You know what? Shit happens. All the time. You are never going to have a life totally free of disappointments, pressure or challenges. It's just not going to happen. So trying to organize our lives in a way that runs away from challenge and pressure isn't realistic, practical or even possible. That's where learning how to build your resilience comes in. There's a great quote from Steve Maraboli that sums it up for me:
“Sometimes life knocks you on your ass... get up, get up, get up!!!
Happiness is not the absence of problems, it's the ability to deal with them.”
The ability to pick yourself up after being knocked on your ass - and I'm talking the really big stuff like bereavement, job loss, divorce, being a victim of crime - AND the smaller, day to day stuff (the kids refusing to get out of bed for school, the nasty fight with your spouse, being hauled over the coals at work etc. ) that can still have the ability to make up sit down on the stairs with our head in our hands and wish we were anywhere but there right now is called Resilience.
Being able to build your resilience is the number one skill that man,woman and child needs to have in order to survive and thrive in the modern world. Psychologists used to think you were either born with it or you weren't but now they've discovered that it's a skill - and that with some techniques and regular practice we can build resilience so that we can get up more quickly when we're knocked on our asses.
Here are 21 things you can do to build your resilience.
1. Make a list of your strengths - being aware of what you're good at helps to shore up confidence and provide a balanced view of your abilities and development areas. Most people think that they either need to focus on the stuff they need to do better - or to beat themselves up over the things they don't do well. To really build your resilience, it's far more helpful to be aware of both. But as most of us have an abundance of things we know we're not so good at, making a list of strengths will help to redress the balance.
2. Adopt an attitude of detached curiosity when it comes to your behaviour. Instead of beating yourself up over unhelpful actions or thoughts, be curious about where they came from and what they're trying to tell you.
3. Keep a balance – often when our resilience is low it’s because we’re focussing our energies on one area of our lives over the others – usually some stressful event, work, or a collection of aspects that are taxing. What goes out of the window are the counter balancers – the things that are soothing, the slow, the easy going, the nourishing. They're the things that build your resilience so remember to build them into your life.
4. Reach out to friends – research shows that those with higher levels of resilience also have a strong network of social support around them. It doesn’t matter if you’re an extrovert with tons of friends or an introvert with a select few, social support, distraction and the alternative perspectives that friends can give us is invaluable.
photo credit: Pink Sherbet Photography via photopin cc
5. Understand yourself – when you know what makes you tick a bit you can watch out for the signs that you’re overdoing it, under too much pressure or not feeling at your best. What’s more, you have some clues as to what you can do about it. This doesn’t have to take years of therapy to do. Find an online personality test like MBTI or Disc, or even better, get a qualified person to do an assessment with you. It will show you your stress points, needs to company, structure, flexibility and so much more. It will also help you to plan a course of action to maximise your strengths and manage your energy best.
6. Understand others – realise that not everyone is the same. In fact, we’re as different on the outside as we are on the inside. Lots of conflict (a major stresser for many of us) comes from assuming that we come at situations in the same way as one another. We don’t and being able to understand where someone else is coming from and what the worlds looks and sounds like from their point of view is an enormous help in alleviating conflict, getting along a lot better and making the world more like a Coke Ad from the 1970s.
7. Know what’s important to you – Values are what we would fight for, argue for or die for. Often we don’t consciously know what are values are until they’re breached – then we get the huge wave of indignation and anger. But knowing our values can really help us to make sure we know where to CHOOSE to place our time and attention. If you realise that money isn’t as important a value to you as family for example it’s easier to turn down the overtime to go to the football game or the park with the kids – and not feel guilty about it.
8. Have a store of easy to use de-stressers – no matter how good we are at keeping things balanced, life is always going to through stressful things at us. Having a mental store of things we can do to chill out easily is an essential tool kit for the modern world. Make a list of things you know you find relaxing – and then commit to doing a handful each week – more often when the going gets tough. Think of it like taking your vitamins – essential preventative measures for your mental health.
9. Know your hot spots – if you know that spending time with a big crowd of people is tiring for you, have an alternative planned. On the flipside if you know that having a weekend with nothing planned is going to leave you stir crazy by Sunday afternoon then have things planned in. Knowing yourself means you can take preventative and pre-emptive action to avert the meltdowns. To build your resilience you need to understand what builds you up and what drags you down - and live accordingly.
10. Reflect on your day – every day spend five minutes reflecting on what’s gone well and what things you would do differently next time. Come at it from a place of loving kindness towards yourself, remembering that there’s no failure only feedback. It’s as important to focus on the good stuff, the successes, the mini triumphs as it is the things you’d like to improve on. If you just focus on the mistakes and disappointments you’re heading for low self esteem, self hatred and feeling crappy.
11. Do something to help yourself grow every week – it doesn’t have to be anything major like learning to skydive (but if that’s what rocks your boat you go for it!) but just because we’re no longer in school doesn’t mean we stop learning. Learning is a great mental place to come at the world from. Doing something that stretches you a bit and works the grey matter helps to keep us alert and flexible. To build your resilience you need to keep your brain active and be open and adaptable to new situations.
12. Listen to some music – it feeds the soul – you know that. Even if it’s just in the car stuck in traffic. Stick the volume up loud and let it clean your soul. Music is a wonderful way to build your resilience and forget about your troubles.
13. Change your scene – doing the same thing every day leads to the same results. If you want to stay flexible mentally then mix it up a bit. Take a different route to work, shop at a different place, take the scenic route.
14. Do something physical – mind and body are connected. If you’re struggling with low mood then moving your body is a great way of changing this.
15. Eat well – there’s lots of evidence to connect food and mood. A few easy changes – cut down on refined carbs (white carbs, sugar, flour etc.), eat more protein and drink more water can pay huge dividends.
16. Get some sleep – researchers are starting to realize that lack of sleep is a western malaise which could lead to untold health side effects later on. Cut down on caffeine after 7pm, have a totally dark room and don’t take your phone/ipad/laptop to bed.
17. Remember the good times – our memories often reflect and reinforce our current mood. If we’re having a hard time then we tend to remember other times when things have been bad, and notice and store more examples/evidence of how it’s still going badly. Choose instead to consciously remember the good times – both recent and more distant. It helps to retrain your focus to notice the good around you now and helps change your perspective from a place of ‘everything goes wrong’ to ‘this is a passing phase and will get better.'
18. Learn to relax – relaxation is a skill many of us have forgotten. Learn some simple relaxation techniques – they will help you to build your resilience immeasurably.
19. Laugh – laughter does all kinds of wonderful things to us physically and emotionally. Do it often.
20. Notice what’s solid – when we’re feeling under resilient It’s often down to experiencing change. When this happens it can feel like everything is changing – but often it’s just a few key areas. To help you through the transition, refocus on those things that are staying the same e.g. if you’re changing jobs or moving house, focus on what’s still solid and constant – your family, your name, your skills, you values, your love – these things don’t change. They are you touch stones and can act life a life raft in turbulent times. To build your resilience focus on what's constant and not changing.
21. Breathe - Sometimes if all else fails, it's the only thing you have to do. Breath deep and slow. focus on it. Be thankful for it. Focus in until it's all your can see, feel and hear.
Above all else, remember that like any muscle, resilience needs to be practised, stretched and worked on consistently. Don't save these techniques only for when you're in the grip of a crisis. Use them regularly, make them part of your life. Prioritize them like you would exercise or eating well. Think of them as a preventative measure. They won't stop the stuff that life inevitably throws at you but they will help you to remain stronger, more flexible and be able to bounce back much quicker than before. If you want to build your resilience you need to make it - and yourself, a priority.