Only a handful of years ago, I didn’t really even know what resilience was. It wasn’t until I studied the concept during my master’s program that I realized that it can be taught and applied to many areas of life.
In the last five years alone, my resilience practice has helped me to fully recover from the many difficulties I’ve been through. I’ve also been fortunate to help teach resilience skills to thousands of other busy professionals, and I believe this work is my calling.
There are two key aspects to RESILIENCE:
The first is durability or hardiness – effectively managing life’s everyday stressors and challenges, such as running out of a meeting at the last minute to pick up your child from daycare or surviving the long lines at the airport without flipping out.
The second is bouncing back – the capacity to effectively recover and grow from big life adversities, like death or divorce. It’s just as critical to develop resilience for life’s every day hassles.
Your resilience muscles get built when you focus on specific skills in the following three categories:
1. THINK DIFFERENTLY
In order to develop resilience, you have to understand how you think about adversity, stress, and challenging situations. In short, when something goes wrong (anything from a flat tire to something far more serious), people with a more pessimistic way of explaining those events think, “This will be around forever, it will impact multiple areas of my life, and it’s all my fault.”
Research has shown that consistent pessimistic explanations are associated with an increased likelihood of depression, anxiety, hopelessness and helplessness. Your “inner critic” also drives other counterproductive thinking styles like catastrophizing, having a fixed mindset, perfectionism, and other thinking traps.
The good news is that you can learn how to turn your inner critic into your inner coach and get your thinking working for you in a more productive way.
When you are stuck thinking in a counterproductive way, ask yourself one of these questions to help you reframe your thinking:
How will I feel about this a year from now? Where do I have a measure of control, influence or leverage in this situation? What would I tell my friend/partner/child if he or she was in the same situation? What impact is this thinking having in my life?
2. CONNECT MORE
Developing high-quality relationships is critical to a happy, healthy and resilient life. High-quality relationships provide four key benefits: they are empowering, they provide a sense of trust, you can be your authentic self, and they are built on respect.
It’s also important to be aware of who you surround yourself with as your connections directly influence your happiness. Don’t forget that social networks have clusters of happy and unhappy people within them. Each additional happy friend increases a person’s probability of being happy by about 9%.
Research being done in the field of neuroscience also shows that emotions are contagious. “Mirror neurons” in our brains literally catch another person’s mood, much like catching a cold.
3. STAY INSPIRED
Meaning is closely linked with intrinsic motivation, and studies show that not all goals and aspirations are equally beneficial for psychological health and happiness.
In one such study, researchers compared adults who chose life goals with extrinsic aspirations (based on money, fame and image) with adults who chose life goals with intrinsic aspirations (personal growth, close relationships, community involvement, and physical health).
The adults with intrinsically motivated goals reported higher levels of life satisfaction and well-being and lower levels of anxiety and depression upon goal attainment. The adults with extrinsically motivated goals reported higher levels of anxiety and depression upon goal completion. They thought achieving these “profit” based goals would make them happier, and in the end, it didn’t.
At work, meaning is increased when employees connect to their “end user.” Organizations or people who place enough emphasis on “end user” connection see some amazing results. One can give examples of nurses, doctors, scholarship awarders, and product designers, who perform their tasks much more efficiently and joyfully once they meet the people they are trying to help.
Meaning matters in other ways as well. People who believe that their lives have meaning and purpose share a whole host of healthy benefits: they are happier, feel more in control over their lives, feel more engaged at work, report less depression and anxiety, and less workaholism.
Create a bigger-than-self goal. A bigger-than-self goal is less about the objective goals you have like working a set number of hours; rather, it’s more about how you see yourself within your community. Ask yourself what is it that you want to contribute and how do you want to make an impact.
When people are connected to bigger-than-self goals, they are more hopeful, curious, grateful and inspired. Not surprisingly, they also show greater well-being and satisfaction with their lives.
Stress and adversity is a consistent theme of life. Simple tools will help you become more resilient to both the small and large adversities life throws your way.