When life knocks you down, what do you do? Do you let it and give up, or do you stand up and keep going? Of course, you stand back up! You keep going. Because you are a resilient human being.
Whether you’re facing a global or personal crisis — or a mix of both — building resilience can help you cope with stress, overcome adversity, and enjoy the better days to come.
Living through challenging and difficult times can take a heavy toll on your mood, health, and outlook. It can leave you feeling hopeless and overwhelmed by stress, fear, and anxiety. You may be painfully grieving all that you’ve lost and are not sure how to move on with your life.
While there’s really no way to avoid adversity, there are ways to help smooth the rough waters and regain a sense of control. Resilience is the ability to cope with the loss, change, and trauma that are inevitable parts of life.
I’ve always said one of my greatest strengths is resilience, which honestly goes back to some of my childhood experiences, and the challenging times my family faced as my parents got divorced, our family’s financial instability rose, and what seemed like constant struggle ensued for our family. While I felt angry, abandoned, and alone at the time, today, I appreciate the gift of resilience that I gained from my childhood experiences.
In fact, a few years ago, my friends and I participated in a fun social experiment where we were asked to share one word that best describes each other and my friends unanimously chose the word, RESILIENT.
So, what exactly is resilience?
Resilience is our ability to recover from difficult situations and adapt to change. We often talk about “bouncing back” — that is resilience. Building resilience can help you better adapt to life-changing events, cope with turbulent times, and bounce back from hardship and tragedy. Resilience empowers us to handle ups and downs with a sense of constancy and ease.
I want you to close your eyes and picture a reed: it’s strong, but it’s also flexible. It doesn’t resist the wind and the wind doesn’t break it. The reed moves within the wind. This visualization is how to be more resilient. It’s important to have a strong footing while showing flexibility and adaptability. The more you can flow with the changing times, the more easily you’ll be able to move through the change.
You might be wondering why some people seem to be better able to cope in troubling times than others. While everyone’s situation is different, it is true that people with resilience tend to have a higher tolerance for the emotional distress generated by hard times. The more resilient you are, the better you are able to tolerate the feelings of stress, fear, and anxiety that accompany trauma and adversity and find a way to rebound from setbacks.
If you’re more sensitive to emotional distress and are finding it difficult to cope with hardship or adversity, it’s important not to think of it as some kind of character flaw. Resilience is an ongoing process that requires effort to build and maintain over time.
Drawing on past experiences can help you cope with the challenges you’re facing today. Even if you’ve struggled to cope with adversity in the past, you may at least be able to recognize some of the ways of coping that don't help, such as trying to numb your feelings with drugs or alcohol. While it’s often difficult to imagine anything good coming out of traumatic experiences, building resilience can help you find any positives in the difficulties you’ve faced. Surviving hardships can teach you important things about yourself and the world around you, strengthen your resolve, deepen your empathy, and in time enable you to evolve and grow as a human being.
I acknowledge that 2020 has been an incredibly difficult year for many of us. Collectively, we’ve lost memorable events and experiences, such as high school or college graduations, we’ve delayed or cancelled beautiful celebrations like weddings, baptisms, and confirmations, and we’ve changed the frequency and approach to the way we interact with each other. We’ve had less frequent outings with friends or family, we’ve experienced less human touch and we’ve limited face-to-face gatherings for groups with more than 10 people. There’s no doubt that we have all truly experienced loss in one way or another this year.
Even so, I bet if each and every one of us really examined our life since March 2020, we’ve more than likely gained just as much if not more than we lost. In fact, I’m encouraging all of you to take some time before the end of the year to journal about your 2020 personal experiences — both your losses and your gains. It’s a great way to debrief the current year and start your goal setting for the new year.
When I reflect on my past year, I can say that 2020 has given me some of my most cherished gifts and beautiful memories. At the start of our shelter-in-place, I got to spend quality time with my family cooking some of our favorite meals together, playing games, which had seriously been years since we did that, and watching some great movies and TV shows together as a family. As the year progressed, I amped up my health and fitness routine, I joined the CrossFit gym, and I’ve gained several new friendships that I may not have had otherwise. I also launched my new coaching business, created a course on how to be a Fearless leader, started my own podcast called LEVEL UP TOGETHER, and inspired hundreds of people through my social media platform. All things I likely would not have done if we hadn’t experienced these unprecedented times and major changes in our daily lives. Finally, I learned how to slow down, create space, focus on my self care, and enjoy the relationships and experiences in my life. Now, I will consciously notice when I’m doing something that’s not bringing me joy, and I’ll immediately make the necessary changes so that I can find the joy in what I’m doing. While there were lots of highs and lows over this past year, overall, I’d say 2020 was a better year than I ever expected and for that I’m incredibly grateful.
You see, I’ve learned that the key to resilience is what you are saying to yourself and how you are labeling yourself, other people, and the challenge you're facing. If you keep thinking: ’This won’t work', then it won’t work. You’re talking yourself into doing nothing. I want you to change your narrative and start talking to yourself with words that help you learn, grow, and get ready for the next time you face adversity. As we all know, change is an inevitable part of life and many aspects of the changing world are outside our individual control.
Using the five pillars of resilience is a way to reframe our thinking so that we can see ourselves and the world around us in new ways. We can experience the positive benefits that are a part of living our lives from a place of “wholeness.”
Resilience is made up of five pillars: self awareness, mindfulness, self care, positive relationships, and purpose. By strengthening these pillars, we in turn, become more resilient. Instead of experiencing an overwhelming downward spiral when we encounter stress in our lives, these five pillars work together to lift us up out of the chaos we are feeling.
The first pillar of resilience is self awareness. Self Awareness is having a clear perception of your personality, including strengths, weaknesses, thoughts, beliefs, motivation, and emotions. Self Awareness allows you to understand other people, how they perceive you, your attitude and your responses to them in the moment.
The second pillar of resilience is mindfulness. Mindfulness is a state of active, open attention on the present. When you’re mindful, you observe your thoughts and feelings from a distance, without judging them as good or bad. Instead of letting your life pass you by, mindfulness means living in the moment and awakening to experience.
The third pillar of resilience is self care. Self care is unique for each person and can be understood in many different ways. In its simplest form, the term refers to our ability as human beings to function effectively in the world while meeting the multiple challenges of daily life with a sense of energy, vitality, and confidence. Self care is initiated and maintained by us as individuals — it requires our active engagement.
The fourth pillar of resilience is positive relationships. Positive Relationships are the people who support and care for us — and we care for them. One of the most profound experiences we can have in our lives is the connection we have with other human beings. By building positive relationships with others, we will be happier and more fulfilled and feel more supported and connected. Positive and supportive relationships will help us to feel healthier, happier, and more satisfied with our lives.
The fifth pillar of resilience is purpose. Purpose is a recognition that we belong to and serve something bigger than ourselves. Our purpose helps to shape the mindset and attitude we have toward others and the events we experience. We can find purpose in our faith, family, a political party, being green, or being a part of an organization.
There are different ways that we can show up as resilient. None of us are going to be a 10 out of 10 on all five pillars of resilience, but it’s important to understand your strengths and opportunities to improve, even if it’s just one small improvement at a time.
So, you might be wondering, how exactly do I build resilience? Here are seven strategies to help you build resilience. These strategies are an integral part of my daily life and help me continue to strengthen my resilience muscle.
1. Change the Narrative: When something bad happens, we often relive the event over and over in our heads, rehashing the pain. This process is a cognitive spinning of the wheels, and it doesn’t move us forward toward healing and growth. The practice of expressive writing can move us forward by helping us gain new insights on the challenges in our lives. It involves free writing continuously for 20 minutes about an issue, exploring your deepest thoughts and feelings around it. The goal is to get something down on paper, not to create a memoir-like masterpiece.
2. Embrace Change: Flexibility is essential to managing through change. By learning how to be more adaptable, you'll be better equipped to respond when faced with a life crisis. Certain goals may no longer be attainable as a result of adverse situations. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on circumstances that you can alter.
3. Focus on goals: Develop some realistic goals. Do something every day even if it seems like a small accomplishment that enables you to move toward your goals. Instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable, ask yourself, "What's one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?"
4. Develop a Strong Social Network: Connecting with people who can share empathy and compassion can be comforting in the midst of difficult situations. Focus on trustworthy people who will validate your feelings and emotions, and support you through your struggles. Good relationships with close family members, friends, or others are so incredibly important. Accepting help and support from those who care about you and will listen to you strengthens resilience.
5. Stay Optimistic: Maintaining a positive attitude is important to help you understand that setbacks are temporary and that you have the skills and capabilities to combat the challenges you face. An optimistic outlook enables you to expect that good things will happen in your life. Try visualizing what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear.
6. Practice Mindfulness: Practicing mindfulness brings us more and more into the present, and it offers techniques for dealing with negative emotions when they arise. That way, instead of getting carried away into fear, anger, or despair, we can work through them more deliberately. Meditation, journaling and being present are great ways to quiet your thoughts and clear your mind so that you can feel relaxed, rejuvenated, and restore hope.
7. Focus on Self Care: Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing. Getting enough sleep, exercising daily, and eating healthy foods that fuel your body can help you manage stress and balance your emotion. Taking care of yourself helps to keep your mind and body primed to deal with situations that require resilience.
The key is to identify tools and techniques that are likely to work well for you as part of your own personal strategy for fostering resilience. Try each one of these strategies for the next week and then decide which ones are right for you. You may love them all or you may find that just one or two work for you. The most important thing is that you start building your resilience.
What I want you to know and what I want you to remember is that resilience is your ability to bounce back from difficult situations and adapt to change. Change is an inevitable part of life and many aspects of the changing world are outside of your individual control. Accepting your situation can free you up to devote your energy to the things that you do have control over. When you focus on the things you can control, you give yourself power to deal with adversity. As they say, it’s not adversity that determines how your life’s story will develop, it’s your reaction to adversity.
I’ll leave you with this quote from the late Dr. Wayne Dyer. Each experience in your life was absolutely necessary in order to have gotten you to the next place, and the next place, up to this very moment.