Building Your Resilience

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In a recent post, Weathering Change, I wrote that change is often the one constant in our modern world, and that learning to cope well with changes is crucial to maintaining your productivity and success.

After that post appeared, a lot of people wrote in to complain that weathering change – even when doing it well – is a difficult process, and with so much change going on, too often they feel drained of energy.

This brings up the importance of resilience, which is the capacity to recover from difficulties and demanding experiences. By building your resilience, you speed up and improve your ability to get back to full strength after a difficult and demanding experience. The result is this: you tend to stay stronger and more ready to meet your next challenge.

Here are some helpful techniques likely to make you more resilient:

Anticipate How You Will Be Tested

Certain events hit us like a ton of bricks, with no warning. Others approach us – like a hurricane or a tornado – slowly enough that we have some time to get ready.

Either way, the first step in responding to difficulties and demanding experiences is to assess the situation and make a plan – even if it’s a simple one, like: “run.”

Whether the plan is simple and instinctive or complex and multifaceted, itemizing the skills, talents, knowledge, and abilities it will require helps prime you to perform, and also to benefit from the experience that’s coming.

Find Ways to Apply Your Strengths

You’ve probably heard the old saying: “To a person with a hammer, everything looks like a nail.” While this is often invoked negatively, to indicate a person’s limited repertoire of responses to difficulties and demanding experiences, it also makes sense from a positive perspective.

I would express this opposite formulation as: “If you’re good with a hammer, use it everywhere you can.”

In tennis, for example, there are times when a player “runs around their backhand” to hit the ball with their more powerful or accurate forehand stroke. You can do the same kind of thing in your work and your life.

The basic idea is to explore all the various ways you may be able to apply your best skills, talents, knowledge, and abilities to the difficult and demanding experience you’re facing.

Learn What You Can from the Test

While difficulties and demanding experiences are tests in the sense of requiring high-level performances, they can also provide learning experiences.

First, you can learn by formulating various performance options, and considering which one(s) are likely to prove most helpful in the situation you face.

Second, you can learn from the practice and real-world experience you gain from actively responding to the situation.

Third, you can learn by reviewing each difficulty and demanding experience, once you’ve finished dealing with it. The best questions to ask and answer include:   

  • What did I do right?
  • What did I do wrong?
  • What can I do better next time?
  •  How can I prepare for similar situations in the future?

Make Use of Your Comfort Zone

Although most difficulties and demanding experiences toss you into uncomfortable situations, there are usually opportunities to escape – if only temporarily. Don’t be shy about utilizing these opportunities to rest, refresh yourself, and repair any damage you’ve endured.

Once the difficulties and demanding experiences have passed, you will normally have even more time to make use of your comfort zone to restore yourself physically, mentally, and emotionally. Accept this as part of the normal cycle of exertion and recuperation that we experience in so many areas of work and life. 

Revise Your Identity

One of the consequences of difficulties and demanding experiences is they tend to change you. If you’re damaged, you may always carry a scar. But you may also have learned new things, gained new confidence, and/or developed new strengths.

It’s helpful to embrace these changes by incorporating them into your self-image and self-awareness.

You’re not the same person you were before you went through the difficult and demanding experience. You’re better.

And there’s a good chance you’re on your way to becoming more resilient.   

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