Resilience is like a neglected muscle group – totally ignored until we need it, and then stressed to its limit seemingly without warning. If we are not ready to use it, the pain can be severe. Unlike our muscles, however, there is not a widely known exercise (and, in fact, entire industry) devoted to maintaining its strength.
Psychology Today defines resilience as the ineffable quality that allows some people to be knocked down by life and come back stronger than ever. As Dean Becker, the president and CEO of Adaptiv Learning Systems, puts it: “More than education, more than experience, more than training, a person’s level of resilience will determine who succeeds and who fails. That’s true in the cancer ward, it’s true in the Olympics, and it’s true in the boardroom.” Resilience is universally regarded as a crucial ingredient in success, happiness, and even basic survival.
We can all agree on the importance of resilience – but how do we cultivate this quality in ourselves and our children?
Learn to Laugh
Maurice Vanderpol, a former president of the Boston Psychoanalytic Society and Institute, found that many mentally healthy concentration camp survivors had developed what he called a “plastic shield.” A vital component in this shield was the presence of a sense of humor, even if it was black humor, regarding not only everyday life but also their trauma. Laughing at your struggles may be difficult at first, but learning to do so could provide a welcome sense of relief in darker times.
Connect with Others
People who have strong bonds with their family and friends are usually more resilient. This is partially because they have more people to lean on, and partially because of the role that our social connections have in our mental and emotional health. Establishing regular family dinners now may help you to build a mightier, more resilient tribe over time.
Meet the World on Your Own Terms
Developmental psychologist Emmy Werner followed a group of six hundred and ninety-eight children from before birth through their third decade of life. She found that one of the most crucial differences between the resilient and non-resilient participants of the study was that the resilient ones were able to maintain an internal locus of control. A person with this quality believes that he or she is in control of their life and their feelings, while someone with an external locus of control would have a tendency to blame outside forces. Resilient people recognize what is under their own control, and then go about changing it.
Learn from Failure
It is instinctual to view failure as a sign of defeat, but teaching yourself to see it as helpful feedback can strengthen your capacity for resilience. Like the muscle groups referenced above, this mindset will not work well when you need it to unless you exercise it daily. If you consciously start to re-frame small setbacks as opportunities for learning and growth, your optimism will come as second nature when true tragedy strikes. A red light is a chance to learn patience. A spilled milkshake means less calories and thinner thighs. Practice daily, and you’ll get the hang of it.
Ask for Help
The Search Institute, a nonprofit organization that focuses on resilience and youth, found that resilient children have the ability to get adults to help them out. Although the fear of appearing weak often stops us from asking for help, even as adults, this research shows that doing so may actually make us stronger. Encouraging your children to ask for help, and setting an example by being willing to ask for assistance yourself, could help them grow into more resilient, successful, and happy adults.
Building your resilience muscles may be difficult at first, but the more you use them, the easier life’s challenges will seem. Try the tips above yourself, and share them with your friends and children. You are never too young or too old to become a stronger, happier human being!