How is it that some people try again and again, while others get perpetually stuck at the first roadblock? The difference is resilience — an adaptive trait that enables us to bounce back when faced with difficulties.
Resilience doesn’t mean we escape feelings of pain and hardship, but rather meet those uncomfortable feelings so we can work through stressful situations. Here are some attributes of a resilient spirit:
- An ability to bounce back after setback
- A more positive outlook on life
- Heightened problem-solving abilities
- Greater decisiveness in day-to-day actions
- An ability to manage strong feelings and stress with a clear mind
- The confidence to try new things without worrying about every little detail that could go wrong.
A recent study links resilience with physical benefits like a stronger immune system and better cardiovascular health. In other words, the less time spent ruminating in the negative, the healthier we can become.
While some of us are more naturally resilient than others, it’s a trait that can be nurtured, says Nan Henderson, author of Resiliency In Action. Henderson, who has studied resilience for 15 years, believes “that individuals are hard-wired to bounce back from adversity” and that everyone is capable of expanding their personal capacity for resiliency.
To build resilience: First, revisit the past…
A good starting place to build this bounce-back muscle is to reflect on past hardships and how you might work through them differently. Here are four questions to guide you through that process:
Ask this: What challenges and obstacles have I faced in my life?
When you identify past hardships, it’s likely you’ll see a pattern of where and how you get stuck. You now know where you need to hone your resiliency.
Ask this: How did I overcome those past challenges?
Thinking about how you worked through past difficulties can help you see what your personal strengths are and how you might build on them.
Ask this: Where do I draw my strength and support from?
In Resiliency In Action, Henderson shares the story of a school counselor advising a girl who was struggling in math and science. Instead of opening with the negative, she asked the girl how she had managed to do as well as she had so far. The conversation then turned into a dialogue about her sources of strength and support and how they could be applied to help her succeed in math and science.
Ask this: What helps bring me back to perspective and optimism?
It may be connecting with a specific person, going for a run, playing a game. The key is to find a way to see the bigger picture so you’re less overwhelmed with the details of a stressful situation.
…Next, build habits for the future
Just as being resilient feeds our physical health, our daily habits feed our resilience. Approach the following list of habits as an ongoing process rather than a checklist of accomplishments. And don’t try to do too much at once. Begin by picking one to focus on, and take bite-sized steps.
Nurture strong bonds. Feeling encouraged and loved is one of the biggest factors that influences our ability to be resilient. (Here are some easy ways to supercharge your friendships.)
Develop independence. Autonomy allows us to distance ourselves from unhealthy people, influences, and situations. (If you need to defuse the drama queen in your life, here are some tips.)
Practice self-care. Taking care of yourself and building a strong routine allows you to be better prepared for when obstacles arise. Getting plenty of sleep and eating well are part of this. So is acknowledging your self-worth. (Learn how the right routine can save the day.)
Look for the bright side. Being able to shift things into perspective after a job loss or setback provides us with a powerful understanding that we will weather the storms that come our way. (Consider this perspective on failure.)
Be generous. One of the key ways psychologists urge people to move forward is to give back whatever they can. Giving to others helps us feel better about our own circumstances. (Here’s how to put generosity into practice.)
Communicate effectively. Being open about what you want or don’t want and what you like or don’t like can help you manage a situation or head off a problem before it arrives. (Try our playbook for reluctant confronters.)