No one’s life is free from hardship, stress, or trauma. So what gives some people the ability to persist through adversity with grace while others falter under the pressure? There are many reasons, some innate and some resulting from our cumulative life experiences; but the important thing is that there are ways to improve our resilience.
It’s your reaction to adversity, not adversity itself that determines how your life’s story will develop.Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Train Your Brain
There are different kinds of resilience; and obviously, not all challenges are the same. Still, through practice, we can increase our ability to cope with even the most trying situations. The human brain is a wonderfully flexible and adaptable organ!
However, unlike some skills which can be developed fairly smoothly, resilience training requires setbacks. That’s not a scary as it sounds because we all face small setbacks daily. These challenges allow us to practice changing our mindset. Then, by the time a major crisis comes along, we will have developed a mental “pathway” to help us appropriately process our emotions in order to be able to bounce back more effectively.
Learn to cope with negative emotions.
One thing that prevents many people from developing resilience is the fear of the painful emotions that come with the tough times. We’ve all had an experience that humbled us or made us second-guess our life choices. At the moment, sure, it doesn’t feel good. But to grow into a more resilient person, we must allow ourselves to feel all of the feelings that come with disappointments. When we avoid processing negative emotions, we deny our brains the opportunity to learn that these emotions and the experiences that cause them can be managed.
Learning how to effectively process emotions is a cornerstone of emotional intelligence. Unfortunately, our modern society seems designed to protect us from the “threat” of negative feelings. But people don’t grow while being cocooned in an often false sense of safety. The human experience is supposed to be a process of trial and error. Curiosity is hard-wired into our brains to propel us toward greater things. If we let fear stifle our curiosity, we never have the opportunity to learn from our mistakes and build resilience.
Find the positive aspects of a negative experience.
When we treat every adversity as simply a training session in how to be more resilient, we can stop dwelling on the negatives of the situation and start looking for opportunities. For example, we might be grateful for the chance to spend more time with family during a shutdown rather than focusing on things we can’t do. The struggle of “giving up” our routine then becomes a positive experience of quality time.
You can take this attitude one step further and focus on the future. Parents, for instance, often find dealing with their children difficult in the moment; but looking back on these years, we are flooded with happy memories and may even find ourselves wishing to relive those precious days. (For all you non-parents, ever get nostalgic about the “carefree” days of childhood or the glory days of high school? Now think hard about what that time was really like.) Usually, hard times never seem quite as hard when we look back on them because we can see that we’ve survived them and even thrived.
Give up on perfection.
You are amazing, and the world needs you! But you’re not perfect. In fact, “perfect” doesn’t exist, and no reasonable human has that expectation for themself or others. Everyone makes mistakes and experiences setbacks. You may have something go wrong for you once in a blue moon or four times before the first cup of coffee.
But think about it like this, that person with four setbacks before coffee on Monday was more resilient than the one who had an entire week of no obstacles. Success can be defined in many ways, so choose to see the positive side of things. After all, what obstacles did you overcome today?
More Ways to Build Resilience
There are lots of other things you can do to help you become a more resilient person, including:
- Practice self-care; a well-fed and rested body can cope better.
- Develop a strong support system with family and friends. (Yes, virtual friends count!)
- When you’re stuck, let yourself be entertained. Laughter is the best medicine.
- Actively look for the good things in life. Write them down in a journal, if needed.
- Give of your time to help others and focus on the greater good.
- Seek professional help to help build positive cognitive pathways.
In the end, the “secret” of exceptionally resilient people is often a wealth of experience with setbacks. As with most things in life, how you respond to adversity is a choice. You can find the positive in a given situation or let negative feelings eat away at your days. One might even argue that not coping well is better than simply giving up, but the tools are there for anyone who wants to be a stronger version of themselves.