Practicing Resilience in the Midst of Challenges

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I heard a story recently about a jazz pianist’s new arrangement of the jazz standard “Misty.”
This new arrangement would start in E flat in a nice slow swing, but at the bridge it switches to the key of F. Then, coming out of the bridge, it changes rhythm to a Bossa Nova while modulating to the key of F#. But then, after the piano solo, it changes key again to G with a faster swing tempo, before dropping down to the key of D for the final verse.
After explaining these new changes to the band, the jazz singer looked stupefied and said, "I don't know if I can remember all that!”
To which the pianist replied, “Why not? You did it last night!”
I’m pretty sure this is just a joke, but as a musician myself, I can speak from experience that this does point to the truth. General George Patton once said that “Successful generals make plans to fit circumstances, but do not try to create circumstances to fit plans,” and I would suggest that sometimes musicians have to cut their losses and make the best use of their talents given the circumstances.
And this is true for all of us. Sometimes we find ourselves in situations where we have to make the best of it, regardless of the cards that we’ve been dealt. We can choose to listen to cringing dissonance, or we can take stock of our circumstances, and with awareness make calculated changes to sing in harmony with one another, making the best of a challenging situation.
3 Practices to Enhance Resilience
Resilient people take whatever life gives them as an opportunity, regardless of the state of the world, their career, their relationships, their bank account, and their health. Perhaps, if nothing else, it's an opportunity to practice responding well with character. 
One of the most common questions I’m asked is how I’m able to stay so positive when the world has so much to be negative about. How can I possibly embrace even negative circumstances and use them as a force for good? To be clear, I haven’t always been this way. I’ve had my share of disappointments, heartbreaks, and tragedies. I’ve battled grief, depression, addiction, and thoughts of suicide. But I worked through it. Even though there were times that I wanted to give up, I pushed through. And by not giving up I discovered ways to put the worst of times into perspective, to make bad days not turn into bad weeks, and make the good times linger just a little bit longer.
There’s no single simple formula for this, as every situation is different, but there are three common factors that researchers have identified for helping people enhance resilience in midst of challenges: 1) Mindset, 2) Purpose, and 3) Relationships. Here are some suggestions for incorporating these factors into your life:
1. Reframe Your Circumstances
There’s a beautiful example that I recently found in Reader’s Digest Asia about a cellist who embraced a handicap to improve her playing. One day the musician developed ringing in one ear and there was concern that it might become overwhelming and prevent her from making music any longer. But when asked about it she simply shook her head and said: “It doesn’t bother me at all. The ringing sound is in the key of B flat, so I use it to tune my cello a half step lower.”
This musician is able to take a situation that’s outside of her control and work with it instead of against it. Instead of framing it as a problem, she used it as an opportunity to improve her playing. It’s like having a built-in tuning fork right inside of her head!
2. Engage Your Heart and Mind
One of my favorite secrets for staying positive is to give my hands something to do that engages my mind and my heart, and which can also bring joy to others. This one positivity hack has changed my life in profound ways, giving me opportunities that I never would have dreamed of, especially through my work as an entertainer both in music and in magic.
Most recently I started learning a new skill, playing what I believe to be the happiest of all the instruments: the ukulele! The sound of it is fun. The look of it is fun. Even its names is fun. And playing it these past two months has brought me much joy. Playing music is a powerful practice that can bring joy to yourself while simultaneously bringing joy to others, which brings us to the final practice for enhancing resilience.
3. Foster Relationships
I’m encouraged by the positive news stories we hear coming in from Italy, where quarantined residents are singing from their balconies and rooftops, joining together in song, reminding us that as separate and isolated as we may sometimes feel, we are all united by our humanity.
Just take a quick look at social media from this past week and you’ll see countless musicians sharing their music from quarantine (one of my favorites is from Bono) a positive reminder that “we are waves of the same sea, leaves from the same tree, flowers from the same garden." And though “we may have different mountains and rivers, we still share the same sun, same moon and the same sky."

  1. Are you responding to the challenges facing our world with dissonance or with harmony?
  2. How might you use your current circumstances as a built-in tuning fork right inside your head?
  3. What can you do that engages your mind and heart, and which can also bring joy to others?
  4. What advice would you share with others who are struggling to stay resilient in the midst of challenges?
Final Thoughts
Sometimes we find ourselves in situations where we have to make the best of it, regardless of the cards that we’ve been dealt. We can choose to listen to cringing dissonance, or we can take stock of our circumstances, and with awareness make calculated changes to sing in harmony with one another, making the best of a challenging situation to stay resilient in the midst of challenges. 

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Comment by Yaron Fishman on June 22, 2020 at 1:44pm

Great advice, Jonas! Thank you for sharing :)

Comment by Jonas Cain on June 22, 2020 at 2:31pm

You're most welcome, Yaron! Happy to know this resonated with you :) 


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