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What is GEM and Why Is It the Key to Resilience?

If there’s one word that came out on top during the Celebrities are Prioritising Mental Health. Here’s Why You Should Too, it has to be ‘resilience’. The ability to adapt to adverse situations, resilience got us through the stress, anger, grief, pain and everything else that came with a global pandemic and re-written futures. But understanding how to cultivate resilience can be difficult. After all, everyone has different levels of resilience so what is the one-size-fits-all methodology to make yours stronger? Well, it’s a GEM.

GEM stands for Gratitude, Empathy and Mindfulness, and it is best known for underpinning High van Cuylenburg’s book, The Resilience Project. Hugh did the research and found that we can cultivate resilience as a by-product of these positive psychology strategies: gratitude, empathy and mindfulness. How easy is that? Join me in setting your resolution for the year to be more of a GEM and practise these important skills.

Toa heftiba sinca
Image: Toa Heftiba Sinca

What is Gratitude?

Gratitude is the simple act of being thankful. By showing appreciation for various things throughout your day, you end up feeling more positive and acknowledging little good things that may otherwise fly under the radar in your life, such as a sunny day, Happy Hour, or a good team win on the pitch.

How to Practise Gratitude

Practising gratitude means being open to acknowledging and saying thank you for those good things in life. This includes people. Expressing your gratitude to friends or family by simply telling them, ‘Thanks for that, mate’ goes a long way in positive psychology.

If you prefer to be a bit more tangible, write down in your phone’s Notes app or on your calendar one thing you’re grateful for each day. You’ll also start to notice patterns about what makes you happy, so you can seek out more of that in days to come (grateful for the time to do the Bondi to Bronte run? Carve out that time in your day as a priority). This helps you forget about the small bumps in the road that can shake your resilience and instead focus on the big picture.

Alex green
Image: Alex Green

What is Empathy?

Empathetic people have the ability to understand the feelings of another, and to share them. They’re the kinds of people who rally when you’re down, who can read a room really well in a pitch presentation, or who tend to ask ‘how are you?’ instead of starting off with how they are.

How to Practise Empathy:

Curiosity is empathy’s best friend. Being curious about other people will automatically make you more empathetic because it encourages you to think about what makes another person feel the way they do. When doing this, focus on similarities and put yourself in the other person’s shoes to truly understand and appreciate what they’re going through.

This practice of empathy will help you to see that the world is bigger than yourself, and so when you’re hit with a tough time, you’ll know others have had them too – what can you learn from their experience?

Callum shaw
Image: Callum Shaw

What is Mindfulness?

My favourite of the GEMs, being mindful is to be conscious of your actions in the present moment. Worry is instantly reduced when you think about the ‘right now’ rather than the ‘what ifs…?’ that often come with anxiety. A tool used in Dialectical Behavioural Therapy to acknowledge and accept your thoughts, feelings and somatic sensations, mindfulness can slow you down to ensure you notice the present and all that is happening within it. Again, when it comes to resilience, this helps to keep the ‘What if?’ worries away and get through tasks step-by-step.

How to Practise Mindfulness

There are so many ways you can cultivate mindfulness into your everyday. The easiest is to ask yourself, what’s happening right now? You’re eating lunch, and you go to switch on the telly. Don’t. Instead, sit down and taste your food – what textures and flavours are you getting? Is there a smell? An external sound? This presence is being mindful.

Other practices include doing one thing as a time, for example only having one app open so you can focus on what you’re doing, turning off electronic devices and closing your laptop in meetings, going for a walk without headphones to distract you, slowing down in your activity so you can take in your surroundings or meditating in whatever form that works for you.

When your anxiety is intense, try grounding yourself by jumpstarting the ‘M’ in GEM: take a deep breath and name five things you can see, five things you can hear and five things you can feel – this will help bring you back to the present by being more mindful.

About the Author: Tammi Miller is a certified practising counsellor, founder of BARE Therapy, and author of Paperback Therapy: Therapist-approved tools and advice for mastering your mental health. The Sydney-based professional is a Provisional Member of the Psychotherapy and Counselling Federation of Australia, and received her training at the Australian College of Applied Psychology (ACAP) in 2020.