5 Ways to Build Resilience in your Life.

This article is all about resilience, which to some degree determines whether someone can flex and bounce back from adversity whilst others may buckle and break.

I am sure you will agree that in life we are all exposed to stress and adversity at some time, and this can come in the shape of health, financial, family, relationship issues, problems in the workplace, and your ability to cope with this stress and adapt and succeed during these times of stress and adversity is dependent on your resilience.

In the dictionary the word resilience is simply defined ‘as the ability of an object to spring back’, in psychology resilience refers to a type of mental or physical toughness that gives an individual the capacity to recover quickly from difficulty.

‘Shit happens’ and when it does some of us bounce back, some of us falter, but sometimes setbacks and adversity can effect us in such a negative way that our confidence gets shot and we are never the same again.

Having resilience means that we are more likely to bounce back, that we are more likely to positively adapt to stress, and that we are more likely to continue to strive, to ‘keep calm and carry on’ whilst others fall away.

As a doctor, I’ve seen people who are sick really sick, that are balanced between life and death where all takes to make the difference is maybe just a few extra nauseous mouthfuls of food, that could replenish depleted energy and reserves, giving strength to mobilise or even just to cough that could be the decider between immobility, thrombosis, and pneumonia or recovery and a return to health and there’s no better than this how resilience can make a real difference objectively in the real world.

So what do we need to do to build resilience? to raise what some people call our RQ (resilience quotient) and to give us fortitude in the face of adversity. In my research on the topic I’ve read novels, textbooks, positive psychology papers and I’ve seen real people in real situations either succeed or fail and in regards to resilience this is what I’ve found.

Less Stiff Upper Lip more Mindfulness.

I can fully understand the concept of a ‘stiff upper lip’ and of displaying self control in the face of adversity, this may well be a historical British virtue yet today self control is still seen as one of the most important attributes of resilience, to really get an old fashioned Victorian feel for this concept I suggest you follow the links below and read the following two pieces of literature; If by Kipling and Invictus, by Kipling and Henley.

However a stiff upper lip and external self control is only the first step, to really make a difference in your life you also need to learn how to reduce stress, anxiety and worry on the inside too, and to gain focus internally too. One way this could be done is to practice ‘Mindfulness’, this is the modern term for what amounts to a meditative process that helps your mind spend more time in the present (rather than in regrets of the past or other worries of its own creation). Mindfulness can help you become more focused, calmer and you are able to switch off the stress in your brain and insulate yourself from the noise of the outside world, with regular practice you will become much more resilient and calmer in a crisis.

For more information on mindfulness and how to start practising on a daily basis one of the the best places to start is to visiting the Headspace website to help you with your internal control.

Meaning and Purpose.

In ‘Man’s Search for Meaning’ a book written in 1946 by Viktor Frankl he chronicled his experiences as a survivor of Auschwitz concentration camp during World War II, he commented that those that survived had ‘purpose’ and this gave them an inner strength and a glimmer of light in even the darkest of hours, he quotes Nietzsche to make this point,

‘He who has a why to live for, can bear with almost any how’. – Nietzsche.

Life has ups and downs, but with a sense of purpose you keep going despite the bumps along your journey, with purpose you also get resilience, grit and determination which keep you going whilst others may fail. So maybe its’s time to try and figure our what drives you and what your purpose in life really is because as JFK quotes regarding this fact.

‘Efforts and courage are not enough without purpose and direction’. – JFK

Confront your reality, and have faith.

Some people fight their reality wasting time and effort trying to change what they cannot, some fail to take action, some have false optimism, though those that prevail accept their reality and have faith in themselves.

For more insight into this read you should read Jim Collins’ book ‘Good to Great’ where he quotes Admiral Jim Stockdale who was a US officer held captive for eight years during the Vietnam War, when he asks him ‘Who didn’t make it out of the camps?’ Stockdale replies;

“They were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again, and they died of a broken heart.”
“I never doubted not only that I would get out, but also that I would prevail in the end and turn the experience into the defining event of my life, which, in retrospect, I would not trade.”

Taking Action.

Another recognised trait of resilient people is that they are proactive, they take action, they ‘drive the bus’ rather than being just a passenger on it, they take small positive steps every day to get through adversity, this is epitomised by an old quote from Winston Churchill

‘if you’re going through hell keep going’. – Winston Churchill.

A great resource would be to read Stephen Covey’s Seven Habits, as it happens the first habit in this best selling personal development book (that has sold more than 15 million copies) is to ‘be proactive’. i.e. in plain English do something about it!

To be resilient you need to do what you need to do to make things better, and you need to keep doing this until things get better, and to quote very poorly from the last lines of Invictus (mentioned previously) ‘be the master of your fate, and the captain of your soul’.

Growth Mindset.

A Growth Mindset is a concept made popular by Stanford’s Professor of positive psychology Carol Dweck in her book Mindset: The New Psychology Of Success, she discusses the importance of failure as a learning process, that success only comes by embracing adversity, by learning from criticism and that challenge and experience is the key to mastery in life.

The good thing is that a Growth Mindet can be learned and with it you can build resilience to help you strive (not hide) when confronted by problems, with a growth mindset you can adapt, you can be more resourceful, and only then do you start to see failure as a learning point and even a springboard to future success.

Whilst some people feel threatened by the success of others instead with a growth mindset you feel inspired to achieve more than you had ever thought possible. True resilience comes from being driven to solve problems and to adapt to your situation, with growth you build resources and you gain experience even if at times experience can be one of life’s most brutal teachers.

In Summary.

I think resilience is epitomised by the old Zen quotation ‘fall down 7 get up 8’.

Yet resilience is not just about falling down and stubbornly getting back up again, instead resilience is also about having a purpose and a plan, it’s about not being the victim and being defined by adversity itself, instead resilience is about being able to learn, grow and move on.

“At the heart of resilience is a belief in oneself—yet also a belief in something larger than oneself. Resilient people do not let adversity define them. They find resilience by moving towards a goal beyond themselves, transcending pain and grief by perceiving bad times as a temporary state of affairs.” – Hara Estroff Marano, Psychology Today 2003.

So learn from failure, smile at adversity, wink at uncertainty and persevere with grit, passion and meaning towards a long term goals,

Final thoughts.

I have the pleasure to meet people every day who show true resilience, but with my life coaching head on I also see people who fail to respond in a positive way to adversity, they fail to grow, they are fixed in their mindset, they have lost their purpose, they despise the success of others and they are resistant to take action to improve their own situation.

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