Resiliency: What Is Resiliency and How Do You Build It?
By Tchiki Davis, Ph.D.
In life, we all have stressful, challenging, or even traumatic experiences. Resiliency is what helps us manage these experiences, recover from them, and thrive afterwards. So building resiliency is key to building our happiness and well-being. Here's how to do it:
What is Resiliency?
Resiliency is the ability to manage challenges, quickly recovering from them, and even growing and improving as a result of these challenges. It is resilience that enables us to move forward after a difficult breakup, losing a good job, or encountering other stressful or traumatic events.
You can learn more about what resiliency is in this video:
How Do You Build Resiliency?
Just as we learn how to walk, or ride a bike, or become proficient in our carriers, we can learn the skills that make us more resilient. To start building your resiliency, try out the following strategies:
1. Take the Well-Being Quiz to See How Resilient You Are
Not sure how resilient you are? Take this short well-being quiz, which not only gives you a score on "resilience", it can also help you identify which other skills are most important in helping you improve your happiness and well-being.
2. Practice Mindful Acceptance
Negative emotions exist. Pushing them away or ignoring them does more harm than good, even if we might be tempted to do so.
Instead, try acknowledging your emotions and giving them a seat at the table. Maybe you feel bad because your boss plays favorites—and you’re not the favorite. Or maybe you’re frustrated because your romantic partner is always running late. It’s okay to feel your negative emotions. Judging yourself for having these negative emotions, or judging others for their actions, only makes your stress worse. So practicing mindful acceptance and non-judgment is a good start to building resiliency.
3. Observe Your Situation to Increase Your Awareness
We all experience unpleasant situations, often on a daily basis. You may ruminate about a meeting that went poorly, a neighbor who slighted you, or a lack of acknowledgment for something you did for your romantic partner. Resiliency is all about learning how to work through these negative emotions effectively.
To calm these negative emotions, mentally removing yourself from the situation is a helpful way to short-circuit emotional overload. Try to imagine that you’re a fly on the wall, observing your situation from someone else's perspective. How do you see the situation? How do both people look—you and the other person? By cultivating a broader perspective, you’ll often discover that the situation is not as bad as you initially thought it was.
4. Find the Positives in Negative Situations
Finding the positive in negative situations is an especially useful strategy when something happens that just sucks. To begin to change your perspective, learn to pause in the face of something negative and think about at least one positive in the situation.
For example, did you get critical feedback on something you did at work? Might you reinterpret this as helpful information for your career growth—an opportunity to learn how to do better next time? The more frequently you challenge yourself to find the positives in negative situations, the easier it will be for your brain to recover from stress and become more resilient.
5. Create a Collection of Inspiring Images or Quotes
There are tons of inspiring images and quotes online. Use one of the online tools to collect images of people, places, or things that inspire you, keep you motivated, and help you feel strong in the face of difficulties. Every week, add new images to your collection. That way, you’ll get a resiliency boost from seeing all the other images you collected that make you feel strong.
6. Understand the Benefits of Negative Emotions
Negative emotions are sometimes scary, but actually have proven benefits. When we are sad or grieving, showing our negative emotions helps others see that we need their support. When we are a little bit anxious, we often perform better than if we were not anxious at all. And when we get angry, our emotions help motivate us to take more effective action to right the situation.
Forcing these negative emotions aside without letting them do their good work leaves us at a disadvantage. The key is to accept, experience, and use these emotions to drive action that makes our lives better.
7. Practice Gratitude
I'll be the first to admit that there is an infinite number of things to be bothered by. But the truth is that there is also an infinite number of things to feel passionate, joyful, and excited about. It's up to us to decide which things we want to focus on.
Gratitude helps us be thankful for the people, things, and experiences we have. When we express gratitude at work, we more easily gain camaraderie of those we work with. When we are grateful for our partners or friends, they enjoy us more and are nicer to us. And when we are grateful for the little things in our day-to-day lives, we enjoy each day a little bit more. These are key resources that help us build our resilience and cope more effectively with stress.
8. Beef Up Your Coping Skills
I don't know about you, but sometimes when I feel down it feels impossible to pull myself back up. But then when I'm back up, I think about how silly it was that I let myself wallow in self-pity for so long. So it's key to develop good coping skills—skills that help you quickly pull yourself back up when you are down.
One way is to infuse some positive into your day. It's amazing how far a cute video or a laugh with a friend can take you. If you're feeling stuck in the muck, figure out how to create just a little bit of positive emotion to help you start getting back to your normal self.
9. Train your Brain to See the Bright Side
You can train your brain to see the world more positively by memorizing lists of positive words. Doing this practice regularly forces your brain to use positive words more often, making these concepts more accessible and easily activated in your brain. So when you're just living your regular life, positive information can be retrieved from your brain more easily.
Psychologists have painstakingly measured thousands of words to measure how positive or negative they are. The most positive words are collected here in a positivity workbook. If you're struggling to generate positive emotions with other techniques, give this strategy a try. It can help develop your brain in ways that may make it easier to build resiliency.
10. Celebrate Your Successes
We have this bad habit of continually downplaying our successes. For example, we may say, “Anyone could memorize positive words,” or “I didn’t recover from that challenge as quickly I wanted to.” Talking to ourselves this way minimizes our small successes instead of celebrating them.
So celebrate your success. Even reading this article all the way to this point means you are putting real effort into improving your resiliency. Believe me, not everyone would do that. Give yourself some credit! As you pursue greater resilience, happiness, well-being, or whatever, take note of your wins.
11. Stop Your Negative Thought Cycles
Often when bad things happen, we get stuck thinking about just how bad it was. We think about what we could have done differently, or how we are going to mess up again in the future. We ruminate on these events, creating negative thought cycles because we mistakenly believe that this approach will help us solve them. Unfortunately, negative thought cycles just get us caught up in negativity instead of taking the actions we need to recover and move on. To put an end to these negative thought cycles, which have become well-worn pathways in our brains, we need to stop these thoughts mid-cycle and take them in a different direction.
12. Build a Challenge Mindset
Many of us avoid failure. We do so, because we are afraid; we worry that people will think poorly of us if we do fail. But by avoiding failure, we never give ourselves a chance to be challenged and practice resilience. As a result, we can not become more resilient. So we need to build a challenge mindset.
If you think failure is a threat, like many of us do, your body will experience challenges like they are a threat. On the other hand, if you choose to view challenges as something hard, but something you can do, then you're more likely to give things a go. You might fail, and as a result build resilience, but the irony is that when you view things that you could possibly fail at as challenges, you actually will be less likely to fail at them.
13. Remember, This Too Shall Pass
One more technique that can help you build resiliency involves thinking about your stressful events from a viewpoint in the future. For example, you might tell yourself that “time heals all wounds,” or “this too shall pass.”
The ability to think about your experience from the future often helps you realize that your experience is not that bad in the scheme of things. As a result, this strategy reduces the intensity of the negative emotions. So next time you are in the midst of a stressful situation, try reminding yourself, "this too shall pass."