Learning to Become Resilient: Part Two

[This is the first part of a two-part series where we’ll walk readers through the different qualities of resilience]

 

Last month we talked about resilience – what it is and how the stuff works. While many people are apt to believe that resilience is a trait, something unquantifiable and inherent, the truth is psychological resilience is a skill you can acquire, hone, and keep.

So what are the nitty-gritty steps to becoming resilient? We pulled some research and talked to Penn State’s Positive Psychology Center and found that there are three main categories of skills that, if fostered, can help us build and maintain resilience:

  1. Learn to support mental and emotional well-being

  2. Understand and cultivate your strengths

  3. Work on building strong relationships

Learn to support mental and emotional well-being

There are a number of different schools of thought on what we can do to improve our emotional and psychological well-being, but most of what they teach at the Positive Psychology Center comes from cognitive-behavioral therapy, or CBT. The main function of CBT is to help patients become aware of negative or inaccurate thinking patterns.

If, for example, you find yourself prone to berate yourself internally whenever you’ve made a mistake – you’re participating in negative self-talk. Things like negative self-talk reflect a thinking or coping strategy that, in turn, creates a negative feedback loop. You think what you did is dumb. In fact, you’re dumb. What an idiot, always doing stupid things. You’ll never be good at doing blank. And so on and so forth. These negative thoughts create a negative pattern of thinking that, in turn, colors the way we look at and interact with then entire world.

Over time, this creates specific ways of thinking that can increase anxiety, depression, and pessimism.

Instead, we need to learn to hone skills that encourage positive thinking. The next time you find yourself in a stressful situation, try practicing the following:

  1. Engage in more compassionate, positive self-talk when dealing with difficult situations.

  2. Instead of feeling overwhelmed and pessimistic, learn to stay optimistic by focusing on the things you can control, and taking purposeful action.

  3. Practice breathing. That’s right – breathing. When we are scared, frightened, or upset we tend to start taking short, rapid breathes that don’t help our brains stay fully oxygenated. By contrast, deep, controlled breaths help us stay calm, sharp, and focused. Take time to rest and relax. If you’ve had a rough day, don’t sit around and constantly dwell. Instead, take some time to participate in activities that engender good feelings. Contemplate all the things or people you’re grateful for, take a nap, go to a spa, take a long walk, or simply spend quality time with the people you love.

  4. Create and cultivate a gratitude practice.

  5. Learn what internal beliefs or experiences fuel your responses. That way, you can be more actively prepared when facing situations that may trigger strong emotional reactions.

So, the next time you find yourself feeling stressed by a situation, don’t panic. Think about what has triggered these feelings, identify pessimistic patterns of thinking, focus on what you can control, take deep breaths, and make a solid plan. If you aren’t in a place yet where you can do those things, take some time to practice a little self-care. Once you’re refreshed, you’ll be better able to handle things.

 

Understand and cultivate our strengths

Another aspect of cultivating resilience is learning to identify, cultivate, and leverage strengths. This means figuring out not only the areas where we stand out, but where others excel, as well. That way, we’ll be better prepared to handle certain challenges – and life is always full of challenges.

Think of it like this: if you were playing an RPG (role playing game), would you want to load up your bench with nothing but healers? No. If you were playing football, you wouldn’t want a team that was only great at offense and had no skill with defense? No.

Life works the same way.

When we know who we are and what we’re good at, we know what tools we have at our disposal to help handle a situation – and which ones we don’t. When we’re honest about what we’re good at, we can figure out where our blind spots are, and leverage those around us who has the strengths we lack. Not great at cold calls? That’s okay – maybe chatting with strangers is something your teammate is good at.

Or, use these moments as an opportunity to learn. Just because something isn’t a strength now doesn’t mean it can’t be. Take a class on writing, practice public speaking, or learn a new language. The point is to be smart about what we can and can’t do, what we want to learn to do, and how we can create smart action plans that play to those strengths.

 

Work on building strong relationships

The sentiment has been uttered over the millennia in a number of ways, but the idea boils down to this: no one succeeds alone. No matter what kind of lone wolf we might imagine we are, the reality is that humans are social creatures, and we need one another. When it comes to being resilient, making sure we have a support network is key.

Not only does it give us a set of people to fall back on if need be, but having close relationships also enrich our lives and help us create meaning. And creating meaningful lives despite our circumstances is an integral part of resilience.

From our business to our personal lives, what we need to focus on is creating high quality connections. That is to say, relationships that encourage engagement, rely on trust, and are filled with mutual respect. That way, even when the going gets tough, we have people we know will be there for us.

Moreover, having close connections with others allows us to experience joy beyond our own successes and lives. We might be having a bad day, for instance, but our friend got that promotion at work. And that’s a momentous occasion!

Relationships are work, but they’re fulfilling work. And when our relationships give our lives depth and meaning, we aren’t putting the entirety of our purpose into work. In turn, that allows us to have fulfillment that goes beyond the scope of ourselves and our professional role.

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These types of skills don’t need to be used just when the going gets tough – they’re wonderful skills we can cultivate that will enrich our lives every day. In fact, think of them like a muscle. The more we reach for these skills, the better they become. That way, when things get hard, we have a full set of resilience muscles ready to flex!

 

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