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14 Ways to Be More Resilient So You Can Bounce Back From Adversity

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Resilience is one of the basic ingredients for happiness and success..

Adversity is a fact of life. How well you respond to adversity—how resilient you are and how fast you can bounce back after a failure, a setback, or a disappointment—will determine your life satisfaction to a large extent.

Resilience is the difference between facing your problems bravely and confidently, and feeling helpless and like you can’t move on. Below you’ll discover 14 ways to be resilient so that you can bounce back from adversity and continue on your way toward the achievement of your goals.

14 Ways to Be Resilient

1. Work On Your Mental Flexibility. Mental flexibility is having the ability to shift gears when the context calls for it and being able to generate and evaluate several different options in order to respond effectively to any situation. Mental flexibility allows you to adjust to the conditions that you’re facing—instead of struggling with the way things are—and to problem solve more effectively.

Melissa Mullin, Ph.D., recommends that you develop your mental flexibility by playing games. There are many board games which force you to constantly reevaluate your plans and change your strategy in response to the actions taken by other players. Once you’ve acquired these skills you can apply them to real life, which will make you more resilient.

2. Look for Ways to Derive Meaning From Adversity. Looking at an unexpected situation as nothing more than a waste of time and resources is emotionally draining. When facing adversity or a negative situation you need to look for ways to derive some positive meaning from what is happening.

For example, ask yourself what new skills you need to learn in order to handle the present situation which will come in helpful in the future. In addition, ask yourself how going through this adversity will help you to become a better-rounded individual.

3. Transform Hardship Into a Challenge. Labeling something as a challenge–instead of labeling it as a hardship–is much more than simply a matter of semantics.  Hardship connotes suffering. Challenge connotes opportunity. Ask yourself how you can turn the negative situation which you’re facing into a productive one.

In addition, David J. Hellerstein, M.D., a Professor of Clinical Psychiatry at Columbia University, explains that if you view a situation as a threat, your fear response systems are set off. This mean that your body will release hormones which increase blood pressure and blood glucose level, and increase anxiety.

In contrast, when a situation is viewed as a challenge your body releases hormones which  promote cell repair, trigger relaxation responses, and stimulate efficient energy use.

4. Avoid Thinking Traps. When things go wrong, do you get stuck in a spiral of asking yourself over and over again how or why something like this could have happened? Do you start looking for others whom you can blame? Do you make problems more pervasive than they really are? If so, be warned that these are all thinking traps.

Avoid any line of thinking that leads to a dead-end. Instead, engage in thoughts that help you look for a way out of the situation that you’re currently in, or help you to solve the problem that you’re facing.

5. Shift to Active Thinking. Active thinking leads to action, and in order to get yourself out of a negative situation you need to act. In order to shift into active thinking, ask yourself questions such as the following:

  • How can I contain the problem so that it doesn’t get worse?
  • What can I do to limit the scope or the duration of this problem?
  • How can I reduce the potential downside of this adverse event?
  • How can I increase the potential upside of this event?
  • What aspects can I control?
  • How can I best respond?

6. Look for a Role Model. In their book “Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges”, psychiatrists Steven Southwick and Dennis Charney recommend that you become more resilient by imitating a sturdy role model. Study people you admire who are resilient, analyze how they deal with adversity, and create rules for yourself based on your findings.

The authors of “Resilience” explain that they interviewed a young woman who was born with spina bifida and had difficulty walking. She chose U.S. president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, who was crippled from polio and had difficulty walking, as her role model.

When she feels down  because of her illness, she asks herself the following: “What would Franklin Roosevelt do?”  This helps her find the strength to overcome any negative feelings she’s experiencing. It helps her to overcome the adversity that comes from the disease that she was born with.

7. Inoculate Yourself Against Stress.  Inoculating yourself against stress works on the same principle as medical immunization. A physician inoculates his or her patient against disease by introducing small amounts of a virus into their bloodstream. This activates the body’s natural immune responses.

You inoculate yourself against stress by intentionally exposing yourself to various stressors – that is, anything that’s outside of your comfort zone. Here are some ideas:

  • Go out to dinner by yourself;
  • Learn something new;
  • Do something that frightens you; and so on.

Build up your immunity to stress in the same way in which you would build muscle by lifting weights at the gym: start with something small and gradually work your way up to bigger and more difficult challenges. By inoculating yourself against stress you’ll be much better prepared to deal with the stress that comes from adversity. Therefore, you’ll be increasing your resiliency.

8. Practice Realistic Optimism. Resilient people feel that they can cope with whatever life throws at them.  This doesn’t mean that when something goes wrong they pretend that everything is fine and that things will fix themselves. What it means is that they see the situation for what it is but they’re confident that by taking right action they’ll be able to overcome the adversity and continue on their way.

9. Visualize a Positive Outcome. This point is related to the previous one. When facing adversity ask yourself the following. “What do I want my life to look like on the other side of this adversity?” Visualize what you want as clearly as you can and then think of a series of steps that you can take in order to start moving in that direction.

10. Adopt a Strengths Perspective. Think of an adversity that you’ve had to face in the past and ask yourself what strengths you relied on in order to get past it. As an illustration, you may have relied on your great sense of humor or on your spiritual faith. Then ask yourself how you can apply those same strengths to the situation that you’re currently facing.

11. Nurture Yourself. Ask yourself what you can do in order to nurture yourself. Examples include spending time in nature, listening to uplifting music, reading something motivational, watching a movie you find inspiring, and so on. This will help you to shift your outlook from dejection to hope, and to transform anxiety into positive energy.

12. Be Connected. By building strong, positive relationships with others you’ll be creating a support system which you can rely on when things go wrong. It’s easier to get through adversity if you’re surrounded by people who are willing to listen and offer a helping a hand if need be, than it is to try and go it alone.

13. Practice Mindfulness and Meditation.  In the book “Bounce: Living the Resilient Life”, Robert Wick explains that mindfulness is a tool to “replenish the self and maintain perspective.” Meditation teaches us to simply observe our thoughts, rather than judge them.

Meditation and mindfulness cultivate an inner life of self-knowledge, self-nurturance, and peace which acts as a buffer from external pressures.  Having this buffer makes us more resilient.

14. Embrace Wabi-sabi. Wabi-sabi is a Japanese world view rooted in Zen Buddhism which is centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection. The essence of wabi-sabi is reflected in the following verse from the song “Anthem” by Leonard Cohen:

Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There’s a crack in everything
That’s how the light gets in.

In the book “Wabi-Sabi: for Artists, Designers, Poets & Philosophers”, Leonard Koren defines wabi-sabi as follows:  “Wabi sabi is the beauty of things imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete, the antithesis of our classical Western notion of beauty as something perfect, enduring, and monumental.”

Conclusion

Adversity is built into the fabric of human existence. Resilience is the ability to deal with adversity so that we can achieve our goals, be happy, and succeed in life in spite of negative events and setbacks. Use the 14 strategies explained above to become more resilient so that you can bounce back quickly from adversity and live your best life.

 

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Comments on this entry are closed.

  • Shirah R. February 22, 2014, 12:16 am

    Hi Marelisa–really great post as always–thanks.

    One point to note–the poem you mention is by the poet and musician Leonard Cohen, not Leonard Koren–two different people. Here’s a link to the song Anthem, which contains the verse quoted:
    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=5ma5tF6TJpA

    and the lyrics: http://www.azlyrics.com/lyrics/leonardcohen/anthem.html

    • Marelisa February 22, 2014, 12:24 am

      Hi Shirah: You’re absolutely right. Thank you for letting me know. Also, I had never heard the song before clicking over to the YouTube video you linked to. I love his voice.

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