Resiliency is what makes some people able to bounce back after a particularly traumatic or difficult time or stressor in one’s life, while others fall apart. It is a component of positive psychology, in that researchers try and figure out what makes resilient people different than others. And then seeks to help others learn some simple skills that may be able to help build resiliency in one’s own life.
There are no secret short-cuts to building greater resilience in your life. Most skills you can learn to help build resiliency are things that are going to take lots of time and lots of practice.
Practice is one of the things people often forget when it comes to changing one’s behavior or one’s life. You didn’t become this way overnight. It took years — and in some cases, decades — for you to learn to be the way you are today. Therefore it’s naturally going to take some time — usually months, at least — in order for you to change things about yourself. This includes building resiliency.
Here are five steps to help you get started on building more resiliency in your life.
1. Resiliency Means Accepting that All Things are Temporary
Sometimes we get stuck in our lives because we believe something is “forever.” We set ourselves up for this failure by telling ourselves that just because something has always been, it always will be. I think the death of our first parent is often our first wake-up call that things change in life. Nothing is forever.
It helps to put such change into perspective at times that change occurs, and remember that change is a natural progression of life. It doesn’t mean you should give up hope — hope is an important ingredient for our future — but it does mean you have to find a way to accept the inevitability of life’s natural rhythm. Fighting against it leads to hopelessness and feelings of frustration — two things that will make you less resilient, not more so.
2. Self-Aware People are Resilient People
If you approach some task and experience good outcomes time and time again, you begin to see yourself as effective — you get things done. You begin to understand better your own strengths and weaknesses, so when an especially difficult task challenges you, or an unexpected tragedy occurs in your life, you have a greater ability to put it into perspective. As Christy Matta, MA notes in her blog entry about resilience:
If they experience a failure, their confidence in their abilities motivates them to continue to try until they succeed. Very often they do succeed and over a lifetime become proficient in many areas.
On the other hand, doubt in oneself often leads to resignation after unsuccessful first efforts. Those who view themselves as competent and capable also often experience initial failure. The difference is that they maintain a commitment to their goal, even in the face of obstacles. A sense of competence produces continual effort, while feelings of incapability lead to capitulation.
Learn to become more self-aware and self-confident. This doesn’t mean you become a Super Person who can do anything, any time. It simply means you know what you’re good at — what you can do — and so temporary setbacks don’t turn your world upside down. It means building a positive but realistic view of yourself over time.
3. (Some) Adversity Helps You
Coping with a moderate amount of adverse events in one’s life — for instance, the death of a parent or a divorce — may be good for you. Research shows that people who have gone through some such events experience less impairment and distress than someone who’s gone through no adverse events, or someone who’s been through very traumatic events. Don’t hide from adversity — embrace it, in moderation. It will help you hone your coping skills further and better prepare you for the next event.
Adversity not only helps us build our coping skills, it also helps us put things into perspective. A person who hasn’t experienced any adversity in their life is going to have an especially hard time when the first event hits them, especially if it’s not until later in adulthood.
4. Our Social Relationships Bolster Us
Listening — really listening (sometimes called “active listening”) — to others is not only a valuable life skill to learn, it also will make you a more resilient person. Reaching out to others (see below) also helps build your resiliency during tough problem-solving phases in your life.
A good social network is a key component to helping to make you more resilient. Whether its through a group of friends, people from church, a group of people you know only from online or Facebook, or your family, being able to maintain some close relationships with other people helps a person build resilience.
5. Goal Setting and Understanding Your Problems is Important
Resilient people most often have goals — goals in their lives, their careers, their relationships, in practically everything they do. While nobody goes into a relationship expecting it to fail, someone with more resilience not only expects it to succeed, but for both them and their partner’s to grow — intellectually, emotionally, personally — while together. Goals help you move from the “Wouldn’t it be nice…” stage of thinking about something to making it more concrete and achievable.
Virtually all problems have solutions. Even if we don’t understand or see them at first, most problems in our lives can be solved. The resilient person accepts that, and thinks creatively (“outside of the box”) about some solutions that may not be obvious at first. They ask their friends, tap their social networks, and Google until midnight to look for something that may have not been obvious at first. Giving up is easy and simple to do. Working at something takes energy, motivation and effort. But in the end, working at something will also make you a more resilient person.
Pregnancy and Childhood are Key Times for Resiliency
Giving your child a head start in this world starts during your pregnancy, as resiliency begins in the womb. A healthy mother helps improve the chances of a healthy baby. A healthy baby gets a leg up if they’re faced with fewer stresses both in the womb, and in the first few years of life. For instance, a child that faces hardships or is mistreated is likely to be less resilient in later life.
While this may not help you directly, it can do a lot to help your children or your future kids. Make sure they grow up in a stress-free (as much as that’s possible) environment, starting from pregnancy on.
It also doesn’t mean that just because you may have had a traumatic childhood that you can’t overcome that challenge. Learning a new skill means being able to overcome such difficulties, to become something more than what you were. You can do it, no matter what your background or upbringing — all you need to do is to work at it, and practice, practice, practice!