deeper sense of, I see what's hard. I'm aware of it. I'm being honest about it. I'm taking inventory of what is mine to face and what is mine to control in this situation. I'm going to equip myself, I'm going to get the support I need so that I can move through this hard thing with tenacity, with perseverance in a sustainable way.
One of the metaphors that for me is the most helpful when I think about this skill of resilience is thinking about facing a mountain. And probably the reason that I love this metaphor the most is I grew up at the base of a mountain, a big mountain. I spend a lot of time hiking in the mountains. It's one of the things my family loves to do to this day. And it's one of the things early on as a young child, I would do.
My parents would take us on these backpacks into the wilderness. I must've been six or seven when I went on my first wilderness backpack. We would gather up our tent and our sleeping bags and our food and maybe a change of clothes, put everything on these backpacks on our backs. We'd get dropped off at the bottom of a trail.
We'd hike into a mountain we'd usually do about three days, maybe two or three overnights. We'd camp out, we'd cook our food, and then we'd find our way back out. We were in the wilderness where there were no phones. There were no people. It was just us and the wild animals. And we would do this every summer for quite a few summers growing up.
And I now do this to this day. If you look at my Instagram stories from time to time, I'll post photos of these treks that I'll take into the wilderness. But as a little six year old kid, you're on this path and you've got this pack on your back and it's hard. You're hiking sometimes uphill.
Sometimes we were gaining a thousand feet in elevation. You're going uphill. You're tired. It's not that fun, and I remember my mom just always saying from behind, you gotta just put one foot in front of the other. And if you keep putting one foot in front of the other, you are going to get to a better place.
And so she didn't in that moment dismiss what was hard or deny what was hard. She was saying, listen, we're prepared, we're equipped, we're on a path. We've got the food and the supplies we need for a really fun campfire when we arrive at our destination. All you've got to do is put one foot in front of the other.
And I grew a little bit of resilience on those backpacks. I learned a skill. Here's the thing. We were equipped for those backpacks. We weren't just wandering aimlessly in the wilderness. We had done the work, we had done the prep work. We had looked at the maps. We had found the trails. We'd gathered the amount of food that we needed.
We didn't just rush into the mountain without thinking about the trail that we needed to take. We were wise about it. And so I want you to think about the challenge that you face as a mountain you've got to climb. And if you're at the base of that mountain, you've got to take a moment to pause and think about what tools you’re going to need to find your way to the top of that mountain, because this is going to be a hard journey.
It would be foolish for me to just try to sprint up that mountain because I'm going to run out of food. I'm going to run out of supplies. I'm going to lose the trail if I don't spend some time figuring out where the trail is. I'm going to get lost.
I have to stop and equip myself realistically for the journey that's ahead. And the journey that's ahead is going to be hard. I'm going to have to take it one step at a time, but I'm going to do a lot better on that journey if I know that I've done the preparation that I need to do, that I'm not alone, that I've got the supplies that I need, that I know exactly how far I need to get.
Each day, I'm going to be able to tolerate the difficulty of this trek. We've got to equip ourselves. Resilience isn't just heading out on the journey, it's all of the prep work involved that once you head out, you're prepared, you know where you're going and you've mapped out a trail.
Here's the thing. When you become aware, whether you're a backpacker or not, maybe you're listening to me going, I would never willingly put myself on a mountain trail into the wilderness. And I get that. But think about the challenges that come into your life like that mountain.
You're at the base of a mountain and you have no choice. You've got to figure out how to get over that mountain. And again, whether it's a work challenge, a relational challenge, whatever it is, you're looking at it going, this is too hard. I can't do this. I certainly can't do it by myself. I certainly can't do it with the skills that I've got.
I'm going to need to get support. That is a great step to resilience. It's becoming aware of what you need and what you don't have and being realistic about the challenge that is ahead of you.
But what happens when we get to the bottom of the mountain and we recognize, oh, this is going to be tough. I'm not sure what I'm doing here. This relationship mess is hard. Like I'm too broken or the relationship is too broken and I don't know how to fix it. Or I've just made a mess of things or this has just gotten too hard. I'm in over my head. Or I'm too unhappy. I can't fix this.
What happens is we're vulnerable in those moments. We get overwhelmed and instead of doing the work of saying this is where I need to develop resilience. I'm going to have to name what's hard, get really realistic about it, and then equip myself for the journey. We instead tend to do a couple of different things that don't actually help us face that mountain.
And there are two types of messages that aren't helpful to us that I think were particularly vulnerable to when we're sitting at the bottom of the mountain.
One is that we don't wanna deal with the mountain, and so we just try to minimize it or gloss over it. And there are a couple of ways that we do this. Sometimes we just pretend like the mountain's not there and we just keep doing what we've been doing even though it's not working. Sometimes we blame our circumstances–we just look at the mountain and go, it's so and so's fault, or it's the circumstance’s fault. And so I'm just going to sit here and not really equip myself and just blame everything around me for the fact that I've got to hike this mountain.
And it doesn't actually help us get over the mountain. We're just looking around, laying blame at all the reasons we've landed in this predicament. Now, I want to be clear. There is a place for very realistically taking inventory for some of the things that have caused you to wind up at the bottom of your mountain.
And oftentimes it may well be somebody else's toxicity or somebody else's poor behavior. It may well be that you're sitting at the bottom of the mountain and it's by no fault of your own. Let me be clear. I am not saying that every mountain that we face is always a result of our own doing.
Sometimes we find ourselves at the bottom of a mountain, and we were not responsible for that problem. And also, we still have to, at the bottom of the mountain, while we name the reality of the circumstances that got there, at the end of the day, we have to dig deep inside of ourselves to get ourselves over that mountain.
We can't just live in the area of blaming others or pretending like that problem doesn't exist. It doesn't help us get over the mountain. Eventually, we're gonna have to face the reality that there's something in our lives that's hard and we've got to find our way through it. One thing that we're vulnerable to when we're at the bottom of a mountain is some form of self-deception.
Either we're trying to minimize the mountain, we're trying to pretend like it's not really there, or we're just going to spend all of our time essentially blaming everybody else as if that is going to get us to a solution. It's not. Neither of those strategies is going to get us to a solution, but here's the thing–there's another extreme that I often see us go to. And sometimes I do this too.
We spiral into self-blame, into self-shame, into “I'll never find my way through this. What's wrong with me? Why did I get myself into this yet again?” Usually we've got some narrative about our own failings and missteps.
It's all my fault. That is also not helpful when you're sitting at the bottom of the mountain. When you move into self shame and self blame and self defeat, it's hopeless. I can't do it. I always get myself into situations like this. That kind of self-talk is also not helpful. Neither of those strategies is at the heart of resilience.
Remember, resilience is facing what's hard, honestly. It's taking an honest inventory of all the variables that led us to this place, including the things that weren't our fault, the things that may have been because of someone else mishandling us or mishandling a situation. And the things we've done to contribute to getting there, even if part of what we did that was wrong was trusting somebody we shouldn't have trusted again. We don't want to shame ourselves for that, but we do want to name that.
Honestly, because you fooled me once. Okay. Yeah. Shame on me. But fool me twice, shame on you, meaning now that I have the information that I need, I'm going to pivot and I'm going to course correct and I'm going to get myself out of this situation.
Here's the thing about resilience. It means getting really honest with ourselves without shame and without blame. I'm going to say that again. It means getting really honest with ourselves about our circumstances, about the problem that we face without shame and without blame. We're going to start naming without shame and without blame the things that are hard.
I want to give you an example, and I'm going to use an example from high school. And the reason I'm going to do that is I think so many of us did not develop the resilience we needed at younger ages. And so a lot of the work of developing resilience is going back to these younger parts of us that never learned how to face a challenge with resilience.
I'm going to ask you to put on your best adult parenting hat and look at this young 15 year old illustration that I'm going to paint for you right now, and think about how you would be with a young adolescent, young teenage child who's facing this.
What kind of parenting does this young one need? Because almost always it's the same kind of parenting you will need when you're facing your own mountain. Okay, so imagine you've got this sophomore in high school who has a huge project that's due for school. There's a deadline coming. It's a group project.
This is your child who actually works really hard. Who's put in her best. She really is trying. There's been some issues on her team. She hasn't known what to do with that. People aren't pulling their weight and this project is not coming together and the deadline is looming and she's looking at this going, this is going to fail and it's going to blow out my GPA and I'm not someone that wants to fail.
I've actually tried on this. I don't know what to do. It's due this week. I don't really have time to fix it and it's not coming together. Let's think about it. This is her mountain. What is she going to do in this moment where she's facing the reality that this project isn't coming together and it's due this week?
The stakes are fairly high. There's a grade resting on this. There are a couple of things she can do. She can minimize it. It'll be fine. It'll be fine. I'll just turn it in. It'll be fine.
And it's really not.
She can be angry and mad. She can blame her group. It's their fault it's this way. They didn't show up. And even if that's true, it's not going to help her solve that problem. She can blame herself. She can eviscerate herself. Oh, shame on me. How did I let this happen?
Often our young ones, if you imagine a young part of you, were in predicaments like this, whether it was with a project for school or a relationship that you found yourself stuck in. A relationship that you were aware of that wasn't working. I'm not being treated right here, but I don't know what to do.
And I'm mad at the other person, but I'm mad at myself and I'm going between those two things. In the meantime, I'm not actually getting the help I need to solve the problem. How many times were we in situations like that as kids without the parenting that we needed to come alongside of us and say, listen, let's stop for a second?
Let's figure out what happened so that we can develop a different strategy to actually solve the problem. That's where resilience comes in.
Your 15 year old daughter comes to you and she says, I don't know what to do. The first thing we're going to do is we're not going to shame her. We're not going to join with her and blame everybody else. Because that's also not going to help. We're going to take a deep breath. We're going to calm ourselves and say, all right, let's look at the truth.
What really happened here? You've got a project. You're not gonna get it done in time. Yes, some people let you down. That's hard. We're gonna deal with that. Yes, maybe you feel like you let yourself down. That's hard. We're gonna deal with that. The first thing we got to do is to ask for an extension. Oh, I know that's hard. I know. I know that's hard to do. It's hard to ask for help and you were so brave. You came to me and asked for help and I'm gonna help you.
The best way I can help you is I'm going to equip you to go screw up your courage and ask your teacher for an extension. And you're not going to blame everybody else at this point. You're not going to blame yourself. You're going to let her know, listen, a couple of things went wrong.
And I'm coming to you saying, I can get you a good project, but I'm not going to be able to get it to you by the deadline. Can I get an extension? And we're going to do a brave thing. That's the first thing we're going to do. We're going to name what's hard without blame, without shame. We're going to ask for help.
And then we're going to deal with what went wrong. We're going to come up with a new strategy. If the group isn't pulling through, we're going to figure out how to deal with that. If it's something inside of you that you didn't understand the instructions, we're going to go get better instructions.
If we need to pull the teacher in and say, hey, the group is dysfunctional. It's not working. We're going to do that. I'm going to help you figure out how to solve this problem. We may not be able to save the grade. I can't promise you that. It may end up in a grade that you don't like, and that's a bummer, but you are going to learn how to approach a mountain with resilience, with inner strength, with wisdom, with honesty, with integrity.
Without shaming or blaming while still being really honest about what went wrong in this situation. This is so often the muscle that so many of us didn't develop because we weren't parented through hard things.
Another example, you've got a child who's an athlete. And I think about this a lot in my own life. I was a tennis player. And I really tried hard at tennis. I practiced really hard. I was pretty good. I had a good forehand. I had a great backhand. And it was really hard because you train and you prepare. And then sometimes you get into a key match and you lose and someone else outplays you.
And these are moments of resilience. How are you with yourself, with your child, when they've worked really hard for something and it doesn't pan out? Maybe they don't win the match. Maybe they don't win the game. Maybe the relationship doesn't pan out. Someone breaks up with them. Someone doesn't respond to their bid for connection. Left out.
How do you parent your child when they go through those hard things? Do you try to rescue them out of it? Oh, it was their fault. Those other people, it's, they're the problem, not you. You're perfect. Do you shame your child? What's wrong with you? Why didn't you do better? Why didn't you figure out how to win that match? Why didn't you figure out how to get that relationship?
Neither of those is healthy. Neither of those extremes helps your child gain the skills that they need to deal with adversity, because what they need in that moment is resilience. Number one, validation. Yeah. This is hard. It's a bummer when you lose a match. When you lose a game. It's a bummer when you don't get the grade that you worked really hard to get. It's a bummer when the relationship falls through and you don't get invited to the big event. You really wanted to be included in, first of all, it's hard.
Let's just honor that and then let's look together at what happened, what went awry. What was your part in that? Let's look at that. Honestly, without shame, where could you have improved? What was in your control to improve? What wasn't in your control?
How do we grieve what you didn't have control over? How do we own what you could change going forward? These are the kinds of conversations you have to have with your child.
How do you encourage your kid to go shake the other person's hand that beat them and say congratulations, even as they also honor their own disappointment that they didn't win the match? It's a complicated process, resilience. of facing what's hard, honestly, understanding that sometimes things don't go our way, and also gathering the tools that we need to do better next time, because we really do want to improve in this area. Because we really do believe in ourselves to work through this and come out in a better place.
How do you deal with failure? How do you deal with reality when something doesn't go your way? What messages creep in? Do you tend to want to blame everybody around you?
Do you tend to blame only yourself to the point of shame? There's no shame in noticing. I do tend to blame others or wow, I am hard on myself. Those are coping strategies that you learned in the absence of somebody coming alongside of you and teaching you how to develop those muscles of naming what's hard, facing the reality and pivoting so that you can find a better way over that mountain.
Think about how you deal with challenges, what you feel like when you feel like a failure, when you feel like nothing has gone your way, when you're sitting at the bottom of that mountain. And how do you talk to yourself? This is where you're so vulnerable.
We're not that vulnerable when we're at the top of the mountain, when everything's working, when our relationships are working, our work is working, our kids are great, everybody's healthy, we're happy. We're not that vulnerable to our self-talk.
But when you're at the bottom of the mountain looking up, you get really clear really fast at the types of messages you tell yourself. And you're in need of truth. In these moments, we don't need someone to just come alongside us and tell us what we want to hear if it's not true, but we also don't need shame.
We need the actual truth, the truth that frees us, that surgical wisdom that comes in and says, I see you, I see where you are, yes, this is hard. You might have even made some mistakes. I see that with you. Let's just pause there. Can we name those mistakes that we've made without shame?
I also see that other people have let you down. That's also true. Some people didn't come through for you. Some people didn't do what you had hoped they'd do. That's hard too. That's also true. We can name that and honor that without blame. We can name and honor the hard without shame and without blame.
I'm with you right here in the debris, as we look at the mountain and we see the debris scattered all around us of what didn't work, what's my responsibility and what didn't work, what's other people's responsibility and what didn't work.
I get it. I'm here with you. We're going to be okay. I can't promise you that I'm going to fix this exact set of circumstances. I don't know if I can rescue you out of this relationship. I don't know that I can rescue the vestiges of this work situation, but what I know is that I'm going to sit with you in this moment and help you face what's hard.
Honestly, that's what we need. We need this from ourselves. We need to be that wise parent that comes and sits with the young, scared parts of ourselves and says, I'm here. I get it. I'm not going to dupe you. I'm not going to gaslight you. I'm not going to pretend like it's not what it is.
I see you. I'm here with you. Let's name what's hard and I'm going to sit here with you long enough until we pull in the support and the strategies and the tools that we need to climb this mountain together.
Now, here's where our spiritual resources come in. And I like to think about this as co-parenting, the younger parts of us that are terrified of this mountain and are terrified of the mess that we feel like we've made or that other people have contributed to helping us make.
We've got that wise inner parent, that Spirit-led self, as we talk about in Boundaries for Your Soul, that can help us reparent ourselves and sit with us in something that's really hard without shame and without blame. And then we have another parent and that is the God who loves us.
Who similarly comes and sits with us in the mess as we face that mountain and says, I may not pick you up out of this and just catapult you over the mountain, but I will sit here with you in what's hard. I will sit here with you while you cry. I will sit here with you while you get to the bottom of what happened, what went wrong.
And when you're ready, you crawl up into my lap. I'm going to hold you tight. I'm going to help repair you. I'm going to help you pick up the pieces. And then I'm going to take you by one hand and we're going to find a trail through this. And as we find that trail through this, you're going to grow a whole new set of skills that are going to lead you to a better place that you would never have gotten to before if you hadn't bumped into this mountain.
I believe when we face what's hard, we want God to rescue us out of it. But instead, God comes alongside us in the face of what's hard and he helps us face the truth. Honestly, he doesn't try to talk us out of what we feel. He says, yeah, this is hard. I get it. Yeah, it is a mess. You're right.
I'm not scared of this mess, but I'm with you in it and I'm helping you look at it. I love you and you're precious and your mess isn't too much for me and I'm going to walk with you into all the details of your mess. And I don't know that we're going to save this particular situation, but I will promise you this: as we together face what's hard and start to get up together, you will not be alone.
As I walk you up to the foot of that mountain and set you on your way down a brand new path, telling yourself the truth when you partner with the God who loves you means telling yourself the whole truth about what's hard about what's not working and about what's messy and about what's scary.
And also the whole truth about the hope that you have that nothing is wasted, that with God's help, you can pick up all these pieces and assemble a whole new path where the truth about what's hard exists side by side with the hope of the new future that's going to be even better than the one you didn't get.
That's the essence of resilience. It's holding hands with what's hard, realistically on one side and holding hands with the God of all hope on the other and walking forward down the new path, one brave step at a time.