The differences among us lie not only in the shape hardship takes but also in how we respond to it. Do you find yourself weighed down by your seemingly unlucky lot in life? Or do you embrace the struggle?
Resilience is the ability to cope with adversity and to use challenges to forge strength and prosperity. Having resilience does not mean that you don’t struggle, make mistakes, or need to ask for help. Resilient people keep plugging along even when the situation becomes ugly or exhausting. They learn from their mishaps and misfortunes, and they rely on others with confidence and trust.
Even when tragedy strikes, growth is possible. The positive changes that result from a traumatic experience are called post-traumatic growth. These changes can include a deeper appreciation for life, a bolstered sense of one’s own capabilities, and stronger connections to others.
Whether the struggles you face are traumas or everyday setbacks, being resilient will help you gain greater control over your own path and cultivate positive change. These four strategies can build your resilience reserves.
Reframe Your Interpretations
Resilient people find a way to explain their situations in a more positive light while still accepting reality. Imagine a news broadcast interviewing victims of a natural disaster a year later. Some brood: “We’ll never get our lives back.” Others find the silver lining: “This was the worst thing that’s ever happened to me, but this community has come together and shown its strength in so many unbelievable ways.”
We have the ability to decide how we’re going to interpret the adversities we face.
When we work to find an appreciation for what we've gained as we persevere, we develop a more grateful approach to living. The hardship that scars us also grants us wisdom.
Identify What You Can Control
Optimists are among the most resilient of us, and they succeed by virtue of focusing their attention on how they can make their situations better. When faced with a challenge, pessimistic thinkers are more likely to be blind to opportunities to enact positive changes. In short, they adopt a victim mentality.
Optimists maintain a more accurate view of the control they do have. Consider Admiral James Stockdale’s trials as a prisoner of war in Vietnam. The Stockdale Paradox, a term coined by author Jim Collins, is the recipe for resilience that combines a harsh and objective assessment of reality (“Being a prisoner of war is awful”) with confidence and faith that drive hope (“This will get better and I can make it better”). Despite being stuck in solitary confinement, Stockdale and his fellow prisoners developed a system of tapping to communicate with one another. Once they could communicate, they could support each other.1
Realistic optimism identifies points of control—in this case, the ability to communicate—and takes advantage of them. Resilience is the act of taking a step forward despite dire circumstances. When we look critically for something we can control, we lay out the path for ourselves.
When you feel stuck or bogged down in adversity, find one thing you have control over and take action on it.
There are many images in our culture of the self-reliant, lone hero whose personal willpower provides enough strength to withstand any obstacle.
But while personal strength matters a lot, it is ultimately a sense of community that enables true resilience. Studies of children undergoing significant hardship find that kids who have one adult in their lives who provide stability and support are much more likely to do well than kids who don’t. The ability to relate and process one’s struggles in the context of a safe relationship buffer against many of the potential negative effects of childhood trauma.2
And relationship benefits extend to adults. Consider Stockdale and his fellow prisoners. Their communication system fostered a "we're in this together" mindset.1 Knowing that there’s someone else out there who cares is invaluable when we’re facing a hardship.
Tending to your most important relationships when times are good builds the trust and intimacy that will help those relationships stay strong when adversity hits.
Embrace Challenge and Failure
Failure is hard for many of us to take. We’d rather step back from a challenging situation than risk making a fool of ourselves. But when we adopt the perspective that challenge can strengthen us, and that we can learn from both successes and failures, we’re exercising our resilience muscles.
This is not to say that we should seek adversity. But finding small, manageable ways to challenge yourself builds confidence. Take that class you’ve been interested in. Make that phone call you’ve been avoiding. Push your limits little by little and adopt a view of exploration and curiosity. Whether you soar or crash and burn, you’re gaining knowledge and insight.
Identifying with the process of trying, rather than outcomes, is a resilience-building approach to life.
Everyone has varying levels of resilience, but it is a skill you can work to build. Put in the effort to develop it before you encounter hardship, and you'll be able to meet challenges and learn from them.
Looking to push your limits a little? Get involved in this website. Let’s start with a little discussion about the article.
I know a few of you are dealing with a lot of stressors right now, although the Corona Virus is top of everyone’s mind. When dealing with adversity, the following questions might help you gain perspective.
1. Have I experienced anything like this before? If yes, how did I deal with it?
2. Is this event going to change my life in such a way that a “new normal” will emerge?
3. Is it possible that this event might change my life for the better or might open new doors for me?
4. Will I be dealing with this problem a year from now?
5. Do I know anyone who has been through this who can help?
6. What aspects of the adversity can I directly control, influence or leverage?
7. What positive emotions can I use to make things better?
Send me an email and let me know how you're trying to stay positive.