Resilience: The Why and The How

Resilience: The Why and The How

A family member’s death. A car accident. Relentless bullying. 

We all know that it takes resilience to recover from trauma. 

A disgruntled coworker. Missed deadlines. A failed test. 

However, we often glide over the fact that it takes resilience to get over the ordinary too. 

Defined by Merriam-Webster as the ‘ability to recover from or adjust easily to misfortune or change’, resilience is as much about the daily hassles – the minor pressures that build up – as it is about tackling major hurdles such as death, depression and financial ruin. 

Resilience is everywhere – thrown in casually into speeches, found in that inspirational quote on your Instagram feed, and in every other feel-good movie. 

While we all seem to recognise its importance, the perfunctory way in which it is inserted into current rhetoric is misleading. We are made to think that resilience is something to be possessed. It is rather a process – actual work, that requires time and effort. 

We’re here to talk resilience: the why and the how. 

Behind the mechanism:

Yes, some people are born with more resilience than others. And yes, this can be frustrating. Certain inherent personality traits, such as optimism and flexibility, naturally induces resilience. However, this does not mean that the hopelessly pessimistic among us don’t stand a chance.  Nor should we take a person who has strong coping skills for granted.  Your environment – the people you surround yourself with, the attitudes they adopt – can equally determine how well you battle the continual storm of life. Also, circumstances can change, affecting even those who are strong. Ultimately, it all comes down to your outlook. 

At its core, resilience is about self-efficacy – the perception that you are a capable individual. Afterall, the friend whom we want to impress or the boss whom a promotion depends on matters. Which is why we need to reinforce the fact that the daily hiccups in our lives warrant an effort to change our mindset. 

Our society seems to be filled with people who seem disgruntled. We often think: with a stable job and a loving family, how dare they be dissatisfied? However, there will always be hundreds of thousands of fortunate people who have not and will not experience tragic life-altering events in the course of their lifetime. This doesn’t mean that the stresses that they face are invalid. 

To some, giving a business presentation (despite having done it several times) may still be as terrifying a thought as someone putting a gun to their head. As soon as you walk in front of that projector with your flashcards in hand, you find that your palms are suddenly clammy, your legs suddenly wobbly, and you’ve somehow developed a temporary stutter. 

The point is, it doesn’t matter how insignificant this presentation is in the grand scheme of things – what matters is how important you think it is at the time. Forbes summarises a study that found that ‘both the frequency and perceived intensity of daily hassles showed a significant relationship with overall health’. In fact, this ‘relationship was stronger than the relationship provided by major life events.’ 

As a species, we do not seem to have evolved enough to stop ourselves from feeling constant pressure. Our mind does not stop at transforming minor issues into full-blown tragedies, but also disproportionately bases our self-worth on external factors that are, too often, transient and shallow. 

You can’t do a math problem? Suddenly you’re bad at math.  

Your boss shouted at you for missing a deadline? Suddenly you’re lazy and irresponsible. 

As long as we continue to attribute external ‘failures’ to internal personality traits, we hurt our self-esteem. We need to believe that self-worth and success are mutually exclusive. They bear no relation to each other. 

So how do we solve this? 

What you can do:

This practical section is based on Kathryn McEwen’s ‘Building Resilience at Work’.

Before we get started on practical tips, here is some contextual framework. The developmental model below visually demonstrates the aspects that we need to work on in order to build resilience. 

  • Mental toughness
  • Physical endurance (whether your body is fit enough for the daily tasks you need to complete) 
  • Emotional balance 
  • A sense of purpose 

Image via ‘Building Resilience At Work’ by Kathryn McEwen 

Mental toughness 

Tip 1 →   Comparison is your friend

Rate your issue on a scale of 1-10. This will help put things into perspective and stop you from catastrophizing the situation. 

Tip 2 →  Thought experiments 

‘Practically, what will happen if I completely fail this test? My GPA will drop by this %…. But, I can make it up with X, Y, Z…. maybe the situation isn’t so hopeless after all.’ 

Running through the absolute worst case scenario in your head will remind you that most of the time the consequences are not as earth-shattering as you think. 

By reframing what you deem a ‘crisis’, you won’t have to be in constant ‘fix mode’. You’ll get to live a life relatively free of mental taxation. 

Emotional resilience: 

According to McEwen, ‘Emotions are a source of energy. They move us to take action… The secret is being able to use and channel negative emotions positively’ (78). 

Tip 3 →  Emotional awareness

We need to understand our emotions before we try to control them. Reimagine your response to a particular circumstance – explore the physical manifestations of that feeling. 

The irrepressible anger that bubbled up when your peer hurled insults at you, the way your jaw tightened and your fists clenched… 

This will help you distinguish between the nuances of our various emotions and recognize your own triggers, allowing you to conquer them in the future. 

Tip 4 →  Self-talk 

The idea of giving yourself a pep-talk may seem profoundly foolish, but it works. 

‘There is no way that I’m finishing all of this by tonight.’ 

‘Okay, why don’t I just start with this’

Your inner dialogue – your thoughts, ideas and beliefs –  is a completely undervalued tool: utilize it to make yourself your biggest supporter. 

Seeking Purpose

Tip 5 → Find meaning in the everyday  

Find ways to link and connect your job to your values. Why is what you are doing important? 

In what ways does it contribute to society? 

It’s easy to dismiss all this as self-help rubbish. But maybe if you try a few of these suggestions, you’ll find yourself living in a calmer, more conquerable world. 

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