Have you ever wondered why some people can cope with large amounts of stress and pressure and others get overwhelmed and lose their confidence?
It all depends on how resilient we are in life. Resilience is not just a general term or word you can find in a dictionary. It’s a set of skills you can practice and improve. You are not born with a set level of resilience. There are many ways to increase it and in this article, I will give you an insight into what these skills are. I am going to focus on the 7 most important aspects. If that sounds like a lot, bear with me. You might find that they are easier to put in practice than you think! If you experience a lot of anxiety or low self-worth, be gentle with yourself, perhaps with the support of psychologist or counsellor practising these skills will become your second nature.
Moreover, we need to be aware of how much external stress do we take on ourselves or whether we accept unrealistic expectations defined by the rest of society. Without knowing the difference even the most resilient person could take more stress than they are able to handle. In this case, it all comes down to the beliefs we hold about ourselves, the need to please others or be reassured about our worth and lack of personal boundaries. It’s another broad topic that I am planning to address in the near future.
“The wind does not break a tree that bends” – Sukuma proverb
‘Improving your resilience level’ might be a bit vague and an overwhelming concept. Here I am going to break it down into 7 most important skills that will benefit your ability to handle stressful situations. Practising these skills will help you become more resilient in life:
1. The acceptance of, perhaps the not so obvious fact that ‘the only constant in life is change’.
Change can be negative or positive, at times even tragic and very often unpredictable. Life isn’t always sunshine and roses, we can easily assume that we will experience at some point rejection, loss or maybe something that we were working towards, just doesn’t work out. No one is free from these human experiences, so instead of dreading or avoiding it, prepare yourself to work through the process that comes with the change and do whatever is necessary to learn and grow. It might sound harsh but it’s still possible to stay hopeful. From this perspective, your positive attitude will be more realistic, in contrast to a Pollyanna style mindset (as much as I love the positivity bias, it’s nor healthy nor possible to apply it 24/7). There is a big likelihood to experience positive as negative in life. Just because it might be unpredictable or not as we planned, doesn’t mean that we should always expect the worst – that is called catastrophising and it’s unrealistic too!
Some say that we grow and become wiser through suffering, others that suffering can crush you or make you stronger. The outcome might not be as extreme, but can you see that there is more than one option, thus more than one choice of reaction?
When I work with clients who experienced loss – whether it’s caused by death or relationship breakup – I witness a transformation. Grief is a process and people go through shock, disbelief, depression, anger towards taking more rational perspective and peaceful acceptance. It’s painful but a beautiful process, it’s like watching a phoenix rising from the ashes, revealing it’s true potential. My heart beams every time I hear: “That was a difficult experience but perhaps I needed this in my life to learn and grow”.
2. The ability to challenge yourself.
Practice being in situations that make you uncomfortable, it can help increase your general resilience levels. Train stepping out of your comfort zone in every aspect of your life – learning a new skill, setting challenges in sport or study, visiting new places, meeting new people, trying new things… What else can you think of? If trying new things causes you a lot of anxiety, start with small things that are not too overpowering and work your way up. Throwing yourself in at the deep end could be too overwhelming.
If you are stuck in one place, without exposure to anything new, then you don’t learn. Through new experiences, you discover and validate elements of yourself. It’s crucial for our development to know we can trust and rely on ourselves and that we always do our best.
Another benefit we gain through taking on challenges is growing in courage. Once we are on the other side of the challenge we know it wasn’t as bad or hard as we thought, we know we can do it and we know it’s worth it. As a result, next time we are braver.
The moment we stop challenging ourselves is the moment we stop growing.
3. The ability to control your inner critic.
We all have this voice in our head, the voice of discouragement and self-doubt. The key isn’t not to have one, but to be able to control it. Apart from having this voice we’ve got many other different voices we developed through our life, one of these voices is our inner support. By observing yourself you can change the balance, you can give more importance to the voice of support. Bear in mind that if you’ve been conditioned to believe only negative opinions about yourself, you might require more in-depth work before you will be able to acknowledge this rational voice.
Remember – where your attention goes, the energy flows. Where do you want to invest your attention?
4. The ability to self-regulate.
That means to manage disruptive emotions or impulses that lead to avoidance and instant gratification. It’s the ability to recognise what is happening, what we are experiencing in our body, what do we feel and think. Recognising it and taking steps necessary to regain internal balance and control over uncomfortable feelings (preferably before become too overwhelming). Emotional self-regulation is related to becoming aware of your thinking patterns (eg. a tendency to overgeneralise, catastrophise or jump to conclusions) and altering your thoughts (knowing as ‘cognitive reframing’), shifting them into realistic and rational perspective. Engaging in calming activities like grounding exercises or focusing on breathing slowly, will result in releasing discomfort.
With poor self-regulation skills, you will have trouble handling stress, frustration or fear.
5. The ability to distinguish constructive feedback from criticism and let go of the latter.
Drawing the line between constructive feedback and harsh, unjust criticism is crucial for our wellbeing and self-esteem. Just because other people say something about you, it doesn’t necessarily mean that it’s true. Filter every opinion that comes to your direction and assess for yourself what do you want to do about that!
6. The ability to observe and choose your thoughts.
The most fundamental skill is the ability to recognise that everyone has a choice of how they will react in a given situation. You can’t always influence your external environment but you can work on your attitude, on extending this space between a trigger and reaction. Becoming more effective in choosing your response will allow you to take control over your attitude when facing unexpected stressful events.
In most cases, this choice starts with your thoughts and your beliefs about the situation.
7. Do not take no for a definite answer.
Perceiving adversity as a temporary state, something that is going to pass will increase your resilience. It might be just a temporary delay, perhaps you have to work on or improve something, learn more until you or your project is ready. When you take no as a definite answer you block your growth, you hold yourself back from understanding more in order to find solutions and other ways to achieve your goals. There can be so many reasons under “no” and it may simply mean: not at the moment, you are not ready yet or there are some other aspects that need to be addressed first. Do you still think “no” is a definite answer?
I hope you can see now that resilience is not just a vague concept or a general term. When you look closer, psychological and emotional resilience has so many elements. By breaking it down it feels more realistic to distinguish critical comment from constructive feedback, silence your inner critic, regulate your emotions as they arise, practice observing and choosing your thoughts and challenge yourself more. It’s certainly less overwhelming than just ‘being more resilient’. All of these are skills and you can learn them. It won’t happen overnight, but you can achieve it and become your authentic, resilient self.
I am looking forward to seeing you here again!