Secrets of the Super Resilient

Illness. Divorce. Job loss. The death of a loved one. You don’t get this far in life without experiencing some adversity. But while you can’t avoid painful events, you can learn to control your response to them. “The brain is an organ of adaptation,” writes Laurence Gonzales, author of the new book Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience. Here, he reveals how recovery can be a transforming experience that not only moves us forward but also enriches our lives in ways we never could have imagined

by Laurence Gonzales
resilience cracked egg photo
Photograph: Craig Cutler

It is nearly impossible to live a full life without trauma, and the bad memories don’t ever really go away. Rituals are one way of controlling when and how you experience them. If the memories are encapsulated in a specific time and place, they will be less able to torment you the rest of the time. Some soldiers traumatized during World War II created a ritual by going to Normandy on D‑Day. In a variation on this idea, my wife, Debbie, and I decided to get married on the same date that she’d had surgery for cervical cancer and lost her chance to have children. That changed the date from one that recalled loss to one that triggered a sense of celebration.

In the same spirit, Micki Glenn celebrates November 14, the date of her near-death experience. The day she survived. She treats it like a birthday: “It’s a big deal to me. I typically do something fun like ride horses. Later I have a two-hour massage and a pedicure. I then soak in a hot bath while listening to classical music or jazz and sipping a nice red. Then I dress up and go out to dinner. It is a special day!” And she doesn’t suppress her memories; rather, she reviews what was happening to her hour by hour. “It’s not bad or sad or anything. It’s just remembering and feeling so blessed and so alive. Each year I think that by all rights I should have been in the ground since 2002 and how very, very lucky I am to wake up each morning.”

We live on. But we also live with.

Adapted from Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience, to be published by W.W. Norton & Company, © 2012 by Laurence Gonzales.

Click here to read 7 Tips for Bouncing Back.

Are women more resilient than men? Click here.

Click here to buy a copy of Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience, by Laurence Gonzales.

Originally published in the July/August 2012 issue

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