Building resilience is a tough ol’ topic to cover. It’s reductive and kind of ass-holey to say ‘Harden the hell up!’ but that’s pretty much what the base level of resilience is.
Unfortunately most of us will suffer negative life events. It’s just how life works. What’s interesting is how people deal with them differently. Some do a full Taylor Swift and shake it off and others can suffer some pretty nasty side effects like post traumtic stress disorder, depressive disorders and substance abuse… but that’s for the big, life altering stuff.
There’s lots of teeny tiny things that shake our resilience as well. A particularly bitchy work mate. The loss of a job. A break-up. Rejection. When the supermarket runs out of chocolate Fropro and you drove for a full half an hour out of your way to get some and they only have the stanky peanut butter flavour left. All that stuff.
Here are some tips for building resilience.
1. Be willing to expose yourself to challenging situations
If you never challenge yourself, you will never build resiliance. If you freaking hate (and I mean HATE) public speaking you can either avoid it your whole life and potentially lose out on jobs and other opportunities or you can start small. Join Toastmasters. Invite three of your mates around, sink a couple of bevvys and practice in front of them. Keep doing it until it doesn’t scare you anymore.
Let’s look at podcasting. I knew a few years ago I really wanted to do a podcast but I was terrified. What if I said something stupid? What if I offended someone? What if someone can’t stand my voice? I can tell you every single one of my fears was valid. I’ve said many stupid things and had many people tell me I offended them. I’ve also had two (yes two!) people comment in podcast recommendation groups they didn’t know I was a part of saying they can’t stand my voice. Lovely.
It’s not nice to hear these things but it happens to everyone and since hearing this feedback I say far less stupid things than I did in the beginning and I offend far less people now too. I can’t do anything about my voice annoying people though, so I just don’t care. Yay me. Self improvment gold star for you Carly! Thank you Carly! Are you talking to yourself? Maybe…
The point is you can’t build resilience if you continually run from challenging situations. So turn and face those situations, and where you have the ability to start small with exposure and build gently from there, take the chance to do so.
2. Practice mindfulness
Yes, mindfulness is such a buzzword these days it’s hard to even know what people mean when they use the word. For the purposes of these tips, mindfulness is about being able to stop for a second, bring yourself back into the moment, and check your reaction to a situation. Because, often, our ability to be resilient in the face of a particular challenge is affected by our attitude to that challenge.
So if your washing machine breaks down at the same time you’ve gotten a couple of big bills and your attitude is that you’re just drowning in debt and things are never going to get any better, then you’re ability to cope with the washing machine breaking down is not going to be good. You might even kick the washing machine and swear at it. Naughty washing machine.
Mindfulness allows you to come into the moment, and simply observe your emotional reaction to the washing machine breaking without getting caught up in it, take a deep breath and reset yourself. And then come at the situation with a bit more calm and balance. It’s also a good time to check your blessings. If the washing machine breaking down is the worst thing that’s happened to you this week, it’s a pretty good week.
3. Be kind to yourself
Because you’re not going to handle every challenging situation well. It might feel appropriate to berate yourself for not handling yourself well. And it might feel useful to go over the situation again and again lamenting what you could have done better. But you don’t need to learn the same lesson over and over again. Learn it once, and then move on. If you carry the baggage from a previous poor reaction into your next challenging situation, you’re going to make it very hard for yourself to deal with the new challenging situation.
Baseline? We all behave like total porkchops every now and then. Laugh about it and move on.
4. Protect your emotional health
Have you ever noticed that your ability to cope with stuff goes downhill fast when you are mentally run down, burnt out, feeling angry or resentful? You can do so much pre-emptive stuff by doing the boring basics of getting good sleep, moving your body every day, eating well, limiting alcohol and giving yourself white space.
It’s very boring, I know. We’d all rather just jump in a champagne filled bathtub with Johnny Depp circa 1995 and smoke and booze ourselves into oblivion but it’s only cool when Kate Moss does it. Soz.
5. Have routines and rituals to fall back on
It’s hard to be resilient when you feel like you have no control. This is why routines are so important. Getting up in the morning, exercising, reading, doing some yoga, putting your phone down at 9pm every night. These little rituals and routines seem so insignificant but they’re incredibly useful.
When we had a baby last year, so many things changed but somethings we stuck to. Like eating pancakes in bed on Sundays. This is something we’d been doing for over a decade and when our girl arrived, we just kept doing it. She’s 9 months old now and it’s getting messier but we keep doing it because it’s who we are. It’s lovely to have that ritual to keep us feeling like ourselves. Even if it means having to steam clean the head board when your baby realises she can make patterns on it with smeared pancake.
6. Surround yourself with good people
It’s very tempting for high functioning, highly capable people to think ‘I’ve got this’ (guilty!) and to think they can deal with things themselves. And to think that dealing with things ourselves is a sign of great resilience. But that is a very dangerous thing to tell ourselves. Humans are tribal beings and we are not designed to deal with things on our own. Allow yourself to be helped and say ‘I’m not coping with this thing that happened.’ You’re trying to build resilience here, not suffer in silence until you crack. Geez.
Also this week’s Straight & Curly episode is all about boundary setting – get it in your ears!