Updated: Oct 5, 2020
A few years ago, I went through a difficult time in my personal life that resulted in me feeling unhappy and anxious most of the time. As such, a family friend of mine in the counselling field gave me an interesting test to do. It was a multiple choice test that revealed how vulnerable one is to being affected by others in comparison to how resilient he or she is to handling negative situations. My results revealed that I was very easily affected by others yet I wasn’t all that resilient. In other words, if something bad happened in my life, I wasn’t so great at “getting back on the saddle” and moving on with my life.
These results seemed both accurate and inaccurate all at once. When it came to my professional life, resiliency wasn’t an issue; I was constantly able to fluctuate from one solution to the next without feeling personally affected by something not working out for the most part. In my personal life though, I did find it easy to be affected by others—sometimes negatively so. Long story short, I realized something needed to change: I had to toughen up somehow or I was going to continue to feel as though I was being walked all over, which wasn’t working out so well at the time.
So, today’s post is all about how you, too, can become more resilient—and why this skill is so important in life.
First Thing’s First: What Is Resilience Anyway?
Resilience is essentially your ability to adapt to life when it throws you a curveball or turns into complete and utter sh*t. It’s that quality that helps people overcome challenges like loss, trauma, crises, or everyday nonsense and bounce back feeling stronger, wiser, and empowered.
The inconvenient truth is that life isn’t always fair. Change is inevitable, things don’t go according to our meticulously-laid-out plans all the time, or, simply put, sh*t happens. Thankfully, however, that’s where resilience comes in, and it’s like a muscle: exert it over time and it’ll eventually get stronger. And before you know it, you’ll find yourself bouncing back from situations quicker than ever before.
How to Become More Resilient
1. Life experience.
This sounds like a stupid thing to say—and it’s not something you can do in the present moment—but the more you go through in life, the more resilient you become. I mean, when I think back to my first breakup at the ripe age of 18, I thought I was physically dying a slow and horrible death. But then I went through another one. And another one. And I began looking at breakups differently—as something that was sometimes necessary for two people to be happy in the long run, actually. This isn’t to say that the people I dated later were easier to get over. Quite the contrary. Rather, I just knew I had the strength inside to get over them because if I’d done it before, I could do it again.
2. Remind yourself of everything you’ve accomplished.
People who lack resilience often think that they don’t possess the skills to get them through a tough time and can gravitate towards seeing themselves as victims rather than warriors. But unless you’ve lived under a rock for your entire life, there’s no doubt that you’ve gotten yourself through some really hard times. Reflect on those very situations and think of all the skills you used to get through them. And don’t underestimate yourself! You got yourself through those situations—not your friends, not your family, and not your significant others. You. Wonderful, amazing you.
3. Ask yourself, “Now what?”
This is truly the most important question you can ask yourself after something traumatic happens. It puts the emphasis on the future rather than the past, which is especially important given that much of what happens to us isn’t reversible. It stops us from dwelling on the past or present struggle and instead focus on where we should go next.
4. Change your mindset.
According to an article in Psychology Today, “psychologists have identified some of the factors that make someone resilient, among them a positive attitude, optimism, the ability to regulate emotions, and the ability to see failure as a form of helpful feedback.” Changing your opinion of failure is particularly important in my books because oftentimes our most painful experiences lead to the most personal growth. Being fired, for example, might give you the space to take a hard look at if you’re truly in the field you want to be in. Experiencing a sudden loss might make you stop and appreciate the relationships you have in the present and put more effort into them. Change shakes us up inside, and that’s actually a blessing if you choose to see it that way. If things were constantly the same, continually predictable, and completely unsurprising, we would be given absolutely no opportunities to grow as an individual (plus we would be insanely bored). So next time something bad happens to you, change how you look at it. If someone cheats on you, why not go from saying, “Well I’ll never find love again,” to saying, “Now I have the opportunity to find someone who is going to truly appreciate me.” I know, I know… it’s easier said than done. But remember, resilience is like a muscle; it gets stronger over time!
5. Make time to look after yourself.
Picking yourself up after you’ve been knocked down requires energy. But if you’re running on empty before you go through a hard time, you’re making things harder for yourself than they need to be. Invest in your own health and wellbeing as much as possible to ensure that you are emotionally and physically strong enough to weather the storms of life. Get more sleep, eat healthy, exercise, turn off your phone sometimes, and find a hobby that calms your spirit.
6. Don't take yourself so seriously.
There’s a moment from the movie The Pursuit of Happyness that has always stuck with me. Will Smith’s character, Chris Gardner, goes through a year-long struggle with homelessness and at one point shows up to a job interview completely disheveled and unkempt. Offended and flustered, the interviewer asks, “What would you say if a man walked in here with no shirt and I hired him? What would you say?” to which Smith’s character responds, “He must have had on some really nice pants.” The lesson here is to not take life so seriously all the time and that believe it or not, there’s humour in everything if you look for it.
On the one hand, life truly is unpredictable. On the other hand, however, there are elements of it that we can predict. If you decide to move in with a significant other, for example, consider all of the outcomes of this situation. The two most obvious ones are, of course, that things will either work out or they won’t. So be prepared in case they don’t. That way if it happens, you’re not completely lost. This isn’t about being pessimistic or cynical; it’s about being smart and protecting yourself.
8. Practice self-compassion.
Self-compassion involves treating yourself with kindness and understanding in the face of hardship of difficulty. Now, if you're sitting there thinking that being compassionate with yourself would mean letting yourself off the hook, you're thinking of self-indulgence, not self-compassion. Kristin Neff, the pioneering researcher on self-compassion, writes, "Being compassionate to oneself means that you want to be happy a