How to Become More Resilient

Resilience is “the ability to persevere and adapt when things go awry,” according to the authors of The Resilience Factor.  It is the ability to overcome adversity. With resilience, we face problems, conflicts, and stressful situations head-on with bravery and a confidence that we will succeed and that things will work out. Without enough resilience, we might give up, feel defeated, and allow emotions to interfere with our progress.

Resilience isn’t limited to dealing with difficult, traumatic events. All of us worry about something or feel stress once in a while. Disagreements with colleagues, a busy day at work, or a cancelled meeting with a client can all test our resilience. The better we can deal with life’s hassles, the easier we can attain what we seek, whether it is greater productivity, better relationships, or accomplishing our goals.

You can build resilience through three avenues: your thoughts, your behaviors, and your emotions:

Your Behaviors:

Changing your behavior is probably the simplest path to build resilience. After all, your actions always produce a reaction of some sort. But ask anyone who’s tried it and you’ll find it isn’t necessarily the easiest. Changing your behavior includes things such as learning acceptable ways to react to conflict, stress, and other negative events.

To give a very basic example, a child entering elementary school who has only ever known violence must learn to not hit the other kids when he is angry with them. Failing to learn the acceptable behavior will only cause more stress and more negativity for this child. Since the workplace is a social environment, this applies as well.

Once we learn what our ideal response to a situation is, it is time to practice it until it becomes habitual. For example, to give another basic but workplace-relevant example, you may have a coworker who is notorious for starting drama during meetings. Perhaps your best move in that situation is to ignore her and not fuel the fire. As tempting as it may be to prove your point, perhaps it is not worth it.

This is the “fake it until you make it” method of increasing your resilience. It is a quick fix of sorts. It will work, but it will feel inauthentic because your actions aren’t necessarily aligned with your thoughts and your emotions. So to build resilience long-term and in any substantial way, you have to start with that which determines your behavior: your thoughts and feelings.

Your Emotions:

You want to minimize the negative emotions you experience (fear, worry, anger, sadness) and increase the amount of positive emotions you feel (happiness, excitement, passion, calmness).

Negative emotions drain you both physically and mentally. They decrease your capacity to make good decisions, to solve complex problems, and to think clearly in general. Take the steps to avoid negative emotions when possible. Of course, things will happen anyway but don’t let it get out of control. Stress piles up so you’ll want to do your best to deal with it proactively.

Positive emotions, on the other hand, can increase your motivation and your energy, and they’ll actually mitigate the damage done by negative emotions. So take the time to be around people who make you happy, do things you are passionate about, and make the time for things that relax and rejuvenate you… especially during times of stress.

Your Thoughts:

There’s a cliché saying about stress: it’s not what happens to you, but how you respond to it. It is true though; it’s not words that cause conflict, but the meaning that we assign to them. A stressful event by itself isn’t necessarily overwhelming, but the anticipation of consequences may be what does you in. IN fact, we have a lot of faults in our thinking, such as blaming, jumping to conclusions, and making assumptions.

The biggest stumbling block is when we brand an experience as negative when in fact it is neutral. This can send you into a downward spiral of negative thoughts which then trigger negative emotions and before you know it you’re not just starting from zero, you must climb out of the ditch you find yourself in.

There’s a lot of books out there on changing your thinking style and I couldn’t possibly do the topic justice in just one paragraph. But I think the most important step in changing your thinking patterns is to start to think creatively. When something happens (boss is cold and short with you), you automatically react (my job is at risk). Challenge yourself to think of 5-10 other reasons than the first one that comes to mind.

Eva Rykrsmith

Eva Rykrsmith is an organizational psychology practitioner. Her passion lies in bringing a psychology perspective to the business world, with the mission of creating a high-performance environment. Follow her @EvaRykr.

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