Learning to be resilient even in the toughest of times
“Who are you?” said the Caterpillar… I hardly know, Sir, just at present,” Alice replied shyly, “at least I know who I was when I got up this morning, but I think I must have changed several times since then.”- Lewis Carroll, Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland
Do you ever wonder why some people rise up after something goes wrong and others let a similar experience take them down? Maybe you’ve personally experienced heartbreak, disappointments, job loss, financial struggles, or health issues.
It changes you.
You’re not alone; everyone deals with disappointments and setbacks on a daily basis. It changes us, and sometimes it’s hard to remember who we were… before.
But, why do some people sail through the painful and confusing times? Sometimes they even use it to their advantage, but others stumble and fall… hard.
In researching this phenomenon, I discovered there’s a secret to “bouncing back,” and it is something we all have, but often we are reluctant to acknowledge it. It’s called resilience and it’s the inner reset button to handle what life throws your way.
Resilience is your inner reset button.
Being resilient doesn’t mean whatever you’re going through is an easy fix. It means that your very nature has components that will help you ride through, and do a course adjustment during the tough challenges.
It won’t cure it, but it will offer the hope that you’ll make it. It gives you a platform for putting one foot in front of the other and will take you places you didn’t know you could go.
I saw an interview of a famous Los Angeles chef and restaurateur, Chef Niki Nakayama (Chef’s Table on Netflix) who said she struggles every time a customer in her restaurant doesn’t like what she’s prepared. Even though it hurts, she says it makes her a better chef.
The Japanese word for it is, kuyashii.
It’s the emotion you feel when you fail, but that emotion becomes the inspiration to fuel the pursuit of achievement.
It’s the ability to pluck the negative from a devastating experience and transform it into a personal dedication to winning.
Everyone has a story.
I know I’m not the only one who has lived a tumultuous life. I know others have been through hell and back because there’s no such thing as a life without challenges.
When I lost my 16-year-old son to meningitis, I didn’t want to live. I didn’t want to face another painful day, but I had three living children who needed me.
Grief was everywhere I turned; there was no escaping it. What surprised me the most was the lack of joy. I never knew what that felt like.
Before my son died, I‘d wake up each day with joy. But after, it was like a kick in my gut, and every morning I’d re-live his loss. Another day, another hour, another minute of grieving. I was exhausted.
One morning I awoke to the sounds of my youngest child, giggling. He was just a year old. He was laughing at the sun as it poured into his room, and every time he looked at it, it made him sneeze, one after another.
I burst into laughter and the sound of it shocked me. I hadn’t heard myself laugh in so long. I was a “grieving parent,” but suddenly that label was in conflict with my other label… being the mother of a beautiful, happy baby boy.
I realized you can have two emotions living in the same body, and you can choose to focus on one or the other.
Each morning I woke up with that choice, happy or sad. I began to learn how to choose “happy,” even through the veil of grief. The choice was mine. The tears weren’t gone… just allowed to be tucked away now and then.
You may not control all the events that happen to you, but you can decide not to be reduced by them.
– Maya Angelou
Choice plays a huge roll in how you reign over your life.
During one of the toughest times of my life, I read two books that helped me make sense of the changes I was going through. The author of both is William Bridges. His books Transitions and The Way of Transition outlined specific stages of transitions that happen when you’re faced with difficult times. He teaches how to deal productively with change.
Until reading the books, I had no idea what I was suffering from was “transition.” He explains that “transition begins with an ending. We have to let go of the old thing before we can pick up the new one-not just outwardly, but inwardly, where we keep our connections to people and places that act as definitions of who we are.”
I realized that I had come so far in my grief recovery, yet I gave myself no credit at all. Bridges helped me understand I had developed ways to cope by strengthening my abilities to be resilient.
Acknowledge how far you’ve come.
Take a few minutes to acknowledge what you’ve survived, how far you’ve come, and what traits you’ve developed that helped you bounce back.
Then, take a look at the following traits of others who are resilient, successful people. I’m certain you have some of these traits already.
Important Practices of Resilient People:
1. They know that life has cycles and they appreciate all they’ve been through.
Life is the sum total of experiences, the ups, and downs that make a complete life. You can’t appreciate where you are without looking back to see where you’ve come from.
If you don’t examine your life experiences, they have no value to you.
– Rick Warren, author, The Purpose Driven Life
2. They make an effort to be optimistic.
There’s a difference between just feeling positive and being optimistic. Being optimistic is the feeling that the present moment is in an optimum state. The concept of optimism is that the past, present, and future all contribute to everything being perfect as it should be. Therefore, the failures are as important as the successes for awakening new ideas and re-thinking new pathways to success and happiness.
3. They know that fear is part of the game.
You ask any successful person if they had fear going to their next level and they will tell you “yes”… but their passion made fear work for them. In Steven Pressfield’s book “Do the Work,” he says actor, Henry Fonda was throwing up before each stage performance, even at the age of 75. In other words, fear doesn’t go away. It’s a battle that must be fought by dynamic people every day.
4. They take their health seriously and look great most of the time.
How do you show up in the world? Your appearance and physical health is something you can control. When we are physically healthy, we are more capable of dealing with the stresses of everyday life.
Self-care is critical to a sense of well being. Get plenty of sleep (read the work of Arianna Huffington on how critical sleep is), eat well, stay hydrated, and for goodness sake, make an effort to look presentable every single day. It improves your spirit!
I’ve run into more clients going to the gym or grocery store. The minute I tried sneaking in unnoticed, I’d run into someone I knew. I learned to throw away the torn tee shirt for a great workout top, swipe a little mascara, and put a brush through my hair.
5. They know what they do for a living is one of the highest expressions of who they are. Make it count.
Resilient people know how important it is to work in a job you love, or at least parts of it that you love. We spend the majority of our lives working and spending time with people we work with. It’s important that who you are is reflected in your work and the interaction with others. Resilient people like what they do (most of the time). It’s also the reason resilient people are highly successful.
6. They’ve learned that resistance is a force of nature and fight hard to keep it out of the Kingdom of Resilience.
Author Steven Pressfield (The War of Art) defines resistance as “ a repelling force. It’s negative. Its aim is to shove us away, distract us, prevent us from doing our work.” Resistance can manifest itself in different ways… like spending too much time on Facebook when you have a writing deadline, or avoiding important phone calls that need to be made. You never know whether that one thing you’ve been resisting could change your life!
Resistance is anything that stops you from the best use of your time or prevents you from becoming your best self. Get your sword and armor and start fighting resistance.
7. Resilient people have a mindfulness daily practice.
Mounting evidence reveals that more and more highly successful people meditate, pray, or have some sort of mindset practice they do every day. It’s proven to increase emotional well being, improve focus, enhance creativity, lower stress, encourages better sleep, and revitalizes health. Wouldn’t you trade 15 minutes of your day for those benefits?
8. “They know that inspiration is different than motivation”… but seek both.
“Motivation is necessary to complete a task and keeps you going to get it done. Inspiration is what ensures that your team (or you) sees the bigger picture and the bigger purpose of what you are chasing.”- Elle Kaplan
I learned through my personal experiences, it’s important to employ consistent motivation when you’re feeling like you’ve run out of gas. Once motivation gets you up and running again, inspiration is on the horizon, just waiting for you to seize the day. Carpé Diem
9. They know how to build a support system.
No one should ever have to go through the tough times alone. Resilient people know how to build relationships personally and professionally. They do not feel embarrassed or afraid to ask for help. They thrive by seeking the support of others.
After my son died, I had to work up the courage to say, “help.” I’d never been through anything like this before, and even the simplest things were the hardest… like making dinner, picking up the children, going to the dry cleaners.
My friends surrounded me with support. I’d open the door, and there was dinner. I’d look in my closet, and someone had brought home my dry cleaning. I’d get a call, and hear that my children would be picked up from school and taken to their activities. Don’t be afraid to ask for help… it’s a component of resilience that just needs a little nudge. Then watch what happens…
Becoming more resilient takes time and practice. If you don’t feel you’re making progress — or you don’t know where to start — consider talking to a mental health provider. With guidance, you can improve your resiliency and mental well-being.
— Mayo Clinic
10. Resilient people know that nothing ever stays the same. Ever.
When you try to hold onto something, or someone, or keep everything the same, that’s the moment when change happens. When you have a challenge, recognize it as a time to grow in faith and strength.
I read a wonderful book that helped me understand the experience of transitioning from one stage of life to another. I highly recommend you read The Way of Transition by William Bridges. Once you learn that change is a necessary part of life, you’ll allow resilience to carry you through.
11. Resilient people focus on love as the most important thing in life. Take steps to prioritize your life to include family and friends. Express your love every single day by making a phone call, sending a card, cooking dinner for your mom, or taking a walk with a friend.
12. And most of all… leave nothing unsaid to those you love.
That thought inspired me to call my 89-year old father a year ago to tell him how much I loved growing up with him. I shared old stories, laughter, and thanked him for making my childhood so wonderful. Dad is a retired Admiral, and never showed much emotion, but I know it deeply affected him; he was speechless.
My beautiful father died just a month ago and I treasure every minute of that conversation.
Sometimes I wonder, “Why me? Why did my son have to die? Why did I lose my marriage? Why did I lead such a tumultuous life?”
But why not me? No one is immune to challenges and circumstances that rock our world. Everyone’s life is a series of ups and downs, but everyone is also capable of living a resilient life.
Real life is not always going to be perfect or go our way, but the recurring acknowledgment of what is working in our lives can help us not only to survive but surmount our difficulties.
— Sarah Ban Breathnach
At first, I thought my story of life was one of loss, but actually, my story is one of triumph. When I ask myself, how did I rebuild my life when I thought it was impossible?
I began looking at all the ways resilience carried me through, and I discovered at the very core was faith. It was there all along and gave me the strength to resurrect my life.
You’ve always had the power, my dear… You’ve had it all along.
– Glinda, The Wizard of Oz
And you have that power, too.