How to build your resilience

The Spartans of ancient Greece believed resilience to be so important that they threw weak and puny babies into chasms to die and began military training for the rest at the age of seven. They went out of their way to make life the very opposite of luxurious.

Resilience is more than physical toughness, though. It’s really more about mental toughness and the ability to adapt and find your way around, over or through adversity.

Some people seem to take the lemons life throws at them (and everyone else) in their stride, deal with them and move on. Whether it’s the huge, sour lemons that really knock you for six, like losing your home in a flood or fire, or losing a loved one, or smaller lemons like missing out on a job you wanted or failing an exam, resilient people cope with stress and adversity reasonably well, with optimism and resourcefulness.

Other people become overwhelmed easily, dwell on problems and fall apart when the going gets tough. Not the recipe for a happy life.

Let’s be clear here: Resilience isn’t about toughing it out, making lemonade from lemons or brushing problems or difficulties aside. It’s about having confidence and fortitude to deal with difficulties and solve problems.

Resilience is closely related to emotional intelligence and like emotional intelligence, it’s a learned set of skills that revolve around seven inner, interrelated strengths:

  1. Causal analysis: the ability to figure out why things are the way they are so you can be more in control of what happens to you and how you think about what has happened. It helps you not personalise setbacks: ‘Why me?’For instance, accepting that change is part of life helps you deal with disappointments and disasters and can even help you find new and better alternatives.

    Good problem solving skills are a boon here; when you’re a good problem solver, you can break down what you need to do into ‘doable’ steps that you can actually see yourself taking and you’ll feel good about the progress you’re making.

  2. Emotional regulation: the ability to take charge of your emotions so they don’t swamp you.Although it can be difficult during dark spells, it’s important to stay positive. That doesn’t mean ignoring problems or pretending they don’t exist; it means seeing them as temporary and figuring out how best to deal with them, and keeping what you want clearly in mind, rather than worrying about what you fear or dwelling on the past or on something you can’t change.

    You can also use humour to help you get through the difficult patches. Laughter is a great healer; it makes you feel better and when you feel better, it’s easier to take positive action.

  3. Impulse control: The ability to control your emotions.For instance, getting back into all the little normal life routines you had before a traumatic event, even the simple acts of going to bed and getting up at your usual times and getting back to regular, predictable meal times provides a feeling of security and normalcy.
  4. Empathy: the ability to see situations from other people’s points of view.When all you can see is you, it’s no wonder you get smothered by your problems. Seeing the world from other points of view takes you out of yourself and gives you an interest in something beyond yourself. Empathy helps you understand that there are always other ways of looking at a situation which can also help you find ways to work through your problems.
  5. Asking for help: the willingness to as others for help and offer help to others.Strong networks of family, friends and colleagues who will listen and offer advice or support buoy your confidence and therefore your resilience.
  6. Realistic optimism: You can think of this as the ability to ‘travel hopefully’.You can’t change events but you can set your sights on a positive outcome and expect the best for the future. Setting a goal, knowing what you want so you know what’s at the end of the tunnel helps you ‘keep soldiering on’, to paraphrase Winston Churchill, and working towards whatever it is you want to achieve.
  7. Self-esteem: A healthy self-esteem means you have the confidence to take action to better the situation, to decide what needs to be done and do it.The upside of this is when you’re doing something, you’re not floundering in a mental fog of confusion or regret and you’ve moved beyond feeling overwhelmed.

    Knowing what your priorities are and working towards accomplishing them every day builds your confidence and moves you in the right direction, too.

These are the skills and thought patterns to build so you can consistently perform competently in difficult circumstances and under stress. Resilience won’t make your problems go away, of course–like death and taxes, the other certain thing about life is that you sometimes have to deal with lemons. Resilience helps you do that more gracefully and bounce back more quickly.

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