Imagine having the power to bend, but not break — to tip over, and not stay down. Learning how to build resilience will help you gain this power.
We can’t always control what happens around us. As I write this, the world is experiencing a pandemic, a financial meltdown, and levels of uncertainty most of us have never seen. On top of that, an earthquake registering 5.7 rattled my home town this week.
The setbacks we are facing today may take months or years to recover from.
So, the question becomes, how can we cope and recover in the midst of unforeseen challenges and sudden change?
Building resiliency is a good place to start.
What is resilience?
According to psychologists, resilience is the ability to successfully adapt to difficult life experiences. With mental, emotional, and behavioral flexibility, resilient people can adjust more easily to changing demands.
The research on resilience in children shows that a number of positive influences can “stack the scale” in favor of overcoming adversity. When these factors are present in a child’s life, they counteract the negative effects of stress:
- Supportive relationships
- A sense of self-efficacy and perceived control
- Adaptive skills and self-regulation
- Sources of faith, hope, and cultural tradition
These same factors can also help adults become more resilient, at any age. This article is going to provide some ways to build and practice these protective factors, so you can optimize resilience in all areas of life.
How can becoming more resilient help?
Resilience can’t solve all your problems or make a challenging situation disappear. But it can help immensely during times of change and uncertainty — no matter what is causing the setback.
Life can change overnight with unexpected events like job loss, serious illness, losing a loved one, or ending a relationship. It can be hard to figure out how to get back on track when something major like this happens.
With a resilient spirit, mind, and body, you can experience painful situations and heal much faster.
Other times, we seek out a change to improve our lives. In attempting to find a sense of purpose, we may undertake major shifts that feel very destabilizing.
Whether you are considering a new career, making a big move, or going through a personal transformation, you are facing uncertainty. Resilience helps you get through the dark night of the soul that is bound to be part of that journey.
From a coaching perspective, when people are knee-deep in a growth process, that is precisely when resilience is needed. My coaching practice focuses on shoring up and strengthening resilience not just to help people cope with the unexpected — but to help them succeed and thrive as they build the life they want.
The 4 pillars of building resilience
The process of building resilience begins with fostering a strong personal foundation, and there are four constructs I use to do it.
A strong foundation: Knowing your core personal values
The first pillar to focus on when building resilience is a personal alignment system. You could also call it a personal code of conduct, based on your core values and beliefs.
When an individual is true to their core value system and can align their thoughts, words, and actions, they develop a line of sanity, stability, and resilience that’s titanium tough.
Often when everything goes wrong, we have to make tough decisions on how best to move forward. For example, in a financial crisis, you may have to choose whether to stay in your home or move to a more affordable city. You may wonder whether you should drop your plans to launch a new business and focus on keeping a secure job.
Without knowing your core values, it’s difficult to know which choice will ultimately lead you towards the happiest version of your life. If you have a rock-solid grip on your core values, these decisions become much less fraught.
In the examples above, here’s how a personal value system would help:
If freedom and risk-taking are high on your list of values, you would work to find a compromise that enables you to keep a safety net while you move forward with the business idea.
If community and family are high on your list of values, those factors would be the most important in choosing where to live.
Being able to navigate confidently through decisions, big and small, contributes to an overall sense of self-efficacy. Instead of feeling helpless when change is forced upon you, simply remind yourself of what’s most important.
Personal power: Building on your strengths
Resiliency requires the strength to endure hardships without breaking and to take action, solving problems as they arise.
One way to feel strong and in control of your life is to recognize and use your innate set of core strengths. When you are working in domains where you are naturally strong, you will always feel more effective and authentic.
Everyone has some areas where they feel in control, where things feel effortless. And on the other hand, we all have areas where we struggle, hesitate, and feel inferior.
Your sense of power is linked to how much time and effort you invest in your strongest areas. And conversely, if you are hammering away in areas you are not wired for, your confidence and self-worth will suffer. Feeling ineffectual, you may begin to think you are not wired for success.
Your strengths will never leave you feeling weak. Your weaknesses will never be turned into strengths. And, when one creates a life around their strengths, they greatly increase their ability to bend but not break.
Focus: Learning to prioritize long-term goals and immediate actions
Being overwhelmed in the endless wave of responsibilities, tasks, and details bombarding us daily can exhaust resilience. You don’t have to live in “overwhelm” if you manage your focus.
At SoulSalt, we help people learn how to prioritize — doing only what matters most to link what is true and what they’re good at. Eliminating all the other stuff means you aren’t trying to manage too much, and you can remain flexible yet keenly clear and focused.
During any period of change, focus is what keeps you moving forward. Despite the fear and doubt that are inevitably part of a transformation, focusing on the steps you need to take each day keeps you grounded.
This kind of focus is a huge advantage in times of crisis. It enables you to manage your energy and time, and to refocus your life around your immediate priorities. There are always actions you can take to help weather the storm and to rebuild after things fall apart. Focussing on those, instead of flailing in all directions, will help you bounce back stronger than ever.
Wellness: Physical and mental health practices
Finally, a strong personal foundation can’t be built without paying attention to your physical body — and that includes your brain. Practicing self-regulating and coping techniques to stay healthy are fundamental to resilience.
You can go without food and water for longer than you can air, so we start with balanced breathing.
Long term stress takes a huge toll on both physical wellness and mental health. It’s a toxic state to live in. When the stress response in the body is triggered day in and day out, as in times of crisis, having the skills to calm your nervous system helps you stay healthy.
Practicing breathing techniques is one of the most accessible ways to counteract stress. Start with that, and work to add the other building blocks of a healthy and resilient body. These include:
- Physical activity: Get outside, go for a walk, or dance around your house. Exercise releases feel-good chemicals in the body that can help you get back into a positive state of mind.
- Sleep: Getting enough sleep is a basic building block of health. Don’t neglect it, even when you are busy managing a stressful situation. You will be better able to cope and problem-solve if you are well-rested.
- Nutrition: Avoiding the negative effects of poor nutrition and lack of hydration is key to maintaining a healthy body. Not just for long term health, but to keep your energy stable and avoid sugar crashes as you navigate daily life in times of stress.
And finally, an often overlooked contributor to mental and physical health is social contact — both individual relationships and communities built around friends, family, faith, or those who share our passions.
Humans are social creatures and we need other people to stay healthy and resilient. Conversational Intelligence® research shows us that positive interactions reduce stress, while boosting creativity and problem-solving ability.
So make time to connect with friends, family, and mentors, especially when you are going through challenging times. If you are isolated at home due to circumstances beyond your control, use technology to keep conversations going.
We are more resilient together.
Replenish your stockpile of resilience
At the end of the day, our stockpile of resilience is very much like a muscle. After it’s used, it loses a certain amount of strength. It gets fatigued and eventually becomes ineffectual–at least in the short-term.
However, when allowed to rest, recover, and be grown — by being true, being strong, being focused, and being well — resilience can be a constant support and source of soulful strength.