Why are some people more resilient than others?
We all experience tough times during our lives. Some people seem to bounce back from adversity while others struggle, fall into depression, or permanently see themselves as victims.
Resilient people are able to recover from setbacks more quickly and thoroughly than less-resilient people.
The American Psychological Association identifies these factors in resilient people:
- Have a support system that provides love, trust, and encouragement
- The capacity to make realistic plans and carry them out
- Skills in communication and problem solving
- The capacity to manage strong feelings and impulses
- A positive view of themselves and confidence in their ability to cope
In my clinical practice, I’ve also observed that resilient people share these characteristics:
- Tend to be more optimistic in general
- See choices and are resourceful
- Accept that change is part of life and things don’t always go as planned
- Focus on what they can control and put their energy toward changing themselves
- Allow others to help them
You can learn to be more resilient
Have a growth mindset
It’s helpful to adopt a growth mindset. In other words, you can increase resiliency if you can see setbacks as learning opportunities not as failures. If you remember that tough times are normal and to be expected, you won’t take them personally and blame yourself. You can choose to see setbacks and adversities as opportunities for growth rather than personal failings or punishments.
Supportive people help
A support system is also essential to resiliency. You can actively cultivate supportive relationships by investing time in existing and new friendships, organized activities, or a faith community. Ask for help; a support system doesn’t do you much good if you don’t let others help you!
How not why
You can also increase resiliency by shifting from “why” to “how.” Much of the time, there isn’t an answer for why bad things happen. But many people get hung up on trying to understand why, which can leave them stuck in anger, self-blame, or depression. Shifting your thinking to how you can cope will lead to more productive solutions, greater sense of self-efficacy and self-worth.
Manage your emotions
Effective coping also entails regulating your mood. Strong feelings such as anger, sadness, or fear can make it difficult to see things clearly, evaluate all your options, and make good decisions. Resilient people manage their emotions so that they can focus and not be overwhelmed by them. They are aware of and express their emotions in healthy ways and take steps to calm themselves through activities such as respectful communication, writing or art, meditation, or exercise.
Another effective way to shift your thinking is to stop seeing yourself as a victim and see yourself as competent and capable. When you have self-compassion rather than self-pity you recognize that everyone has struggles and don’t compare your problems to those of other people.
You have more coping skills than you think
Resilient people view problems as manageable and have confidence in their ability to cope. In other words, your perception of the obstacle has a lot to do with whether you thrive or not. My favorite way to build confidence is to write down all of the challenges that you’ve overcome already. Most of us can write a fairly long list of struggles from major traumas such as the death of a child to minor setbacks like a fender bender. Even if you didn’t cope with prior problems perfectly, you have developed an arsenal of what to do and what not to do. You’re stronger than you think and it’s important that you know this!
Focus on solutions
You can also increase your resiliency by focusing on solutions instead of problems. Dwelling on your problems only tends to make them worse. Worrying and overthinking don’t generally lead to innovative solutions or flexible thinking. Research headed by Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D. found that rumination impairs problem-solving. It keeps you stuck on what’s wrong. When you notice this happening, you can intentionally brainstorm solutions, seek guidance, and use additional strategies to reduce anxiety.
Have a sense of humor
Can you laugh at yourself or your problems? Humor can help us get through some of the worst of times. Experience Life Magazine identified humor as one of its top five ways to build resiliency stating: “…laughing in the face of adversity can be profoundly pain relieving, for both the body and mind.”
You’re more than your problems
Finally, remember that the adversities and problems that you face don’t define you. You may not be able to control everything that happens in your life, but you can control your response. You can increase your resiliency through the strategies mentioned above and by finding meaning and growth in your challenges, failures, and traumas.
©2016 Sharon Martin. All rights reserved.
Photo credit: The U.S. Army on Flickr