Over recent months, I’ve seen two friends go through the jarring experience of being fired. Both were justifiably shocked but their similarities ended there.
One got back on the proverbial horse and worked his network. He was pragmatic and optimistic about new possibilities. Shortly afterwards, he landed a better position and is grateful for the push. The other person, however, remains stuck in victimhood. Sure, he has been working towards a new career path but with much less enthusiasm and encouragement. Sadly, he is still on the hunt.
We all face challenges in life. But what happens after a setback is where we see people take distinctly different approaches. While some stay down, others get back up, stronger than before.
Experts refer to this ability to bounce back as resiliency – and it is considered to be a bigger predictor of success than education or intelligence. The benefits don’t stop there. Jane McGonigal shows how resiliency can add ten years to your life in her compelling TED Talk based on findings from more than 1,000 peer-reviewed scientific studies.
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What differentiates resilient people? They aren’t necessarily smarter or harder working than their less resilient counterparts. However, they do rely on four key strategies and those strategies are within reach of all of us.
Resilience booster #1: Physical activity
While I’ve always believed in the benefits of exercise, I’ll admit to having stretches of both high and low activity throughout my life. Busy-ness and inertia have been my biggest obstacles. But then I heard some advice that compelled me to commit to daily activity: Do something your future self will thank you for.
Staying active is key to helping your body withstand more stress and to heal itself faster. As well, high levels of resiliency are correlated with better long-term health status. But what comes first – exercise or resiliency? Turns out, it is actually a positive feedback loop. Physically active people are more resilient. And more resilient people get a boost to their health and fitness.
Regardless of how busy your day is, you can fit in exercise. Start your day with a high-intensity workout. Do walking meetings. Use a treadmill desk. Take the stairs. The key is to not sit still for very long.
“It’s not stress that kills us, it is our reaction to it.”
Hans Selye – Author, Stress Without Distress
Resilience booster #2: Mental focus
I used to get frustrated when a former manager would attack my ideas with the “I’m just testing you” justification, over and over (and over) again. Then I learned about the power of reframing. Instead of getting mired in frustration, I mentally translated his message into a much more inspiring, “I’m exploring your best thinking, Ann – I know you are capable of more”.
Another effective way to reframe is to depersonalize. Resilient people detach themselves from situations and don’t take things personally (even when it is personal). For example, if you are frustrated when someone cuts you off in traffic, consider whether they are rushing to the hospital. The key with reframing is to diminish the triggers. This strategy allows us to respond instead of react.
Celebrating progress is another way resilient people maintain mental focus. This helps to dissipate a “No matter what I do, it doesn’t matter” thought pattern. It also inoculates us against the Zeigarnik Effect, or our tendency to fixate on uncompleted tasks. (This may also explain why I can’t get a song out of my head after hearings a few chords in the morning.)
Resilience booster #3: Emotional strength
When facing difficulties, resilient people display starkly different emotions than their not-so-resilient peers. Resilient people still manage to find some “redeeming potential or value” despite enduring challenges. They experience both negative and positive emotions, even in difficult or painful situations according to research conducted by Barbara Fredrickson, author of Positivity. But sadly, less resilient people have all of their emotions turn negative.
Resilient people are particularly good at managing the negativity bias we all face. They apply the 3 Cs approach: They catch it by consciously noticing negative thoughts. They check it by examining the evidence and consider whether they are projecting from one data point. Then they change it. They look for positive interpretations and commit to focusing on affirming possibilities.
Resilience booster #4: Social support
We’ve all heard the colloquial advice “Laughter is the best medicine” and there is scientific evidence to back up the benefits of comic relief. Laughing in the face of adversity offers pain relief for both our body and mind. As Al Siebert, author of The Survivor Personality says: “Playing with a situation makes a person more powerful than sheer determination [does]. The person who toys with the situation creates an inner feeling of ‘This is my plaything; I am bigger than it. I won’t let it scare me.’” On that note, it’s no wonder the most resilient people seem to be having a lot of fun.
Burned-out people, to their detriment, start to isolate themselves. Understandably, when we’re grumpy, we don’t feel like socializing. On the contrary, socializing increase our resiliency. A 2006 study of nearly 3,000 women with breast cancer found those with 10 or more friends were four times more likely to survive the disease than women who were more socially isolated.
Both socializing and helping others helps to boost our resiliency. A study of stress among health-care leaders found practically all of them (91%) agreed that expressing empathy helped them to stop focusing on their own stressors and connect with others on a much deeper level.
Physical, mental, emotional and social – four attainable boosters to elevate our resiliency. If stress has been holding you back, these levers are key tools to begin moving forward. Just don’t dwell on any lost time spent in a stressful state. Reframe your experiences as excellent motivation to boost your resiliency going forward.