For people who endure recurring periods of poor mental wellbeing, having a solid store of resilience can be our greatest asset. But how do we build resilience? And in fact CAN we build resilience? Yes! The great news is that there is plenty of research demonstrating that resilience can indeed be learned. Furthermore this remains true, even for people who are at risk of more than their share of life difficulties.
You can build up your resilience. There many options to consider when designing your strategy. The key is to identify the ones most likely to work well for you. So, in this article you’ll find a list of 18 tools and personal characteristics for you to choose from.
Cast your eye down the list; some of the tools will jump out at you. Trust your instincts, and begin work on those ones first.
1. Believe in yourself
Believing in yourself is my favorite characteristic for developing resilience. You are your own greatest asset and ally, and this is something that resilient people recognize in themselves. By nurturing a positive view of yourself you develop confidence in your ability to solve problems. Trusting in yourself and in your instincts will help you build resilience. Because whatever happens: you’ve got your back!
2. Know and use your strengths
We are all flawed human beings, but we all have a unique collection of strengths. Your strengths are the attributes you’re naturally good at, and come easy for you. Maybe you can engage planning, or reflection, or patience, or asking for help with only a little effort? Perhaps it’s persistence or self-care that are your strengths? The key is to know what strengths you have, and to make good use of them. Life is easier when you play to your strengths, and so is bouncing back from adversity.
3. Ask what have you gained?
Resilient people are those who can reflect back on a lengthy period of adversity, and acknowledge that it has shaped who they are. By virtue of the hardships experienced it’s not uncommon to find they’ve gained an increased sense of self-worth, and a greater appreciation for life. Resilient people are able to identify the gains that a personal tragedy also brought them.
4. Learn from experience
The ability to learn from experience is essential to mastering the art of resilience. You learn from the experience of adversity by reflecting on how you’ve coped with hardships in the past, and noting the skills and strategies that helped you through those difficulties. Admittedly they can be cruel teachers, but setbacks and challenges can be powerful opportunities to learn. And since you’ll have used your past experiences to learn what worked well for you – you’ll now have additional confidence in your ability to bounce back from failure.
5. Plan ahead
Planning ahead protects your physical and psychological reserves. You can bounce back more effectively from an unavoidable tough situation if you protect yourself from those which were avoidable. You’ll do this by looking ahead and planning ahead. Planning ahead involves avoiding situations that aren’t good for you, and having strategies to help yourself move skillfully beyond them. It’s easier to deal with obstacles when you have contingencies and are equipped with what you’ll need.
6. Be proactive
Due to our tendency for avoidance people overwhelmed by mental health issues can find being proactive – facing the dragon – particularly challenging. Please don’t ignore your problems. Enlist help in this area if you need it. Figure out what needs to be done, make a plan and take action. Resilient people hold the belief that they can do something productive that will help them to cope and move forward.
7. Keep moving forward
You can build resilience by doing something every day that gives you a sense of accomplishment and purpose. Having meaning and purpose in your days reinforces perspective, making you better able to perceive bad times as a temporary state of affairs. Even if it seems like a small accomplishment, do something regularly that moves you toward your goals. Focus on what is achievable by asking yourself:
“What’s one thing I know I can accomplish today that helps me move in the direction I want to go?”
8. Feel gratitude
Life is the minutiae: a succession of small barely noticeable delights. Resilient people notice and appreciate the little, positive things in their day/life. Work on developing your sense of gratitude by identifying the positives in each challenge, and being thankful for them. If you notice and appreciate the little joys and victories then you will have perspective, and won’t feel like everything is going wrong. To build gratitude you’ll need to put in a sustained effort, but the effort will serve you well by bolstering your resilience.
9. Feel acceptance
Sometimes things don’t go our way, simply because they just can’t – and that avenue is closed. A key to building resilience is accepting circumstances that cannot be changed and instead focusing on circumstances that you can alter. Certain goals you had may no longer be attainable as a result of changing situations. Accept that, and focus on what you can do to move forward.
10. Know rejection happens
Resilient people understand that rejection is a part of life, and that in some cases no matter what you say or do, you or your ideas will be rejected. Resilient people dust themselves down, learn from the experience, and try again – because they don’t take rejection personally.
11. Be realistically optimistic
Building resilience is not about implementing blind optimism. By having an attitude of realistic optimism you are combining the positive outlook of optimists with the critical thinking of pessimists.
Realistic optimism allows you to be creative and have a Plan A, Plan B and Plan C when facing an issue, challenge, or problem.
12. Be a problem solver
Some people are natural problem-solvers and when a bad situation arises they work on what can be done to turn the situation around. People who are resilient tend to be resourceful and have good problem-solving skills. They are able to break a problem into parts and work out which they can solve. They then focus on fixing what they can… and letting the rest go. For folk who aren’t natural problem-solvers it’s helpful to remember that all problems have parts, and once broken down they are easier to tackle.
13. Maintain a hopeful outlook
Resilience requires that you maintain a hopeful outlook. You can’t change the past but you can look toward the future with hope. It’s not unreasonable to think that life could bring you good things… so why not expect it to? Look toward the future with hope. A nice suggestion is to visualize and focus on what you want, instead of worrying about what you fear.
14. Develop perspective
I believe perspective sits alongside ‘Learning from experience’ as the two most valuable traits to develop for building up your resilience. The key to developing perspective is to not focus only on the problem in the present moment, and to think instead in long-term perspectives. Additionally, try to consider the stressful situation in a broader context to avoid blowing the event out of proportion. Restrain yourself from seeing crises as insurmountable problems. But instead apply your problem-solving skills to them.
15. Get connected with people
From all sources, the advice for building resilience is unanimous: get connected with other people. Getting connected with people is similar to ‘Planning Ahead’ in that it is a form of contingency. Build strong and positive relationships with friends, family and others.
The people you include should be those who will accept and support you in both good times and bad.
16. Seek support
Whilst it is commendable to have built connections with friends, family and others – you also need to be able to actively ask them for support. Resilience requires reaching out for support from people when you need it. Accepting help and support from folk who care about you and will listen to you strengthens resilience. Part of being a good friend is assisting others in their time of need, which can benefit you when you need help.
18. Take care of yourself
Taking care of yourself is the theme running through the moodfoodmove approach. By taking care of your physical and mental wellbeing your mind and body are better able to deal with tough times. It helps you keep your mind and body primed to deal with situations that require resilience. If you are going through challenging times, or you anticipate them take time to: 1) tend to your own needs and feelings, 2) get daily exercise, 3) get plenty of sleep, 4) eat a nutritious diet, 5) practice stress management and relaxation techniques, and 6) do something you enjoy each day.
If your mental health is challenged, and you’re going through a tough time the very least you can do is to address your self-care, and to enlist help from friends, relatives, support groups, health care professionals. Between these two actions you’ll be better equipped to ride the storm. You can do it!
Take good care of yourself