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17 Ways for Building Resilience and Staying Tough

17 Ways for Building Resilience and Staying Tough


Have you ever failed at something or gone through a rough patch? Have you made a mistake or suffered a setback and found yourself eating way too much ice cream afterward?

Take heart! You’re in good company.

Even Beyoncé and Albert Einstein have faced hard times. But the difference between people who rebound from difficult situations and folks who stay curled up in a fetal position is the way they CHOOSE to respond to these events.

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines “resiliency” as the “ability to recover from or adjust easily to adversity or change.” The good news is, you can learn how to become more resilient. Yes, you can make the CHOICE to bounce back from bottom.

So, put down that ice-cream carton and get ready for a pep talk. Here are 17 strategies for building resilience that will help you overcome obstacles and rock your life.

1. Failing is Normal—Just Keep Going

According to Kenneth Ginsburg, author of Building Resilience in Children and Teens, the first of the “7 C’s of Resilience” is “COMPETENCE.” For young people to succeed, they must develop skills to deal with difficult situations. This goes for adults, too!

To bolster your competence, take a look at a learning curve. It shows you that you can improve after you fail simply by persevering. But your performance won’t improve steadily. Knowing this fun fact can prevent you from giving up too soon.

If you take a closer look at the “curve” below, you’ll discover that it’s actually jagged. Those peaks and valleys mean that you’ll get better on some days, as promised, but you’ll also have days in which you hit a plateau or your performance plummets.

So, give yourself some slack and hang in there. If you persist, you will succeed.

2. Adopt a “Growth Mindset” to Build Confidence

Ginsburg’s second “C” for building resilience is “CONFIDENCE,” the belief in one’s own abilities. Here’s an interesting fact. It turns out that the way you view your abilities is more important than your actual abilities. Let me give you an example

According to psychologist Dr. Carol Dweck, praising yourself for being intelligent or telling your children they are smart encourages a “fixed mindset,” the belief that your ability is static. When you fail a test, you feel defeated because you believe your set amount of intelligence wasn’t enough to succeed.

On the other hand, praising effort and hard work cultivates a “growth mindset,” the belief that intelligence can be developed. When you do badly on an exam and believe you can get smarter, you view it as a challenge. You put in extra time and effort and do better the next time.

Whether it be sports, parenting, business, or pretty much anything else, your capacity to get back up after being knocked down depends on your mindset. To learn how to shift toward a more growthful mindset, take a look at this article: 5 Ways to Cultivate a Growth Mindset for Self Improvement

When you understand that you can strengthen your abilities through effort, you will do better in work, school, and life over time.

3. Use Failure as Feedback

Did you know that Oprah Winfrey was demoted early in her career as a news anchor because she did not have the “it factor” for TV? She went on to reinvent her career and rule daytime talk shows for 25 years. She told Harvard’s 2013 graduating class,

“There is no such thing as failure. Failure is just life trying to move us in another direction.”

Perhaps your talk didn’t go over as well as you’d hoped because you gave it to the wrong audience. Maybe your last relationship didn’t work out because your ex was not a good match for you. A square peg won’t fit into a round hole no matter how hard you try to force it and you’ll wear yourself out in the process. What’s the point? Find a square hole!

As Zig Ziglar says,

“The most successful people are the ones who learn from their mistakes and turn their failures into opportunities.”

4. Come Up with Alternate Pathways to Your Goals

When you suffer a setback, don’t throw in the towel. Come up with a different plan to get where you want to go.

For example, I decided to become a rock star when I was 30 years old. Even though my music was well-received, an A&R agent in LA told me I was too old to make it in the music business. So, I shifted my attention to launching a CD overseas and got signed to PolyGram in South Africa.

Research by Dave Feldman and Diane Dreher on “hope interventions” found that when people set a goal, visualized three steps to get there, imagined three obstacles that could get in the way, and then developed three strategies to overcome them, they were successfully able to solve problems in their lives and reach their goals.

Set up a meaningful goal and come up with alternate routes to reach it in case you hit a roadblock. Where there’s a will, there’s a way!

5. Develop Your Superpowers

You were born with unique set of gifts that no one else in the world has. Making a commitment to develop your natural superpowers through study, discipline, and practice can boost your competence and confidence. It may seem like it would be hard work but it’s actually fun. Nothing feels better than getting better at something you love to do.

Jimi Hendrix practiced his guitar ALL the time. He wore it when he boarded planes and made scrambled eggs. He became a master guitarist because he constantly sought to boost his intrinsic talent. I’ve recorded hundreds of songs but I still take songwriting lessons to hone my skills as a singer-songwriter.

Find some YouTube videos, buy a book, or take classes to improve your skills. Even if you only do it as a hobby or a side project, developing your innate skills gives you the energy and expertise you need to overcome challenges in your life.

6. Find a Supportive Tribe

Ginsburg’s third “C” for building resilience is “CONNECTION.” He encourages parents to offer children and teens the security they need to stand on their own and come up with creative solutions to problems. Adults need positive encouragement and community, too.

It’s not a sign of weakness to seek support. Even the mighty Avengers (Captain America, Iron Man, Hulk, etc.) join forces when threats grow too large for any one of them to handle alone. Dorothy Gale achieved greatness in The Wizard of Oz because of a little help from her friends The Scarecrow, Tin Man, and Cowardly Lion.

Surround yourself with like-minded friends and acquaintances who can keep you on track with your goals. Find an accountability partner and check in with each other once a week. Be sure to form connections with “power-with” people, those who find their power from within themselves and enjoy aiding each other’s journeys.

The next time life knocks you down, put out the bat signal for your tribe to come help you. They’ll help you rebound faster and own your power.

7. Remove Kryptonite From Your Life

As important as it is to surround yourself with a positive tribe, it’s also essential that you distance yourself from people who rain on your parade.

If you have naysayers in your life, realize that this “power-over” mentality is a sign of inadequacy, not a show of real strength. There’s no need for people to aggravate, torment, or control you if their sense of self is intact. When people try to kryptonite you, it’s a sign of their weakness, not yours.

To protect yourself from people who try to belittle or manipulate you, learn how to discriminate between helpful information and controlling criticism. The former fills you with energy and gives you a sense of direction; the latter leaves you feeling defeated and drained. Consider the source.

8. Set Good Intentions

Ginsburg’s fourth “C” for building resilience is “CHARACTER,” it’s about learning right from wrong.

Superheroes use their power to save the planet. Super-villains often possess superhuman strengths, too, but they wield them for personal gain. Which camp do you fall in? Does it depend on what you’re doing?

Create a list of your values and stand by them no matter what. Being true to yourself and living with integrity will help you get through hard times.

9. Practice Kindness

The fifth “C” for building resilience is “CONTRIBUTING” to the welfare of others. The tiniest act of kindness can make a positive difference.

According to Talya Steinberg, Psy.D,

“Studies show that receiving, giving, or even witnessing acts of kindness increases the production of serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood in the brain.”

Being kind makes you feel happier and more at peace, which helps you stay grounded in difficult situations.

What little act of kindness can you do today? Give your loved ones an extra hug? Call or email a long-lost friend? Here’re more ideas for you: 29 Ways to Carry Out Random Acts of Kindness Every Day

And be sure to high-five yourself the next time you see your reflection in the mirror. Being kind to yourself counts.

10. Listen to Music You Like

The fifth “C” for building resilience is using COPING strategies to deal with stress. One easy shortcut for buoying yourself up when you feel down is listening to music you like.

Research shows that hearing your favorite music releases dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter. When you’re happy, you organize information better, think more creatively, and become a better problem solver.

I like to sing “Roar” to give me moxie. What about you? All you need is 15 minutes of your favorite tunes. So listen up!

11. Give Yourself a Hug

Another quick way to build resilience when you feel badly is to give yourself a hug. Sounds silly? It’s not.

According to Dr. Kristin Neff, author of Self-Compassion, hugging yourself releases oxytocin (the love hormone that makes you feel safe and loved) which decreases stress.

The next time you’re challenged, give it a try. Even if you’re in public, you can discreetly fold your arms around yourself. You’ll be surprised by how much better you feel.

12. Say Positive Affirmations

When you mess something up, your inner critic often makes it worse by telling you that you’re not good enough or you’re an imposter. Just because these digs stress you out doesn’t mean the limiting thoughts are true.

Research shows that saying positive things such as “keep going” and “you can do it” can replace negative self-talk and help you get on your feet again.

Need some ideas for positive affirmations? Here’re some: 10 Positive Affirmations for Success that will Change your Life

13. Relabel “Fear” as “Excitement”

When something scares you, your sympathetic nervous system gets you ready for fight or flight. Did you know that you experience the same physiological reactions when you’re excited?

The next time you get sweaty palms, try reinterpreting that response as excitement and use that nervous energy to master whatever you’re trying to do, whether it be giving a talk, going on a job interview, or winning a race.

The fact that your inner critic is messing with your mind could mean that you’re on the brink of a new growth opportunity. Take advantage of the adrenaline and go for it.

14. Stand in the Wonder Woman / Superman Pose

According to Amy Cuddy, best-selling author of Presence, adopting the Wonder Woman power pose — hands on hips, feet wide apart, shoulders back — for two minutes can make you feel powerful.

This postural feedback gives you the experience of being a laid-back alpha (i.e., a superhero). When you need a jolt of power, try it. It works! If you’re a guy, just pretend you’re Superman or Thor when you do it.

You can learn more about the power of this pose in this TedTalk:

15. Write about Tough Times

The last thing you probably feel like doing after a painful experience is dwell on it, but research by Dr. James Pennebaker shows that writing about tough times can actually improve your psychological and physical well-being.

Jot down your thoughts and feelings about the emotionally charged event for 20 minutes per day for four consecutive days. Afterward, you will feel mentally and physically stronger.

16. Stop Passing Judgment on Yourself

The final “C” for building resilience is to learn how to feel a sense of CONTROL over your life. The Serenity Prayer wisely advises us to accept what we cannot change, change what we can, and learn to tell the difference. But let’s be honest. That last part can get tricky.

Eating balanced meals, exercising, and getting enough sleep helps you bounce back from tough times. But what if you have a bad habit that prevents you from engaging in these healthy habits? Here’s a tip a wise woman gave me years ago that can help you break the pattern:

Imagine for a moment that each time you eat that extra cookie, or drink that extra glass of wine, or stay up too late watching TV, a layer gets laid down in an imaginary bowl. Every time you repeat the pattern, another layer goes down and the layers stack up over time.

To get unstuck, just observe yourself eating that extra cookie instead of judging yourself for it. At the same time, imagine that a layer gets removed from that make-believe bowl as a result. If you engage in the bad habit again, do not pass judgment. Watch yourself with compassion and see another layer come off in your mind’s eye.

Over time, this metaphorical bowl grows emptier and you begin to catch yourself sooner in the process (e.g., when you first put your hand in the cookie jar). Eventually, you’ll be able to stop yourself before you even begin. This gentle mindfulness tool can help you change habits that seem beyond your control.

17. Set Yourself Up for Success

My friend Mike enjoys skiing really fast, to the point where he is about to break his neck, because it puts him in the moment and brings out his best performance. If he were to try a steeper slope, he would fall; the bunny slopes would bore him silly. Like Goldilocks, he found the hill that was “just right“ to put him in the zone.

What does this last point have to do with building resilience? When you’re in the zone, you do your best work. If the activity is too simple, your mind wanders. If it’s too hard, you get knocked out of the moment, too. These are the critical moments when your inner critic sneaks in to fire zingers at you.

To create a successful outcome, consciously choose to do things that are fairly challenging, but not too challenging. This Goldilocks approach will keep your inner critic at bay and bring out the best in you. When you succeed in one area of your life, you’re more likely to succeed in others.

Final Thoughts

We all experience defeat at some point; it’s part of being human. But you have a CHOICE about how to react to hardship. If you CHOOSE to learn from your mistakes and persevere with a growth mindset, you can succeed at pretty much anything, especially if you come up with alternative pathways to your goals and surround yourself with people who believe in you.

When you feel overwhelmed or stressed out, write about it, listen to your favorite tunes, give yourself a hug, say positive affirmations to yourself, relabel fear as excitement, or stand in the Wonder Woman/Superman pose.

Just a couple of these hacks can help you get your mojo back. Just remember to keep going. You’ve got this.

More About Resilience

Featured photo credit: Michael Descharles via unsplash.com



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