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How to Build Resilience

Resilience is critical to day-to-day welfare, how well we cope and how well we bounce back. How can you build yours?

May 5th 2017

Resilience is critical to how confidently we take on life, how well we cope with pressure and how well we bounce back from crises. Some people assume it’s just how you are, but actually, as Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg points out, “…it’s a muscle you can flex and build yourself.”

Our psychologists have identified 9 things that make a real difference to resilience – and have devised a range of actions you can take to help build yourself up in the areas where you need it most.

Start by asking yourself these questions

Of course resilience means different things to different people. So to think about where your own resilience may be lacking, answer these questions:

  • Do you feel like you have a strong support network to fall back on?
  • Do you make a point of celebrating successes?
  • Do you generally handle stress in a positive way?
  • Would you say you prefer to stick to tried and tested ways of doing things?
  • Do you enjoy interacting with the people around you?
  • Do you worry about what other people think of you?
  • Do you often find yourself going from one drama or crisis to the next?
  • Can you see your own mistakes and failures as an opportunity to learn?
  • Do you tend to dwell on negative things people have said or done to you in the past?

What can you do to build resilience?

Here are nine small steps you could take to build resilience:

1. Build positive networks

Having people we can depend on when things get tough is a key part of coping.

If you don’t feel you have positive networks there are all kinds of small steps you can take to improve them. For example reaching out to neighbours or work colleagues, other mums or family members is a great start. Help them with something, however small, or support them through a difficult time and you’ll be amazed how willing they will be to help you when you need them most.

It may sound mercenary, but actually it’s just human nature in action. Give it a try. Don’t expect anything back and be prepared to pleasantly surprised.


2. Celebrate successes – however small

Here in the UK we have a culture where celebrating personal success is somehow frowned upon. “It’s not British.”

But the reality is celebrating success is an important part of resilience. If you only concentrate on the things you should have done better, you are wearing yourself down.

Again the key is to start small. Facebook’s Sheryl Sandberg, when faced with the sudden death of her husband and the overwhelming sense of grief, wrote down 3 small positive things at the end of each day. That was an important small step for her.

In her new book,  ‘Option B: Facing Adversity, Building Resilience and Finding Joy’, Sheryl writes:

“Tragedy does not have to be personal, pervasive or permanent, but resilience can be. We can build it and carry it with us throughout our lives.”

Try writing three successes in a notebook or on your phone every day for a week and notice how that simple action feeds a more positive vibe as the week goes by.


Sheryl Sandberg, Facebook COO

3. Handle stress in a positive way

How do you handle stress in a positive way? The American Heart Association suggests four ways you can turn stress on its head:

  1. Positive Self-Talk: “I can do this” Even better, write down!
  2. Emergency Stress Stoppers – like deep breathing, time-outs, writing lists.
  3. Find Pleasure – yes it’s allowed! Do something for you.
  4. Daily Relaxation – incrementally building up your relaxation skills with yoga, meditation, exercise or whatever suits you.

It may seem impossible when you already have too much to do, but think of it as putting fuel in the car. Yes it takes a few minutes when you’d rather be eating up the miles, but without it, you will splutter to halt and potentially derail the whole journey.


4. Welcome change into your life

Our own research shows that people who are prepared to be more flexible are less likely to be anxious or depressed. Which means they are more able to be resilient.

One way to push outside your comfort zone is to sign up for our FREE GO DO programme. That will give you tailored prompts via the App or text to your phone to help you build confidence by doing new things.

Its quick. It’s simple. It’s fun. Give it a try.


5. Take joy in the people around you

Research reported in Psychology Today shows that socialising can provide a number of benefits to your physical and mental health. Indeed connecting with friends may also boost your brain health and lower your risk of dementia.

Sometimes we’re so busy we don’t take time to interact properly with the people around us. We’re on the phone at the checkout counter. We bark orders at work. We keep our head down on the bus. We avoid eye-contact at the school gate.

If you recognise these behaviours, make a conscious effort to connect more deeply with people today and see what happens. And if you need a film to watch, take a look at About Time, or Groundhog Day – both championing the virtues of valuing ordinary interactions in a busy life.


6. Stop worrying about what other people think of you

It’s very human to worry about what others think of us and to let this grind us down.

But studies repeatedly show that it is just as human to overestimate the impact of our failures, shortcoming or mishaps.

In one recent social experiment a team invited people to look in a mirror and describe what they saw. What they didn’t know was that there were strangers on the other side of the mirror, giving their first impressions.

Take a look here – it’s amazing how differently and how much more kindly people probably view you and what you do. (Skips the ads, it’s worth a watch.)


7. Reframe the drama. Share the crisis

Dr Steve Peters, the psychiatrist credited with helping the British Cycling team to world dominance has written in his book, ‘The Chimp Paradox’ about how so many of us live in constant crisis. He describes how our primitive responses can take over sending us into a cycle of anxiety and stress. Peter’s describes how we all have the Chimp in us and its drives, although there to keep us safe, can work against us, leaving people in what can be an almost constant state of Fight or Flight.

If you feel you are continually trapped in crisis mode, what can you do about it?

Often it’s about two things. The lens you are looking at everything through. And prioritising what needs to be done.

Talking to someone sympathetic is a good way to get some perspective and may lead to practical help. Taking a little time out to list what has to be done and then being kind to yourself about what matters most is a good way to get some prioritising underway.


8. See your own mistakes and failures as an opportunity to learn

Building resilience may mean you have to throw away an old misconception that you probably learnt in childhood: Mistakes are bad.

In fact mistakes or failure are the fastest way to learn. What’s more scientists at Stanford University have found that making mistakes actually grows your brain. The brain fires off synapses, even if the student doesn’t know they have made a mistake.

Professor of Mathematics Education, Jo Boaler, in describing the work by Jason Moser and his team says:

“When teachers ask me how this can be possible, I tell them that the best thinking

we have on this now is that the brain sparks and grows when we make a mistake, even if we are not aware of it, because it is a time of struggle; the brain is challenged and the challenge results in growth.”

If you want to be more resilient, we have already discussed the idea that you need to celebrate success. Now you know – you have to celebrate failure too.


9. Stop dwelling on negative things people have said or done to you in the past

Imagine you are an athlete on one of those Wild Mud Challenges where you have thick muddy pools to wade through, followed by chest high wooden poles to clamber over. You have just got through the mud and you are looking at the wooden pole. Do you think the top athletes will think about how hard the gloopy mud was, or will they be concentrating on how best to scramble over the pole?

If you constantly dwell on negative things, you will be compromising your resilience for the next thing, whatever it may be.

Easier said than done? If you can’t stop thinking about them, then maybe you can change how you think about them.

Researchers at the Beckman Institute at the University of Illinois, led by psychology professor Florin Dolcos of the Cognitive Neuroscience Group, have found that thinking about the contextual elements of the negative memories significantly reduced their emotional impact.

Dolcos explains:

“Sometimes we dwell on how sad, embarrassed, or hurt we felt during an event, and that makes us feel worse and worse. This is what happens in clinical depression—ruminating on the negative aspects of a memory.”

“Instead of thinking about your emotions during a negative memory, looking away from the worst emotions and thinking about the context, like a friend who was there, what the weather was like, or anything else non-emotional that was part of the memory, will rather effortlessly take your mind away from the unwanted emotions associated with that memory. Once you immerse yourself in other details, your mind will wander to something else entirely, and you won’t be focused on the negative emotions as much.”

Do Something Different’s Building Resilience is available to our Corporate customers.