How many goals did you set this year to improve your resilience?
Not at the top of your list?
Admittedly, resilience gets crowded out by the more action-y stuff we focus on as the new year starts.
- We set goals to lose weight (again).
- We make plans to improve our professional skills, or find that dream job.
- You Type A folks may even be launching a life plan this year to go after like, you know, everything, in your whole entire life. (That sounds easy enough.)
We almost never consider our own resilience, much less how to practice and use it when we need it.
What is resilience, anyway?
We tend to think of resilience as the ability to bounce back from a challenge, and that’s partly true.
- When life knocks you down, resilience gives you the wherewithal to get back up.
- When life hands you lemons, you make lemonade (if you have enough lemons thrown at you to make a decent amount of lemonade, you might be having a rough go at it, just sayin’…).
But resilience also is being mentally and emotionally prepared to identify the resources available to you when things get challenging.
If you’re stressed, tired, and full of negative thoughts, it’s hard to care about finding creative ways to get past a difficult situation.
Resilience then, can be more of a mindset that allows you to see the path forward and empowers you to actually walk down that path.
And, as with many things in life, it’s better for you if you build that mindset ahead of time. #sorrythatsjusthowitis
So, how do you build resilience?
The best part is that many of the things we already know about a healthy lifestyle are the very things that build resilience. It’s like life skills double-dipping.
Here are three really good ones you can practice every day:
Exercise is a most outstanding way to build resilience because it generates blood flow to the brain’s frontal lobe, right behind your forehead. The frontal lobe handles things like planning, logic and organization. These come in handy when you need to make a healthy decision.
Exercise also relieves the negative emotions related to stress. After a long workday, just a 10-minute walk with your dog can boost your mood for several hours (and probably your dog’s mood, too).
I’ll bet you make better decisions about your life when you can stay clear-headed, relaxed and in a positive mood.
And the best part is, you don’t need special skills. You just have to move.
Can you move? Carry on…
2. Be quiet
Quiet time lets us focus on our thoughts and try to figure stuff out.
Thanks to our devices and a limitless supply of entertainment in almost all areas of our lives, we no longer have to suffer the plight of being bored or reflective.
Our brains and souls are drinking daily from a firehose of data with little time to figure out if any of it even makes sense (spoiler alert: most of it doesn’t).
And studies are bearing out that our marvelous brains are starting to notice. Our daily experience now includes:
- reduced memory and attention spans,
- constant dopamine rushes from social media interactions, and
- reduced productivity from multi-tasking.
Finding some time to step away, in some way, for a few minutes each day allows mental space for creativity and problem solving.
You can call it mindfulness or a spiritual practice.
Just carve out 15 quiet minutes for yourself to:
- Let your mind wander,
- Breathe deeply,
- Ask yourself questions about what you’re feeling,
- Draw, or
- Let the sacred words of wiser ones than you pour into your soul.
Having said that, resilience does require some boundaries on all that thinking.
3. What are you thinking?
While we can’t help the thoughts that pop in to our minds, we do have complete control over what we allow to roil and take root.
Allowing unchallenged thoughts to linger can quickly become rumination, obsessing over the same negative thoughts until you make yourself feel really bad.
Rumination is one of the hardest thinking habits to change.
- It’s never forward-focused.
- It always dwells on past wrongs or failures.
- It’s a natural predator of resilience.
Resilience, however, requires you to
- Find your strengths,
- Look for possibilities, and
- Focus on what you can bring to the situation.
So in order to bolster your resilience, you’re going to have to do a whole lot better than rumination.
Start being the gatekeeper for your marvelous brain.
How much news do you consume?
What’s more backwards-focused than the news? Its very nature is things that have happened in the past.
The news is now particularly negative and vicious, and it feeds many of our anxieties about what’s not working in our lives.
Take a week off from it and see if it doesn’t change how you think.
What positive, forward-focused things are you reading or listening to?
Focus on material that will build your skills, build your faith, or help you build a resilient attitude about life.
Self-help is a multi-billion dollar industry. There’s something out there for what you need.
I like listening to motivational speaker Les Brown because he reminds me that I am responsible for my own change, which is a little scary, but that I can totally do it. Yes!
Who do you pay attention to?
You’ve heard it before. You are the sum total of the five people you associate with.
What do your five talk about? Do their comments and conversations build people up, or tear down?
Do they always focus on what’s gone wrong? And who’s gone wrong?
This will have an effect on your thinking, I promise.
You may need to upgrade your five.
Resilience is a marathon.
Keep in mind that building resilience is a lifelong endeavor.
You will never do the end zone dance of resilience, and there’s no Golden Globe for the Most Resilient Performance in a Life Drama (or Comedy).
So, go ahead, put resilience on your list of goals to crush in the new year, but you won’t be able to really check it off.
I know, that’s annoying.
What you can check off, though, is the fact that you are helping yourself a little bit each day to build the courage to face your challenges and take action.
Spend this year improving your ability to bend and flex with your life.