3 ways to become more resilient

I am always fascinated by what keeps people going during tough times, what’s their inner monologue like, where do they find the power and will to keep going. To me, resilience is one of the great puzzles of human nature and I always ask myself how is it that some people break after every small setback whereas others seem to thrive despite traumatising events in their lives. Of course, you and I both know it’s easy to let anger, frustration and angst dictate your actions. It’s easy to throw the towel in and shout: “ENOUGH, I QUIT!” You throw a self-pity party and wallow in sorrow whilst feeling powerless asking throughout it all “Why is this happening to me?”

If you were able to see the situation with your rational mind, you will start realising that, however hard this seems, it has a resolution. At the end of the day, you’re still alive and you can figure it out, one step at a time. You will perhaps reframe this and ask: “What can I learn from this?” But we both know it’s not that easy to do in the moment, is it? 

This is why cultivating resilience can play a crucial role in how you deal with setbacks. It’s important to acknowledge from the get go that life will be filled with all sorts of obstacles among, of course, great moments of joy and happiness. And truth be told, if you pause and reflect for a moment, you realise that actually most great accomplishments require sacrifices, you’ll stumble a few times, you will experience frustration, angst, despair, anger but that’s the beauty of it. Those are the moments that build you as a person and allow you to grow and evolve – though I am the first one to admit that it doesn’t feel that great in the moment. 

Diane Coutu, Harvard Business Review, has narrowed down resilient people to these 3 defining characteristics: 

  • they cooly accept harsh realities by facing them
  • they find meaning in terrible times
  • they have an uncanny ability to improvise making due with whatever’s at hand 

So how can you cultivate resilience so that, overtime, you become a resilient badass? 

Name it to tame it 

Most times we don’t even stop and reflect to notice how we feel. Do we feel sad, angry, do we feel hurt, upset or anxious? Notice I said “feel” sad. It’s important to acknowledge the difference in order to understand it’s a feeling, a sensation that will go away. Feeling sad or anxious for a particular amount of time doesn’t define who you are as a person at any given time. So if you’re feeling anxious about something, how does it feel in your body? Is your breathing shallow? Is your heart racing? Are you still able to move? Is your mouth dry? What sensations are you experiencing? For me anger is almost like a ball of thorns that sit in the pit of my stomach and the higher the levels of anger go, the more I tense, I start to experience pain in my stomach and most times I can’t eat. The idea is that you try your best to notice how it feels and really embrace that feeling so you can then let it go. 

We’re so used to being on autopilot that we can’t clearly identify our own emotions. Just the other day I was telling a friend “You should start listening to your body and notice how you feel when situation x arises” to which I got a look that pretty much said “Are you on something right now?” I have a theory that we dismiss simple things just because we think we “know” them. Just because something is simple, it doesn’t necessarily mean it’s easy. I mean who the hell wants to stop and analyse their own feelings, allow fear, angst, anxiety in and notice how it feels in the body? Naturally, we want to suppress these feelings and take control of the situation. In reality, as research shows, when we’re trying to suppress negative emotions, we’re actually suppressing positive emotions too. 

So what to do? 

Notice how you’re feeling. Don’t judge it. It’s not good or bad. It’s just a sensation, a feeling that will go away. 

Acknowledge. How does it make me feel? Once you’ve given it a name, you’ve reduced its power and you might notice that you’ll actually start to feel more calm – your amygdala will start sending a signal to your prefrontal cortex that it’s safe and you’re out of danger.

Reframe your situation – everything has a resolution 

Most times when we are stuck in our own head, we seem to only have one version of the story. It’s very easy to get sucked up and go so far down the rabbit hole, that it might take you a while to come back out to light so to speak. and in fairness once you do that if can become quite difficult to come back from that. 

In our head, everything is far worse than what it actually is in reality but if we were able to pause for a moment and detach from our particular predicament, we’d realise that our situation might have one or two solutions. As Marie Forleo puts it: Everything is figureoutable. 

Everything we do in life is about mindset and perspective meaning that we are the ones who can reframe a particular situation and the meaning we give to it. 

Therefore, it’s important to notice what do you tend to do mostly when faced with harsh realities. Are you “the glass is half full” kind of person or more “the glass is half empty” kind of person? 

You have no control over highly stressful events that may happen, but you can change how you react in these circumstances – Life is 10% what happens to me and 90% how I reach to it, as Charles Swindoll puts it.

Instead of asking why is this happening to me, ask what can I learn from it? Seeing things from this perspective will force you out of your negative bubble. 

When you start to understand both at a cognitive and emotional level that you can choose the perspective, you become more powerful and you will start feeling you have a bit more control over the situation.

Make meaningful connections 

I can’t stress enough the importance of cultivating meaningful relationships that act as a support system especially when difficult situations arise. It’s important to surround yourself with people who are positive, who want to see you win and who would genuinely do everything to help you get there. At the same time, it’s important to cultivate connections that are honest, empathetic, where you feel loved and accepted for who you are. Moreover, having people in your circle who are willing to give you constructive criticism and keep you grounded is what’s going to contribute to your growth massively. Although, in times of crises we need to feel supported, loved and understood we might also need a kick in the backside and a different perspective. Make sure you have those people in your circle too and that when your turn comes you do the same for others, you offer your full support and encourage them.

The best way to cultivate meaningful relationships? 

Listen to people, connect at a deeper level, show empathy, be less judgemental and show up for people, especially in hard times. Be kind with no hidden agenda – that’s actually one thing that will make you feel better about yourself. And in a world where everyone seems to have a hidden agenda, you can stand out from the crowd by being someone who is generous with their time, words and connections.

Ultimately, resilience building, boils down to having the ability to manage your emotions so you can turn changes, stresses and challenges into opportunities. In return, the skills you will develop include “adaptability, a healthy relationship to control, continual learning, having a sense of purpose, and knowing how to leverage support and appropriate resources.”  – Harvard Business Review

Author: Ionela Spinu

Photo credit: https://positivepsychology.com/resilience-quotes/

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