It’s an easy trap in life to put all of our focus on what we struggle with. We worry that we aren’t doing well enough at our new jobs, aren’t being good enough parents or partners, or we incessantly think of all the things we should change about ourselves so we are stronger and more confident.
But what psychology is increasingly seeing as a more beneficial focus than looking at ways you can’t manage is to look at the ways you actually can and do manage, in other words, your resilience.
What is resilience?
Resilience is your capacity to navigate and adapt to the challenges and changes life throws at you. In other words, it’s your capacity to ‘bounce back’.
We all have resilience. While we might handle some stressors in life with less panache than we want, we all manage stress and adversity as a natural part of life.
Don’t believe you are resilient? Then how did you make it through childhood? Survive secondary school? Get through your first heartbreak, or survive losing a loved one? You did so because you have inbuilt resilience.
It is true that some people seem to have more resilience than others. It’s not that they are ‘born’ with it. Instead, it’s seen as more likely that their life circumstance has allowed them to more easily develop it. This could include supportive relationships with their parents who also acted as good role models for managing stress, growing up in a strong community, or even having a supportive culture.
But it is also true that resilience is a skill. It’s something we can all learn to be better at.
Why does resilience matter?
Why is psychology so interested in resilience, anyway?
Resilience is increasingly seen as a way to not only increase psychological wellbeing, but to maintain it long-term. It is being found through research that the more resilient you can become, the less likely is that you will develop common mental health challenges like low moods and poor self-esteem.
In fact a study carried out in schools in America called the Penn Resiliency Programme found a massive 50% decrease in depression and a 30% decrease in negative behaviour when teenagers were taught the skills of resilience.
How Can I Be More Resilient?
Even if ‘bouncing back’ is not one of your key strengths right now, with commitment and sustained effort this can change substantially. Here are ways to work on your resiliency –
1. Be more honest about your challenges.
How can you come up with ways to manage and recover from a situation if you aren’t even being clear with yourself there is a situation in the first place?
Resilient people tend to be tapped in to their own emotions and responses. Take time to ask yourself good questions often, what am I really feeling in this situation? If I am feeling some anxiety, is it possible something isn’t working for me here? What exactly isn’t working? How would I like to handle this?
Journaling and mindfulness are two therapist recommended techniques that can help keep you honest with yourself.
2. Get realistic.
When facing life challenges its important to watch out for exaggeration and ‘catastrophising’ – making grand assumptions that aren’t based on fact.
Creating a bigger problem than actually exists means you don’t bounce back quickly because you waste time dealing with drama instead of solutions.
If you lose your job, does it really mean that your relationship will fall apart and you will lose your house? Or does it just mean you have to focus on sorting out your work situation right now? Does a breakup really mean that ‘your whole life is ruined’, or does it just mean you need to navigate some heartbreak?
Be realistic about your solutions to your problems, too. Make a detailed list of everything that is involved with your situation and be honest about what you can and can’t change. Is your predicted recovery time reasonable? Are your goals to move forward practical and S.M.A.R.T based?
3. Practise discernment.
Acceptance is a key factor of resilience. It’s not about just sitting back and just letting things happen, but about discernment – accepting what you can’t change and working with what you can change.
Ask yourself, am I not moving forward because I tend to waste all my energy facing losing battles? What can I really change about this situation, and what is beyond my control that I need to just accept? What can I let go of here, and what is the best use of my time and resources?
4. Learn the art of ‘confidence transferal’.
When something goes wrong in life our confidence can take a hit, which can leave us feeling unable to move forward.
But there will always be some area of life that is still going well and that we still feel good about ourselves in. The secret is to train your focus onto those areas so that you build up your feeling of confidence enough that you can pull it over to the challenged area.
For some people this might be about merely meditating daily on visuals of their happy family and their certificates of achievement before facing a day of job hunting. For someone else who is good at fitness, it might mean going to the gym more when a relationship ends, building up their body confidence when they aren’t feeling so great socially (and releasing endorphins while they are at it).
5. Change your perspective.
Changing the way you see a situation can change the way you handle it. This is not about positive thinking, which too often just works like a flimsy plaster attempting to cover up a load of negativity that isn’t healing.
Changing your perspective is more like changing the spot you are standing when looking at a large piece of furniture you need to move. It’s not that you pretend the problem isn’t there, rather you see things in a different way that allows you handle and resolve the situation in a new way as well.
One of the best things you can change perspective on is yourself. Resilience requires that you can see yourself as a capable person who creates your own life over a victim at the whims of others and circumstance.
How have you managed things in the past that show you are a powerful person? Can you make a list? Or ask your good friends who you trust to have only your best interests in mind to point out your strengths and abilities you might be overlooking?
6. Get into action.
Challenges can see many of us projecting into the future, trying to think what will go wrong if we make the wrong decision.
The danger of this is that you can create anxiety and worry that stops you from doing anything at all. And we can’t move forward if we sit still.
Sometimes any decision at all is better than none – even if we do get it ‘wrong’ it means we are one step closer to a resolution that will work.
If you are paralysed over what to do, get a list of possibilities onto paper. Break down the most feasible one into small steps and see if you can take just one small action forward today.
7. Seek support.
It could be said that resilience is a team effort.
Highly resilient people have a team of support around them, whether that is a close knit family or community.
Of course we all don’t come with a natural support system. There is nothing wrong in this case with building your own. Build your own ‘family’ of friends you can be yourself around and trust, and find a community through your hobbies or passions.
And don’t underestimate the powerful support network that professional help can be. A coach or counsellor can do wonders to help you understand what stops you from bouncing back, recognise the strengths you have that you have overlooked, and find ways to cope better.
Do you have a tip for being more resilient? Share it below.