How to use a SLOTH to build your resilience
According to Etsy's 2019 trend report, sloths have unseated unicorns as the internet’s favourite animal. In their 2019 trend report, the online marketplace claims "Shoppers and Etsy sellers alike have gravitated to the laid-back demeanour of the sloth, a real-life representation of the carefree lifestyle many of us strive for every day".
So now I have your attention, I will answer the question you are no doubt asking yourself: 'What on earth do sloths have to do with resilience?!'. The answer is in fact 'very little', but given the affection that most people seem to have for these cute, furry tree-dwellers, I've used the acronym SLOTH to help clients remember five techniques that can help them take control of negative thought patterns and move on from setbacks.
What is resilience and why is it so important?
The Oxford English Dictionary defines resilience as the 'The ability of a substance or object to spring back into shape; and (in humans) the capacity to recover quickly from difficulties'. In psychology, it is generally thought of as the ability to bounce back from a negative experience, and to remain both flexible and strong in the face of change and ambiguity.
Resilience is critical to dealing with the obstacles and uncertainty we inevitably face in life. It's a key component of a 'growth' mindset, which is all about learning from experience and improving your abilities, as opposed to a fixed mindset, which tends to lead to stagnation, frustration and giving up. A metaphor I use with clients is that architects design buildings in earthquake zones such as Japan or New Zealand with in-built flexibility so that they can withstand the force of a quake, bending like willow to avoid the build-up of structural stress. Similarly, we humans are less likely to crumble in the face of life's tremors if we maintain a flexible mindset and the ability to roll with the punches. The good news is that resilience doesn't have to be 'designed in' at birth - we can learn and practise it like any other skill.
In Neuro Linguistic Programming (NLP), one of the key principles is that 'the person with the most flexibility controls the system'. This means that people who are flexible in the way they think have the best chances of getting the result they want. Resilient people tend to be very aware that they always have choices about how to respond to a certain situation. They don't get too rigid about a particular way of doing things, because they realise that things can change, and that change brings opportunities to do things better.
What are the warning signs I can look out for?
So how do you know if you have a resilient mindset or a fixed mindset? Keep an eye out for these unhelpful thought and language patterns, which you might experience when there's a significant change at work or at home:
1. Catastrophising - 'This is a nightmare'. 'It's a total disaster'. 'This is the end of my career'.
2. Predicting the future - 'I'll never get over this'. 'This is going to work out badly for me'.
3. Generalising - 'Everything about this change is bad'. 'Everyone will lose out'.
Continuing with the sloth theme, here's an example of Sid the Sloth in the' Ice Age' movie demonstrating all three of these at the same time:
Sid: We're gonna live!
[water rises up to his ankles]
Sid: We're all gonna die!
These thought patterns are unhelpful because they allow only one interpretation of the situation, and block the possibility of learning from it and growing. They're likely to lead to feelings of frustration, powerlessness, and failure. If you find yourself going down one of these routes, make a conscious effort to catch your thoughts, stop them in their tracks, and try a SLOTH reframe instead.
Enter the SLOTH! Reframing to change the game
Reframing is a technique used in NLP to help people get a new perspective on an issue, see it differently, and then feel differently about it. Looking at something in an alternative light can lead to a more flexible, empowering mindset that is more likely to deliver positive outcomes. It can be particularly useful in enabling people to break free of negative, circular thought patterns (or 'thought attacks') that might otherwise entrap them for days, weeks, or even months.
This is where the SLOTH comes in. Here are five ways of reframing a situation (referred to here as lenses, like the lenses in a pair of glasses) to give you a different perspective:
S: The Solution lens - Focus on possible solutions, not the problem. This doesn't mean denying that the problem exists, but involves acknowledging it, framing it as a challenge rather than a threat, and then turning your thoughts to what you can do about it.
L: The Learning lens - Think about what lesson can you learn from this situation. View it as a learning process, rather than a win or lose scenario, which implies failure. What will you do differently, and better, next time?
O: The Opportunity lens - While this might not be your first choice, it could present you with an opportunity to try something you would never have tried otherwise. As the old saying goes, one door closes and another opens. Think creatively about which doors this situation could open for you.
T: The Third person lens - Putting yourself in the shoes of someone else can help to take the emotion out of it for you and to think about things in a very different way. Ask yourself, what would your role model say about this situation? What would Batman or Captain Marvel do now? What would the Dalai Lama's perspective be?
H: The Humour lens - Finding the funny side in a tough situation is not always easy, but is known to make things feel less overwhelming and more manageable. This is a technique often used in the military, and in the special forces in particular, where operators are frequently faced with prolonged periods of extreme discomfort and life-threatening scenarios. Ask yourself, how could this seem funny after the event? How would Billy Connolly or Dawn French describe your situation? What would Forest Gump make of it?
Remember that resilience can be developed and that, as with other skills, the more you practise it, the better you'll get. Resilience is about rolling with the punches, learning from change and pushing yourself to act on new possibilities. There are lots of factors contributing to resilience and many techniques you can use to build it up, but I hope these five lenses resonate with you and are front of mind the next time you catch yourself generalising, predicting the future, or catastrophising.
I will let movie favourite Sid the Sloth have the last word - this time ably demonstrating his mental flexibility through the opportunity and humour lenses as he watches the water level rising ever higher:
Sid: Maybe we could rapidly evolve into water creatures.
Diego: That's genius, Sid.
Sid: Call me Squid.