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Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” – Viktor Frankl

Last Saturday, the Willingness Team hosted a webinar on resilience, given by Dr Mustafa Sarkar. The quote above summarises the webinar perfectly as Dr Sarkar spoke about the mentality and frame of mind we need to have in order to be more resilient.

The session began with an explanation of how our mindset can be challenged by our personal qualities and by the environment. Dr Sarkar went on to explain how having certain qualities can aid our view on the situation we are experiencing. For example, by having balance and perspective we would allow ourselves to make a distinction between how we are viewing the event and what we can do about it. He went on to explain how important it is for each of us to realise who is supporting us and how we can get support.

He also went on to explain how the environment plays a crucial part in our life experiences, therefore whenever we are experiencing something negative, it could be that we need to change the environment we are in. In fact, having a facilitative environment is what we should all aim for, were we have high challenges with high support. We should see challenges as something to conquer rather than just pressure we are putting on ourselves.

Dr Sarkar went on to explain one of Cognitive Behavioral Therapy’s (CBT) approaches, which is that of the ABCs. The concept involves having (A) adversities which we may face, (B) beliefs which revolve around the adversities we are going through and (C) consequences stemming from the beliefs we have about the adversity. Dr. Sarkar explained that by changing our beliefs about the negative experience we are going through, we can help ourselves by applying a different and more positive understanding on what’s going on. By doing so, we can maintain and stabilise our thoughts.

The Senior Lecturer went on to highlight thinking traps and ways we can overcome them. Thinking traps, also known as cognitive distortions are inaccurate thoughts that can our mind focuses on to convince us of something which is in reality not true. These negative ways of thinking can trap us in a bad situation or make it feel worse.

For example, a thinking trap may be when a person has just lost their job and only thinks about how they will now lose their home, their relationship, their social life etc; this is known as catastrophizing. On the other hand, the person can look at the bigger picture by asking themselves if anything positive can come out of this negative experience, such as broadening one’s horizons and finding a job which could suit their skillset more than the job they just lost. At this point they may also look for support either from people they are close to, from a professional and/or from governmental subsidies. Meaning that there is always something that can help in the long run. By identifying our thinking traps we can learn to overcome them and become more productive.

The main aim for both professionals working with clients and for us as individuals, is to always look at solving the problem at hand whilst maintaining our anxieties and keeping ourselves in check.

To summarise, “When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower” (Alexander Den Heijer). Once again, highlighting how we as individuals can look at things in a more positive light and how professionals can aid their clients by looking outside of the box and finding ways to get their clients a more facilitative environment.

Katrina Farrugia is a Psychology graduate, former president at Betapsi Malta and a volunteer with Willingness team.