We often tend to think when we see how resilient people navigate life with such apparent ease and grace, that they were just born different; or that they haven’t been buffeted by too many of life’s tornados.
In fact it’s often the other way around.
The more often you face adversity, the less power it has to cripple you.
Resilient people show us that it is not necessarily the challenges, but the RELATIONSHIP we have with these challenges that dictate the quality of our lives. It’s how they see themselves in relation to their problem that makes them do things differently. They still feel fear, as we all do, but they’ve mastered the art of turning fear into fuel.
Whether it’s learning a new skill; facing retrenchment; relocating to a new home, city, or country; ending a relationship and starting a new one; overcoming an illness; surviving tragedy and bereavement; changing careers in mid-life; or sailing round the world single handed, the reason for our fear is the same.
We all need to feel safe; assured that we can avoid pain and gain pleasure.
When we are babies our sense of safety is easily threatened because we are so dependent on others for our survival. As we grow, most of us can release our grip on this dependency. We increasingly seek change, challenge, stimuli, and adventure to stave off boredom.
We all need to feel significant; assured that we are unique, important, special, appreciated, and part of a group, tribe or family.
When we are babies our sense of significance is easily threatened because we are dependent on those around us to give us a sense of identity. As we grow, most of us can release our grip on this dependency. We become increasingly capable of forming our own identity, without it being quite so closely tied to our ‘tribe.’
We all need affectionate connections—feelings of closeness, and value to someone or something.
When we are babies our sense of value is easily threatened because we are dependent on those who are close and familiar to peg it for us. As we grow, most of us can release our grip on this dependency. We become increasingly capable of finding this sense of connection with other people or situations outside our immediate circle.
But some of us, for a variety of reasons find this emotional maturing process much scarier than others.
Our sense of safety, value and identity is so fragile that we find it hard to release our grip on its original source. Under normal, nurturing circumstances our definition of our core needs (safety, significance and connection) evolve and so does our definition of what constitutes a danger to them.
Compare how you felt on your first day of school to how you feel when you go off to college or start a new job. By the time we get to our 50s for instance, we laugh at how traumatized we were on that first day of school (if we can still remember).
Look in the rear view mirror of your life regularly.
If you write a list of all the ways that you have broken the fear barrier during the course of your life, you’ll be astounded at what a long list it is! Celebrate each one!
Make friends with your fears. Thank them for the warning message. Tell them you understand that they are really looking out for you.
Practice expanding your fear fences.
Then practice some more. The more you stretch them, the more they will expand. Take calculated risks. You’re a Christopher Columbus colonizing new territory. Pick your trips into “unknown territory’. Make the goal really worthwhile, so it keeps calling you forward when the terrain gets tough.
Hang out with fellow fear-fighters, who are on a similar journey; so you can support and encourage each other. Make like-minded mentors your fuel supply.
Everyone is on a fear-fighting journey of some sort, even if they’re not aware they are.
Create a safe harbor that you know you can go to if the journey really gets too tough. This may be a person, a group, a geographical location, a spiritual belief, a mantra or visualization.
Get comfortable with failure.
Of course you’re going to fail; and so am I and so are 7 billion other people on our planet. In fact we’ll all “fail” numerous times. Nobody performs perfectly every time (though some like to think they do). Dancers miss steps, musicians hit the wrong note, and photographers fail to get the focus right. The best doctors, dentists and neuro-surgeons sometimes slip up. The most celebrated businessmen and women go into ventures that crash and burn. The best engineers or mechanics put a spanner in the works from time to time. Pilots, train drivers, ship’s captains and astronauts can make fatal errors of judgment. History is littered with plans small and large that didn’t come together. That’s how we evolve.
Those who master resilience are flexible rather than rigid. They bend instead of break. If they do feel broken for a while, they let their wounds heal and ultimately grow stronger where the “scar tissue” is.
They don’t take the stressful episodes in life personally. They have their fair share of stress triggers but they don’t buy into them. They don’t hang onto life’s challenges and tragedies, and base their identities on these struggles. They know this is only part of their story.
They know themselves intimately—their strengths and their weaknesses. This self awareness grants them the ability to manage their emotions and read their internal signals; to decipher what their moods and feelings (like fear) are telling them, and take the appropriate action. They know what they are capable of and are not easily intimidated.
They surround themselves with a likeminded level headed support team, whose members understand, encourage, and celebrate each others challenges and victories. They help each other bounce back from adversity.
Their creative problem solving skills are well developed. When faced with a crisis or a challenge, they feel the fear like we all do, but they instinctively step back, detach from their emotions, and evaluate the options objectively.
They know where they can influence change—and where they can’t. They don’t waste time fighting battles they can never win. They don’t waste time and energy on what they cannot change. They focus instead on how they can influence positive change.
They instinctively reframe the negatives, balance them with the positives, and are therefore able to gain perspective and see the big picture. They accept and expect that challenges and crises are an integral part of life, so they are better prepared for them.
Their well developed curiosity grants them the ability to see the opportunities in adversity, so they are not afraid to take calculated risks. They constantly increase their tolerance for challenges, by exposing themselves to them—so they grow stronger and smarter.
They keep themselves mentally, emotionally and physically fit—in tip top condition to handle the journey of life. Their ability to cope with the tough stuff and bounce back is greater because of this. They cut themselves slack when necessary, and discipline themselves when their goals require it.
They celebrate their wins—all of them, no matter how small. They know this builds confidence and momentum. They’re comfortable with risking failure. They know its just feedback, so it propels them instead of paralyzing them.
Becoming resilient ultimately depends on the answer to this question:
Will I let fear define me—or will I use it to build resilience?