Resilience Expert Valorie Burton: On the Power of Self-Talk
“At the core of resilience is how you think,” says author and life strategist Valorie Burton. “That’s the thing we can control the most. You want to know: Is what you’re saying to yourself helping you or hurting you? A huge piece of resilience is what you say to yourself, and changing it if what you’re saying isn’t helping.”
Burton, author of 13 books, including Successful Women Think Differently, and her forthcoming Let Go of the Guilt, spoke with us recently about how successful women can think about these times.
Q: After writing 13 personal development books, what insights have you found most helpful for navigating these extraordinarily challenging times—and still being able to move forward toward your goals?
First and foremost, this is a real test of resilience. The pandemic was such an unexpected and shocking turn of events. Now with all of the social and racial unrest, it feels like: Oh, my goodness what is next? The emotional toll is very real. I think it is important to give yourself extra emotional space to deal with all of it.
As women, we are hard on ourselves. We expect ourselves to keep going in the same way as if nothing has changed. But things have changed. Being able to pivot is very important. We need to take stock of what has changed in our relationships, parenting, job or business, and health.
Asking yourself, “What do I need right now?” is also a really important question. Then understand: This isn’t forever. And look for the opportunity in it for you. There are opportunities. Not in every situation. But in many, there are opportunities and messages. You don’t want to miss them. You have to look for them.
One of my favorite mantras when dealing with something hard is “What is is.” Fighting against it just ends up draining more energy. Obviously, things are harder for some people than others. But if you’re fighting against what is, you can’t focus on what to do to minimize the negative impact.
Q: You have spent more than 15 years studying resilience. What is the most important thing that women should know and do to cultivate the resilience that can help us in this moment?
Understand the power of a decision to get through it. When I went through a divorce 11 years ago, I thought my life was over. I was crying to my mom, and she said, “You’re 36! I hope your life’s not over!”
Then I came to a decision: I said, “I will walk through this fire but it will not consume me.” And, I decided that I would be better because of it. What I look for now is how can I grow through this difficulty and not just go through it.
At the core of resilience is how you think. That’s thing we can control the most. You want to know: Is what you’re saying to yourself helping you or hurting you? A huge piece of resilience is what you say to yourself and changing it if what you’re saying isn’t helping.
Q: As women, many of us find we take care of family, work, the house, the dog, and everything and everyone else—and then have little energy left for our own self-care. But if that’s not a helpful habit in ordinary times, it’s a seriously bad strategy in long challenging periods like this one. So, how do we use this moment to truly make self-care a priority?
I don’t want to use the cliché about putting the mask on yourself first. But taking the time to rest, to eat well, even to walk for 30 minutes: those things make a difference. So, I would say think of self-care as a resilience skill and a strategy for being able to accomplish everything else you need to accomplish and feel good while doing it. Then make it something enjoyable and doable and part of your to-do list.
Q: In Successful Women Think Differently, you identify nine habits that successful women practice. If you were to rewrite that book now, what ways of thinking could help us more successfully navigate these uncertain times?
Successful women see the big picture. Although they may not know how things will turn out, they understand there is a bigger picture. I think in these times, it’s about imagining yourself looking back and thinking about what you will wish you had done in these times. It is about making wise choices and not because you are panicked about something.
I understand that these times are stressful but we make choices everyday about the attitude we bring to what is going on. Cultivating positive emotions (through having something to look forward to, play, gratitude, movement and so on) is one of the most important strategies we have for dealing with stress.
Research tells us happiness isn’t just correlated with success. It causes success. So, in midst of all of this, I think it is even more important to do things that bring you joy because it will help you deal with all stuff that saps your joy.
Focusing on what is beyond your control is what leads to hopelessness. Successful women are always looking for internal locus of control.
Q: You have a new book coming out in September, called Let Go of the Guilt. Can you tell us about that?
A few years ago, I was asked to do a breakout session on work-life balance for parents. It was not my expertise. I was trying to figure out myself. I mentioned guilt because I was feeling it. The collective groans from women just struck me. I started bringing the subject up. The response from women was always the same.
Women are very hard on themselves—not because they did something awful but because of all of the expectations that society puts on us. I did some research and realized women are more guilt-prone than men. One study showed that women have a guilt-deficit until they are in their 50s.
So, I created coaching for letting go of guilt. I worked with a number of women who used the process. It worked. Women felt like a weight was lifted. I am very excited about this book.
Valorie Burton is the author of 13 books on personal development, founder of The Coaching and Positive Psychology (CaPP) Institute and an international speaker on resilience and happiness. Learn more at www.ValorieBurton.com.