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What reporting on war taught me about resilience

Updated: Oct 26, 2022


A 106-year old Armenian woman protecting her home with an AKM, 1990


War was around me before I was born. When my mother was pregnant with me, my dad served as a doctor during the First Nagorno-Karabakh war of 1988-1994. There was a shelter on the first floor of our building, and my sisters were old enough to remember how they would get dragged there when our building was getting shelled.


I was born after the ceasefire and there was relative peace as I grew up, but the effects of the war were still all around. As children, one of our favorite places to play was a half-demolished building a few blocks away. In front of the houses there were small water fountains called "pulpulaks", often called after casualties of the war and built by their families in their memory.



Traditional water fountain in Armenia.


We were inspired by the stories about the heroism and resilience of our people, and it was one of the ways people would sublimate their pain.


We were also naive to think it was in the past, even if the developments did not suggest it would stay like that.


26 years later I was working as a political affairs officer with the Swedish Embassy in Armenia. I was helping diplomats and development workers drive reforms, so I had found a way to feel like I was useful.


I also thought that change wouldn't necessarily come through systems, but by transforming one person at a time. I was inspired by personal development, psychology and spirituality, thinking I had found answers that allowed me to go beyond my struggles and enough to help alleviate other people's suffering. And so I would coach in my spare time and organize workshops on mental health.


One day, I woke up to the news that a new war had started. This time it was different. Things were videotaped, so everyone could easily find out about the horrible war crimes and watch how the atrocities were being committed. Reporting on the war was part of my work, so I had to stay on top of all developments.


This was a new test to my resilience and to the truth of the answers I had found. If what I was pointing to was true, then it would have to be true always, including in a time as horrible as a war.


In retrospect, this helped me gain confidence in sharing what I share. If it passed the test of the war, then a client struggling with a difficult boss or the uncertainty of decision-making wouldn't seem like a major problem to address.


Below is a short summary of some of the things that I found to be crucial in terms of unlocking resilience and bouncing back. They are not techniques or tips, but a description of certain aspects of how the mind works, and simply appreciating them will do the work. You can learn how they apply to the context of resilience by taking this free course on resilience.


Some of them may seem more relevant to you than others, so try to sense where they point to and don't get fixated on any of the words. They are all separate subjects to dive into, so my intention is to simply introduce them.


Your paradigm of understanding is crucial


The way we react to what happens to us always comes from our basic assumptions about our experience. These assumptions or paradigms can be very subtle and go unnoticed, but they are always at play.


Here is an example. A few years ago I came across an experiment with children, where they were put in a room together with a clown that moved its head left and right. Every once in a while, a candy bar would come out.


After some time, the researchers came back and observed something bizarre. The children were involved in a random, but consistent set of activities. Some were jumping up and down, some were saying a certain word, and some were running back and forth.


The way the researchers made sense of this was that the children would repeat exactly what they were doing when they received a candy bar. In their minds, that's what caused the candy bar to come out.


What's important here is that this was not even true, but because the children had this assumption, it would continue guiding their actions.


I know, you may think it's only an experiment on children, but the same is true about all of us. More than anything else, this relates to our assumptions about where our feelings come from and what they mean. When these assumptions are in tune with the truth of how our experience is created, we have more clarity and can trust our guidance.


This is one of the reasons I stopped relying so much on techniques and specifically premeditated approaches to mental health. They are addressing the problem after the fact and do not always touch the root of the problem. They may work once, but not always. They may work for your partner, but not you. Starting with the very beginning is crucial, and the beginning is our understanding of how our experience of life is created.


Feelings always fluctuate


Our experience of life varies much more quickly than the things we experience. More than that, the things we experience may not even change, but our experience of them will.


Sit in an empty room and close your eyes. You will have many different experiences, but none of them will have anything to do with the room.


Resilience and mental health are, therefore, more about appreciating these fluctuations, not being afraid of them and watching them versus trying to enforce a constant experience of life.


It's also not about having positive experiences vs. negative experiences, it's about not minding them.


Your experience of life is created from the inside, not the outside


The reason our experience is so unstable is that our experience is conditioned by thoughts, and thoughts vary. We feel their resonance, but because they are about a specific topic, we often believe it's that thing that caused us to feel what we feel.


Don't get me wrong, I am not suggesting circumstances do not trigger how we feel, but it is always mediated by our thinking.


That's why even the most horrible circumstance may sometimes be experienced with presence and forgiveness. Similarly, we can feel sad and frustrated surrounded by the best possible circumstances.


You have the freedom to (de)focus on certain thoughts


The fact that we experience the resonance of thoughts may seem like bad news unless we appreciate our power of focus. No, I am not going to suggest that we can fully control what we think. I know it's trendy to say this, but it's just not true.


Ask yourself what your next thought is going to be. You never know.


So we don't have control over what comes up as a thought, but we have control over how we react to it, and that's enough if truly appreciated.


The degree to which we can direct our thoughts is a topic for a separate blog post, but for now, you can simply appreciate your power of focus and inquire whether it's true or not for yourself. You can also check out this podcast episode.


In a nutshell, we can decide whether or not to empower a certain thought and contribute to its momentum or concentrate on something else.


When we do that, the thought that we experience will go away automatically because thoughts don't have a momentum of their own.


Resilience comes with considering this fact and allowing limiting and painful thoughts to be and ultimately subside.


Feelings are there to guide you


Your power of focus would be useless if you didn't know which ones to focus on and which ones to transcend. When we think a thought, at that moment its content becomes automatically persuasive.


It's like scanning the information we have about the world and highlighting that which proves what we happen to think at the moment. Think of two different functions in you - the thinker and the prover. Whatever the thinker thinks, the prover proves.


That's why navigating to our wellbeing via the content of our thoughts can be tricky. Luckily, we have a wonderful feedback mechanism - our feelings.


Feelings are there to give us feedback about the quality of our thoughts. We can never cease to feel the resonance of our thoughts. In this sense, can't "solve" feelings, but when appreciated as a feedback mechanism, even the most negative ones can be helpful. They remind us whether to trust a thought or not. When we don't appreciate this, a painful thought that comes with a lot of noise and a painful feeling seems to pull our attention. It's all innocent. We want it to go away and feel a personal responsibility to fix it, but sometimes our attempts to make them go away is exactly what sustains their momentum.


As I said, all of these topics are worth diving into. Not intellectually analyzing them, but taking them as working hypotheses and seeing if they are true. That's what will result in a paradigm shift and help you when you are caught up in a specific train of thoughts that no longer serve you.



Much love,

Razmik


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About Brand New Thought & me


Brand New Thought is a platform dedicated to paradigm shifts in personal development.


The Brand New Thought podcast features leading executive coaches and counselors who share a revolutionary framework of understanding about how the mind works, and how to use it for creating a joyful and highly effective life.



I'm Razmik Sargsyan, and I love helping people and organizations transform, unlock their hidden potential and reach what they want to reach.


I support clients of multiple backgrounds and types of pressing issues, including stress, decision-making, relationships, confidence, time management, self-esteem, strategic communication, loneliness, uncertainty, social anxiety, bereavement and resilience.


IF YOU ARE OR WANT TO BE A COACH OR A MENTAL HEALTH COUNSELLOR


As a public relations specialist, I love helping spiritual businesses communicate more strategically, so I support therapists, coaches and healers to develop and market their practices with evidence-based principles, leveraging the research of behavioral science and best practices of digital audience acquisition.


This was the topic of my Fulbright research with Arizona State University, so if you currently run or plan to run a business in the domain of personal development, therapy or a similar modality, book a free-of-charge consultation.


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