Friday Fundamentals #8: Build Resilience

Many of us spend much of our lives afraid of the moment that something bad will happen. Is something going well for you? Odds are you have spent at least some time contemplating how horrible things would be if you lost it. Is something going poorly for you? You have likely worried about how much worse things may get down the road. Life is riddled with its fair share of tragedies and obstacles. With the prospect of cancer, unemployment, violence, divorce and everything in between, the world can be one unforgiving place.

So what is the solution to all of this? What can fuel you to get up in the morning and face the ugly, brutal parts of the day? Resilience.

Resilience is the ability to recover from difficult situations, in a timely manner. It is a sign of unfiltered, internal toughness. It propels you past a problem that others may have deemed unsolvable. We all know what it feels like. At some point in your life, you showed resilience. You were thrust into a difficult, perhaps even traumatic situation, and you came out the other side bruised and battered, but undoubtedly stronger. A resilient person is not one who is entirely unaffected by negative experiences, but rather one who is able to drag themselves out of some of the usual, destructive responses to terrible situations. Resilience is the radically effective jet propeller of your life.

So how do you build it? How does one transition from doubtful and pessimistic, to resilient and optimistic? Though there is no singular answer to this question, and certainly no way to find one overnight, but the field of positive psychology has generated some ideas from extensive research into the factors that promote resilience.

Diamonds Are Made Under Pressure

It turns out that there was, in fact, some scientific validity to Friedrich Nietzsche’s famous quote, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.” Human responses to stressful, negative situations can be thought of as a normal distribution. A small percentage of people are unable to propel past negative situations, resulting in psychological conditions like anxiety disorders, depression, and post-traumatic stress disorder. Most humans are able to respond resiliently to reasonably negative situations, experiencing some detrimental psychological effects, but eventually recovering to or near their baseline states. We can classify this group of people as “resilient.” Another small percentage of people are able to face negative situations and come out even stronger than before, armed with a more expansive set of coping mechanisms and strengths. We can classify these people as “hyper-resilient.” The difference in those who are resilient and hyper-resilient may be genetic, may be environmental, or may be random, but one thing is common in both of these groups: they must experience adverse situations. The only way someone can build resilience is to go through something difficult. Diamonds are made under pressure.

How Much Pressure Is Enough Pressure?

If you are like me, you are constantly trying to become more resilient. You recognize that you may not be able to find the solution to all of life’s problems before they rear their ugly heads, but if you can learn how to find solutions in the face of adversity, there is little that you can’t overcome.

To do this, you need to place yourself in a situation that generates the adequate amount of pressure. This would be a situation that toes the line between “impossible to solve” and “difficult to solve.” So take a good, honest look at your life. Find all of the circumstances that are weighing you down, and hypothesize what it would look like if you overcame them.

For instance, if you are plagued by anxiety, ask yourself what it would look like for you to overcome these detrimental thought patterns. Perhaps your perfect state would be: “I will no longer be afraid of bad things happening to me, because I will know most things in life aren’t that bad, and those that are will be totally out of my control and thus unworthy of my time.” You now know where you are (anxious), and where you want to be (unshakable). The resilience-building comes when you try to figure out how to reach your end-goal. While I, or any other one person, may not have the blueprint to this journey, you only need one thing: an unwavering commitment to reaching that goal. This is easier said than done. If you’ve chosen the correct problem in your life, it will beat you down constantly. It will cause you to want to give up countless times. But if you make the promise to yourself, or perhaps to someone else, that you will not stop until you figure out a way to get to your end-goal, the resilience you are searching for will find its way to you.

So, get started. The path to resilience awaits.

“My barn having burned down, I can now see the moon.” ― Mizuta Masahide

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