If you know someone who always seems to bounce back after a hard time, you might recognize in them the three pillars of personal resilience: putting difficulties in perspective, seeking the positive, and managing emotions in a healthy way. These skills may come more easily to some of us, but we can all develop them with a bit of practice.
Putting Things in Perspective
You’ve overcome adversity before. As a child, you learned to talk, walk, eat with a fork, tie your shoes and ride a two-wheeler. Just because most people master these skills doesn’t mean learning them was easy.
Of course, as adults, our challenges are very different. But it helps to remember that as humans, we’re fundamentally wired to fall down and get up again. Fail and try again. Experience frustration and discouragement, find a way through it, and start over. Life presents difficulties to everyone. Setbacks are normal.
If you’re going through a period of adversity, try to give yourself a mental break from dealing with your immediate circumstances at least once a day. Remind yourself of the bigger picture: we have all failed, made mistakes, suffered losses, and gone on to better times. Even if what you’re facing is harder than anything else you’ve ever dealt with, it too shall pass.
Seeking the Positive
Resilient people really do look at every difficulty as a learning opportunity, a chance to deepen their understanding and awareness of themselves and the world around them. They also look for positive aspects in the challenges they face and try to keep a sense of humour, without denying the fundamental difficulty of what they are experiencing. In the death of a loved one, they find a way to celebrate that person’s life, even in their grief. With the loss of a job, they focus on the skills and experience they developed, and on the opportunities that lie before them.
When you’re in the middle of something negative, it doesn’t always seem possible to extract positive insights, but still try to identify them. Allow yourself to dwell on your strengths and the things you do well. Be kind to yourself about the things you wish you did better, and simply reflect on how you’d like to handle similar challenges if they ever arise again.
When life is especially hard, you’re likely to feel a range of unpleasant emotions that might include frustration, sadness, anger, disappointment, self-pity or anxiety. Because these emotional states don’t feel good, a common reaction is to push them away and pretend we aren’t struggling. Many people react this way because they were taught that feelings like this are shameful or self-indulgent.
But bigger problems develop when we don’t allow ourselves to respect and experience our emotions. Our anger and sadness can escape in an uncontrolled manner, misdirected at family, friends or coworkers, causing unnecessary damage to our relationships. Sometimes we direct the negative emotions at ourselves, and turn to self-destructive behaviours instead.
We experience negative emotions because they’re simply a normal part of our awareness that things are not right. Allow yourself a healthy outlet to express how you’re feeling, like writing a journal, talking with a professional counsellor or someone close who is compassionate and supportive. By expressing your feelings in a safe environment, your negative emotions will dissipate more easily over time. Expressing yourself also allows you to clear some mental space for more optimistic thinking that will help you problem-solve and respond to your challenges more effectively.
Remember that the emotional side of coping with life’s difficulties is often the hardest. If you find yourself spiralling into unrelenting negativity, apathy, or fatigue, you could be suffering from depression. Even if you are not depressed, those who are closest to you may not be able to meet your needs for emotional support. No matter what your situation, there are many places you can turn to for help: your family doctor, a trusted acquaintance or contact, and your Business or Employee Assistance Program can all provide thoughtful support and connect you with useful local resources.
Renowned playwright Samuel Beckett, famous for his often cynical humour, put it this way:
“EVER TRIED. EVER FAILED. NO MATTER. TRY AGAIN. FAIL AGAIN. FAIL BETTER.”
You don’t need a crisis to develop resilience. Build your coping skills by practicing the three pillars in daily life.
- Stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic? Acknowledge how frustrating it is—then finish listening to a great podcast.
- Stood up by a friend for a lunch date? Eat anyway and mentally forgive them. Remind yourself why they’re a friend in the first place and don’t judge too quickly.
- Parking ticket? Laugh out loud, and shout “Look what I won!” If you can make yourself (or someone else) laugh when something bad happens, you’re developing resilience.