On particularly hot days, my high school track coach used to call us together about two-thirds of the way through practice. We would be sweating and exhausted, feeling like we were boiling in the Texas heat.
He would say, “Stop what you’re doing and look at me. I want you to recognize that you have earned this moment right here. You have earned your opportunity to get better. It’s an honor that not everyone will earn today. They will choose not to push their body and their mind the way you are right here. You are all tired and probably wishing I would cut practice short, right?
That’s good! That is your indicator you are on the doorstep of becoming better. This is when the real work starts. It is only when you push past believing you can’t that you get better. You need to develop a mental attitude where you are constantly challenging yourself to work harder than you thought possible. It will blow you away how much further you can go.”
I didn’t know it at the time, but Coach Esch was teaching us all about resilience.
SO, WHAT IS RESILIENCE EXACTLY?
Defining resilience can be tricky and has sparked a lot of discussion. Just the term alone is debated. Is it “resilience” or “resiliency”? They’re interchangable. Potato, Potato. (that really loses its meaning in print). But, you get my point. I use both throughout. Let’s move on.
With no definitive definition for resilience, Michael Neenan and Stephen Palmer* offer their best attempt at one, “[resilience is] responding adaptively and resolutely to tough times and emerging from them stronger, wiser, and more capable.”
They go on to explain why resilience is so important to examine, “Resilience is an intriguing concept: intriguing because it provides some kind of answer to why one person crumbles in the face of turbulent times while another gains strength from them, but elusive in that the concept resists definitive definition.”
Being able to respond “adaptively” and “resolutely” depends on a number of factors. Here are the key ones to help you quickly increase your resiliency.
RESILIENCE STARTS WITH MINDSET
The most resilient people approach difficult circumstances with the proper mindset and attitude. They understand our thoughts are the catalyst for how we respond to situations.
Resilient people are skilled at labeling their thoughts correctly. They have the ability to keep negative thoughts both situation-specific and temporary. For example, instead of thinking, “I always screw up at work. I’m a failure.” They might instead tell themselves, “I’m not good at this specific task right now but I will get better.”
On the flip side, these same individuals view positive thoughts as more permanent and generalized. “I did a good job on that last project. I should do well on this next one using the skills I learned.”
Thoughts Classification Grid:
*One caution here is to make sure your thoughts are accurate. This isn’t a license to blatantly ignore reality.
A few additional Jedi mind tricks to help you:
Develop a high frustration tolerance
Accept that people are fallible (including you)
Maintain your sense of humor
PRODUCTIVE BEHAVIORS AND RESPONSES
As mentioned earlier, our automatic thoughts are the starting point in a long chain of events that culminates with our actions. Over time, those actions become behaviors and ultimately our go-to response for similar situations in the future. Constructive behavior includes:
Consistent Perseverance - Create an optimism-fueled determination to keep working towards a better you even after experiencing setbacks and failures. This is easiest when our actions are aligned with our values. It also helps to be able to specifically identify how our actions are moving us towards the goals in your life.
Self-Reflection - Block out time to be reflective and introspective. Ask yourself questions like: “How did I respond in that situation?” and “Is that how I wanted to respond?” Taking this time to reflect is important in determining if you are responding in a way that aligns with what you believe and value. Journaling could be a helpful exercise.
Proactive, Healthy Activities - This can include working out, going for a walk, reading a book, meditating, doing yoga, volunteering, joining an organization/club, etc.
Healthy Eating - This is really universal. What you put into your body impacts both your physical, mental, and emotional health. Eat some greens and fruits!!
Sleep - The impact of sleep on our mental health and concentration cannot be overstated! Recommendations fluctuate between 7-10 hours. I always strive for 7.5 - 8 hours a night. That works for me. Experiment and see what works for you. If you are struggling to sleep, we’re happy to point you towards additional resources.
THE IMPORTANCE OF SOCIAL SUPPORT
The keys to creating resilience overlap with many of the keys to creating happiness. There is no greater example than the power of our social network. Studies have shown time and again how the healthiest and most successful people lean on their social support during difficult times.
They understand the value of having positive, supportive individuals surrounding you when times get tough. They are continually investing in their relationships with family and friends. They structure schedules to allow for time to be with the people that mean the most to them.
Even having brief, positive interactions can improve our mood. One study showed that each positive interaction people have during the course of the day actually helps return the cardiovascular system back to resting levels after a stressful event.*
Consider these ideas to create opportunities for social interaction:
Take the initiative to reach out to family and friends about getting together.
Join an organization or club. They can be for professional and/or social purposes.
Volunteer. Find a role that aligns with your values and allows for human interaction.
Join a gym. Social interaction and physical activity - Double shot of resilience!
COMMON OBSTACLES TO AVOID
Thinking resiliency automatically transfers between situations - People might be resilient in one area of their lives and instantly assume they don’t have to work at being resilient anymore. They already know what to do because they’ve been through difficult times in the past. What they forget is that every situation is unique. Adapting your skills to combat the current adversity is the name of the game!
Taking a victim stance - Blaming external factors is disempowering. It can reduce people’s ability to see what’s within their control and the changes they can make.
Focusing on the fact that an event shouldn’t have occurred - Denying reality and wishing something hadn’t happened wastes valuable energy that could be used towards improving your mindset and moving in a positive direction.
YOU’RE NOT BORN WITH RESILIENCE. YOU BUILD IT.
We’re all going to be faced with hard times. This is a fact is something that joins all of us. Even though we know we’ll all struggle at some point, many of us never take time to think through how we want to respond to adversity that might come our way.
It’s crucial to create a resiliency strategy before something occurs. Try some of these tips out. See what works for you. Trust me. This is extremely important. Trying to figure out a strategy in the midst of a life crisis is much more difficult. You’ll more than likely struggle for longer because you aren’t sure what you specifically need to become better.
Resilience allows us to come back faster from tough times as well as pushes us to become better people. Start practicing a few of these skills every day, and I promise you will see amazing results in your thoughts, emotions, and actions!
* Neenan, M., & Palmer, S. (Eds.). (2012). Essential coaching skills and knowledge. Cognitive behavioural coaching in practice: An evidence based approach. New York, NY, US: Routledge/Taylor & Francis Group.