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Motivation
Published: April 11, 2017

We Don't Need a Lot of Self-Help Books, We Need Resilience

Have you ever noticed that some people are just really good at bouncing back? They roll with the punches life throws them with almost effortless ease. For years, I wondered what their secret was.

I’ve gone to hypnotherapists, looked into Buddhism, read through a frankly weird amount of self-help books (I think the people at my local library are a little concerned), all to little avail. I wondered if these people were unusually tough? Perhaps even unusually uncaring?

No, in the end these people who stand against adversity have resilience, nothing more.

The good news is, resilience can be learned and developed.

Surprisingly, there is no single agreed definition for resilience; however, in general resilience is that X factor that makes people keep going through adversity. To some degree, resiliency is a product of biological factors, or was formed in childhood when the brain was in development.1

A thirty year study followed 698 children for the first three decades of their lives.2 During the study, particular attention was paid to reactions to trauma and stress. Two thirds came from comfortable, stable homes, and functioned generally okay.

The other third were considered “at risk,” and had been exposed to unusual stress or difficulties in their home life. Two thirds of this group unfortunately grew up developing learning and behavioral issues. The remaining third, like the ones from safe, comfortable homes, grew up to be good, caring adults. They developed resilience.

The reasons for this were twofold:

  • Some of the “at risk” had access to a supportive caregiver who helped make sure they didn’t go through their problems alone.
  • Others were fiercely independent from a young age and went through their lives on their own terms.

Interestingly, some who initially weren’t resilient, later developed resiliency.

To develop resilience, you don’t really need to do the tough stuff.

So, what does it take to actually get some extra resilience? Well, here are four ways to build some up, and all of them involve finding peace in yourself.

1. Always look on the bright side, especially in stressful situations.

This is a key, underlining aspect to it all. It makes a lot of sense, because, for example, if someone were to react to a stressful event by thinking it was the worst thing in the world, it will seem as such. But were they to somehow remain positive, to see the silver lining in it, then it will seem less overwhelming, and as such they will be more resilient.

So it is important to remain positive about the past, present and future.

In some of my experiments with Buddhism, I have been told that the world appears to us as we imagine it to be, and the real trauma is not the event itself, but our emotional reaction to the trauma (if you want the point backed up by Eastern spirituality).

2. Stay connected with someone supportive.

One unifying factor of the most resilient children in the study mentioned earlier is that they had a support structure. They had parents, guardians, or a teacher that had their back. Other reports and studies have suggested the same.3

All you need is someone who wants to see you succeed and is willing to help you do so. To children it can be a parent, guardian, or teacher. But for you, having a group of good friends is just as effective.

3. Do good to make people feel good.

Studies have shown that doing good increases production of Serotonin, a neurotransmitter that regulates mood, in the body.4 Low levels of serotonin are often found in people suffering from depression.

So, doing good makes you feel good.

Doing good can also help put things in perspective if you are faced with people who are suffering tougher challenges in their lives.

Some have also suggested making an effort to note when kindness is done to you, perhaps by creating a gratitude journal or blog.5 People are more likely to remember when they have been mistreated, so having a reminder of the many times you have been treated well may help cancel out negativity.

4. Take very good care of yourself.

With this I don’t just mean keeping active and eating well (which can’t hurt), but paying attention to your mind. Stress can accumulate, which by extension can have a lasting impact on your mood and make you react severely to stressful situations, ultimately exacerbating them.6

A setback you might easily be able to take might knock you down if you already have a lot of stress in your life. To counter the effects of this cumulative stress, you should make sure you’re getting plenty of sleep and rest.

Even when you are just relaxing, parts of your brain are working on overdrive, especially when stressed. Rest and sleep can counteract this.

Practicing all of the above could greatly improve your resilience and ability to stand tough against setbacks and trauma, as well as be better equipped to handle stress and feel good while doing so.

I’ll leave you with the last stanza of a poem: “Invictus” by William Ernest Henley.7

This poem was one that proved a great benefit to Nelson Mandela during his 25 years in prison, as well as me during much less inspiring stuff. The poem summarizes resilience in a nice way.

“It matters not how straight the gate
How charged with punishment the scroll
I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul.”

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