How we view challenges has everything to do with our ability to bounce back.
My 13-year-old son Evan goes to a school for children with emotional disturbances. The faculty and staff are incredibly well-trained and do an amazing job with behavioral interventions. One of the things they stress to the kids is that making mistakes isn’t always bad. Many times, these are life’s greatest learning opportunities.
Recently Evan got angry and stormed out of the house. Normally, when he gets angry, he walks down to the creek or the neighborhood pond. When he didn’t come back after 10 minutes, we started looking for him. And looking. And looking. As panic set in, and we had our family and neighbors all searching for him, I had all kinds of horrible worst-case scenarios running through my mind. More than two hours later, Evan called me from the leasing office of a random apartment complex that he’d walked to (nearly three miles away!)
Now, I’m not proud of what happened next, but in the spirit of transparency, I’ll share it anyway.
I drove like a bat out of hell to the apartment complex, got out of the car at the leasing office, saw Evan, and lost my freaking mind. Wearing my yoga pants, a baggy sweatshirt and no make-up with two hours of intense stress written all over my face, I screamed “Where the hell have you been? Do you have ANY idea how scared we have been? You are in SO much trouble!” The poor leasing manager probably thought I was a nut job. Without missing a beat, Evan looked at me, then the leasing manager, and then back at me with his big blue eyes and in his cutest voice said, “Mom, I’m not sure I should get in trouble. This has been a valuable learning opportunity.” Smart ass!
“A growing body of scientific research confirms that that resilience is
a key factor in helping employees cope with workplace stress.”
I wish I could say I saw the humor (and the learning) in the situation immediately, but it took a little time to process. I was angry, I was hurt, and I was sad. I allowed myself time to feel those things, and then I got back up. It really was a learning opportunity – another opportunity for me to practice being resilient. I’ve had so many lately!
Resilience is defined as the ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change. Basically, it’s the ability to get back up after you’ve been knocked down. I used to think resilience was in your genetics, like skinny thighs. You either have it or you don’t. But what I’ve come to realize, to appreciate, is that resilience is a set of skills, rather than a disposition or personality type.
Learning to Cultivate Resilience Means We Grow Stronger
By learning to cultivate resilience, we not only make it through the hard times that are inevitable, but we grow stronger as a result. A growing body of scientific research confirms that that resilience is a key factor in helping employees cope with workplace stress. For instance, one study of 744 intensive care nurses found that high resilience was associated with lower levels of burnout and symptoms of anxiety, depression and post-traumatic stress disorder. Another found that employers who work to improve resilience among their employees will develop a more engaged, healthy and productive workforce.
When you think you have suffered a blow in life that has knocked you down for good, or you think you don’t have what it takes to bounce back, consider this: you can learn to be more resilient at any age, at any time in your life, in any circumstance. Activities that can help you become more resilient include regular physical exercise, stress-reduction practices, programs that actively build executive function and self-regulation skills (think meditation), being more forgiving of yourself and others, and keeping a sense of humor.
We Can Learn Resilience By Studying Resilient People!
Yes, it’s true. We can learn to be more resilient by studying characteristics and habits of people we find are more resilient, and doing the work to foster those same attributes in our own lives. Everyone experiences setbacks, sadness, stress, and loss. The people who tend to navigate these challenges more easily share similar characteristics. Generally speaking, they:
- Stay connected and build strong, positive relationships
- Find humor in the little things and not take themselves too seriously
- Embrace change as an opportunity
- Respond intentionally rather than react emotionally
- Give of themselves to help others
- Consider adversity as a challenge and an opportunity
- Process grief
- View themselves as fighters, not victims
- Have high emotional intelligence (EQ) and cultivate self-awareness
- Learn from their experiences to guide future behavior
- Take care of their mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual health
- Stretch out of their comfort zone and take risks
What Makes It Possible to Bounce Back?
Think about a time you were knocked down emotionally and you did not necessarily recover as quickly or in the dignified manner as you would have liked. Now think about an instance in which you did rebound and recover quickly. How do these two examples compare? What made it possible to bounce back?
When you examine the differences you can start closing the gaps. Think of things that make you feel strong and inspired. Do these things intentionally and often. If listening to music inspires you, then play your favorite tunes and turn up the volume. Listen to the music until you can actually hear it again. In fact, we can often associate a song with a feeling. When we hear the song, dopamine (the feel good neurotransmitter) is released in our brain, making us actually feel happier. Every time I head out to a speaking event, I play the song Wild Thing by Ton Loc. I’m not sure why, but that song always gets me pumped up. I even made it my ring tone. What song does that for you?
Bottom Line: Resilient People Don’t Let Adversity Define Them.
Resilient (and often successful) people perceive pain and misfortune as temporary phases in the big picture. As they move toward their personal and professional goals, they don’t waste difficult experiences and difficult times. They use them as a catalyst for growth. And so can you!