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1. Ready

What are fast resilience skills?

Fast resilience skills are skills that you can use in the moment, to face challenges and counter negative thoughts or emotions. These are skills you should use when you don’t have 15 minutes to process the situation and come up with a detailed plan (as suggested in previous lessons). Dr. Karen Reivich, Director of Resilience and Positive Psychology Training Programs at the University of Pennsylvania Positive Psychology Center, identified two different fast resilience skills. The first skill, Calming and Focusing, employs techniques to calm emotions and focus thoughts.

The second skill, Real-Time Resilience (RTR) is a way to fight back against counterproductive beliefs by challenging them and gaining perspective. Dr. Reivich points out that these two fast skills – Calming and Focusing and Real-Time Resilience – can stand alone, but that they are often used together. Sometimes, calming your emotions and focusing your thoughts is enough to be able to move forward in the moment.

You can then use more time-consuming skills, like the Worst-case/Best-case/Most-likely process, to reflect on the adversity at a later time. At other times, you will be able to jump right into Real-Time Resilience to counter a Stormy First Draft (more on this soon). However, it’s often necessary to use Calming and Focusing strategies to “take the edge off” before you're able to use Real-Time Resilience.

What is a Stormy First Draft (SFD)?

Humans are storytelling creatures.
Stormy First Drafts or SFDs Brown, B. (2019, August). Rising Strong and the Stories We Make Up. Brené Brown #daringclassrooms Hub.
are one-sided, worst case scenario stories that seldom contain the whole truth, but which you tell yourself to make sense of something that triggers strong emotions.
Dan McAdams, Dingfelder, S. (2011, January). Our stories, ourselves. American Psychological Association, 42(1), 42.
a Northwestern University Psychology Professor who has spent over 10 years studying stories and narrative, suggests that stories help you make sense of puzzling events and create meaning in the chaos of your life. These stories can shape your future in both positive and negative ways. Indeed, redemptive stories where bad events have a good outcome, build confidence and hope, and motivate the storyteller by indicating that their hard work can “bear fruit in the long run”. However, in the case of Stormy First Drafts, storytellers fall into a dangerous trap of narrative negativity.
Research McGregor, I., & Holmes, J. (1999). How storytelling shapes memory and impressions of relationships events over time. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76(3), 403–419.
has found that the narrative framework you use to tell an ambiguous story (ex. who is blamed) becomes your reality.

According to
John Holmes Murray, S., & Holmes, J. (1994). Storytelling in Close Relationships: The Construction of Confidence. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 20(6), 650–663.
at the University of Waterloo, people remember information that fits into their narrative and (unconsciously) disregard evidence that counters the narrative, a phenomenon more commonly known as attention bias. Based on this information,
Brené Brown Brown, B. (2019, August). Rising Strong and the Stories We Make Up. Brené Brown #daringclassrooms Hub.
argues that in the midst of uncertainty and fear – in the absence of data – you protect yourself by making up stories with more complete information, but which also magnify your fears and anxieties. Fast resilience skills are what you can use to edit your Stormy First Draft and write a more cohesive story.

What are strategies for calming and focusing?

In the heat of the moment, when emotions are reeling and thoughts are racing, it’s helpful to calm your emotions and focus your thoughts before doing anything else. In her book, “The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles”, Dr. Reivich
Dr. Reivich Reivich, K., & Shatté, A. (2003). The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles. Three Rivers Press.
suggests the following strategies for calming and focusing:

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Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR)
Progressive Muscle Relaxation (PMR) is a relaxation strategy that involves tensing and relaxing individual muscle groups. PMR is a great way to become more mindful of physiological sensations of stress and to free yourself from pent up negative energy. If you have more time (15-20 minutes), consider doing a full-body Progressive Muscle Relaxation Activity that sequentially targets all major muscle groups in your body. As a fast resilience skill, focus PMR to one specific body area, such as your back. As you breathe in, tense your back muscles by pushing your shoulder blades back and your chest forward. Try to isolate the tension to your back muscles and hold this position for 15 seconds. As you hold this position, control your breathing, count to 15, and focus on the sensations you experience. As you exhale, let all the tension go from your back and notice what happens when you relax. What happens to your breathing and heart rate? Do your muscles feel more relaxed now than before you tensed them? Keep your muscles relaxed for 30 seconds before repeating this process two more times.
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Positive Imagery
Close your eyes, take three deep breaths, and imagine a calming, relaxing scene (ex. sitting at the beach). Activate all of your senses by imagining the sights, sounds, smells, tastes, and feelings associated with this scene. The more detailed the description, the more effective this exercise is. If you are struggling to create your own positive imagery or if you have more time, use this audio to engage in a 15-minute guided imagery meditation.
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Mental Games
Mental Games shift your attention away from the negative thoughts or inaccurate beliefs, allowing you to continue with the task beforehand. In order for these games to work, they need to be relatively quick (under two minutes) and challenging enough to require focus, but not so challenging that they become frustrating (this would only contribute to the negative thoughts). There are a number of different mind games, some of which include:

  1. Alphabet Games: Think of an animal, city, food item or something that you appreciate, for each letter of the alphabet.
  2. Counting: Use a rule (ex. counting by 7’s) to count backwards from 100.
  3. Add 3 Minus 7: Pick any 3-digit number. Then, add 3 to that number 3 times before subtracting 7 from the new number 7 times.
  4. Innovate: Pick one item that is readily available to you (ex. a blanket) and think about as many different ways to use that item as possible.
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Press Pause
Sometimes it’s enough to just picture yourself pressing pause. Take a minute to step away from the situation, collect your thoughts, control your breathing, and use a positive self-affirmation. Then, press play, and step back into the situation.

How do I develop real-time resilience?

Real-Time Resilience uses resilience taglines to talk back to non-resilient, counterproductive thoughts. There are
three different resilience taglines Reivich, K., & Shatté, A. (2003). The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles. Three Rivers Press.
that you can use to reality check your thoughts. But, before you can resilience taglines, you need to recognize that the story you’re telling yourself is a Stormy First Draft (SFD). Using the phrase “The story I’m making up is…” or “The story I’m telling myself is…” to talk about your thoughts, is a powerful strategy to trigger self-reflection and help you recognize a Stormy First Draft. By taking responsibility for the stories you tell yourself, you also acknowledge that there may be other sides to the story and give yourself the permission to be curious, make edits, or write a brave new ending. After identifying the Stormy First Draft, use any of the three resilience taglines to reality check the story and structure a response to non-resilient, counterproductive thoughts.

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A more accurate way of seeing this is…
The goal here is to come up with an alternative way to explain the situation. For example, if a student is incredibly nervous about a class presentation, they might be thinking: “I’m so nervous. My voice is going to be shaking so much and everyone will think that I’m a total fake. I won’t even be able to finish the presentation”. The student can respond to their thoughts by saying: “A more accurate way of seeing this is that I’ll probably be nervous for the first few minutes, just like everyone else, and then I will get into the swing of things and become more comfortable. Even if I stumble or make a mistake, it will not be the end of the world.”
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That’s not true because…
This tagline uses evidence to challenge your beliefs. The goal is to find as much evidence as possible to counter the negative belief and develop a more balanced perspective. For example, if a student is feeling lonely or excluded, they may be thinking: “No one likes me, I’m always on my own”. The student can respond by saying “That’s not true because yesterday I ate lunch with George and played soccer with the other Grade 6’s. I also walked home from school with Becca, and my mom always tells me that she loves unconditionally”.
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A more likely outcome is… and I can… to deal with it.
This statement is a spin-off from the more lengthy, Worst Case/Best Case/Most Likely process. Instead of walking through every possible extreme scenario, use this tagline to identify the most likely outcome and one step you can take to deal with that outcome. For example, after a student gets in a fight with their older sibling at school, they might be thinking about the worst-case scenario, telling themselves: “I can’t believe I fought with Taylor, she’s going to kill me when we get home”. The student can counter this thought by saying “A more likely outcome is that Taylor will be upset about my actions and not want to play this afternoon and I can take responsibility for my actions and apologize to deal with the situation”.

As you practice using these Real-Time Resilience taglines, you will find yourself naturally talking back to non-resilient, counterproductive thought patterns.

Why is it important to have fast resilience skills?

How many times have you reflected on a previous experience and thought, “How could I have missed that”? Probably a lot, and you’re not alone. When your emotions are strong, the brain has a hard time focusing on anything other than the immediate threat at hand. Rarely, do you doubt your doubts, judge your judgements, or question your beliefs. As a result, the stories you tell yourself start to become reality and you become immersed in negativity.

Fast resilience skills
decrease the potency of negative emotions Taylor, J. (2008). My Stroke of Insight [video]. TED Talk.
by changing the stories you tell yourself. Sounds great, right? But how does this work? Every emotion has a chemical component (ex. cortisol) responsible for an automatic, physiological response (ex. stress). However, within 90 seconds, the chemical component of emotion naturally dissipates. In other words, the chemical component of emotions lasts for less than 90 seconds. It is your cognitive processes – the stories you tell, memories you replay, and thoughts you have – that hold on to and perpetuate the emotion. Fast resilience skills let you bounce back better by helping you let go of the cognitive processes that keep you stuck in negative emotions.

Among other things,
resilient people are known Hall, D. K., Pearson, J., & Reaching, I. N. (2003). Resilience-giving children the skills to bounce back. Voices for Children, 1-10.
to be physically healthier, less prone to mental illnesses like depression, more successful at school and work, more capable of managing stress and adversity, as well as more likely to reach out to new opportunities. For students in particular, being resilient is associated with
greater life satisfaction. Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (2012, May 23). Resilient people more satisfied with life. ScienceDaily.

Where can I learn more?

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health – Growing Up Resilient: Ways to build resilience in children and youth

American Psychological Association – Resilience Guide for Parents & Teachers

PositivePsychology.com – Teaching Resilience in Schools and Fostering Resilient Learners

TED Talk – Educating for happiness and resilience by Dr. Ilona Boniwell

Learning Lab Videos (#daringclassrooms) – What happens when we get blindsided by the stories we make up?

Learning Lab Videos (#daringclassrooms) – How do you tell when you’re hooked by emotion?

Learning Lab Videos (#daringclassrooms) – How do we deal with a “gotcha” culture?

What will students learn?

By the end of this lesson, students will be able to...

  • Acknowledge that Stormy First Drafts (SFDs) are stories they tell themselves that are subject to change
  • Access strategies to calm emotions and focus thoughts
  • Effectively use the three taglines of Real-Time Resilience to counter non-resilient, negative thoughts
  • Approach challenges, obstacles and adversity with greater self-confidence and optimism
References
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Brown, B. (2019, August). Rising Strong and the Stories We Make Up. Brené Brown #daringclassrooms Hub.

Dingfelder, S. (2011, January). Our stories, ourselves. American Psychological Association, 42(1), 42.

Hall, D. K., Pearson, J., & Reaching, I. N. (2003). Resilience-giving children the skills to bounce back. Voices for Children, 1-10.

McGregor, I., & Holmes, J. (1999). How storytelling shapes memory and impressions of relationships events over time. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 76(3), 403–419.

Murray, S., & Holmes, J. (1994). Storytelling in Close Relationships: The Construction of Confidence. Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin, 20(6), 650–663.

Reivich, K., & Shatté, A. (2003). The Resilience Factor: 7 Keys to Finding Your Inner Strength and Overcoming Life’s Hurdles. Three Rivers Press. Taylor, J. (2008). My Stroke of Insight [video]. TED Talk.

Universitat Autonoma de Barcelona (2012, May 23). Resilient people more satisfied with life. ScienceDaily.

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