How to Make Yourself Resilient: Three Key Skills to Start Developing Now

Resilience is a buzzword in this industry, and for good reason. Being able to adapt to change, ride the waves and even bounce back from adversity stronger than before, is vital to survival. But that’s not just true in emergency preparedness and disaster management. Resilience on a personal, individual level can be a life-changing tool. Samantha Boardman, a psychiatrist, writer and blogger, writes in the Huffington Post about the “secret sauce of resilience.”

She writes, “Resilience is the ability to adapt, think flexibly, act with agility - in essence to improvise in life like a jazz player does with music. More than a century ago Charles Darwin found these attributes essential to survival, explaining, ‘It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent, but the one most receptive to change.’ In the 21st century, the ability to adapt to stressful events is essential to support creativity, productivity and well-being.”

Boardman says the good thing about resilience is that it can be learned. And she says there are three main skills that are key to doing that.

  1. 1) A positive mindset: Boardman quotes a line from the movie The Pirates of the Caribbean, “The problem is not the problem, the problem is your attitude about the problem.” This sums up her point. She elaborates in her article:

“The best way to explain this is by sharing the following story about a patient who had terrible performance anxiety. Just thinking about public speaking gave him a panic attack. This is how he would describe his symptoms before facing an audience:

‘My heart starts racing, I feel like I can't breathe, beads of sweat collect on my forehead, my hands are shaking, my palms are sweating, and I feel sick to my stomach.’

One night he was watching a late night talk show and Bruce Springsteen was a guest. The host asked The Boss how it feels to go on stage and perform in front of twenty thousand people. This is how the patient described Bruce's response:

‘It's the most incredible feeling. I feel my body kicking into high gear. My heart starts racing, I start breathing a little harder, my palms are sweating, my hands are shaking, I feel sweat on my brow and I have butterflies in my stomach. It's a sign to me that my body is ready to rock.’

Notice the physiological symptoms are strikingly similar and yet the interpretations are radically different. This highlights how a positive mindset can shape one's emotions, behavior and experience in powerful ways,” writes Boardman.

  1. 2) Realistic optimism: Boardman explains that “realistic optimism is grounded in reality and simultaneously hopeful about the future.” It’s all about being in control of your own situations, understanding the reality but also thinking positively about the outcome of whatever situation it is.

“One useful exercise,” Boardman writes, “is to make a list of three things you would like to see changed in your life. If someone else or a situation has to change in order to make them happen, I recommend removing that item from the list. As Viktor Frankl reminds us, ‘When we are no longer able to change a situation--we are challenged to change ourselves.’”

  1. 3) Leading a life of meaning: Boardman says doing things with intrinsic motivation or “for the love of the game” is better for us than operating with extrinsic motivation, which is about doing things for recognition by others, a.k.a. external reasons.

Research shows that people who act on intrinsic aspirations lead happier and healthier lives. Living a life in concert with your values not only prevents burn out, it keeps setbacks in perspective and buffers against stress during periods of transition and change,” writes Boardman.

She continues: “I recommend the following exercise to help understand where your time is going. First, list the three things in life that mean the most to you. Many people say, ‘I value being a good father, a good mother, a good husband, a good wife, a good brother, a good sister, a good son, a good friend...’ and so on. They say they value their health, giving back, learning new things and being a good person. Next, fill in a pie chart of how you actually spend the hours of your day. You might be surprised to discover that many hours, even free time, are spent doing things that feel urgent, like returning emails, surfing the web, updating Facebook, checking Instagram and the like, but that are nowhere near the top of your priorities list. If this is the case, it's time to consider reallocating your time. As Beverly Adamo reminds us: ‘It's not about time, it's about choices. How are you spending your choices?”


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