How to Be Resilient

Resilience is arguably the most valuable skill to have in life. If life is a ride of peaks and valleys, resilience is a turbo boost whenever you’re in the valleys.

Resilient people generally have better lives because they bounce back from hardships faster and stronger. Robust resilience is marked by steadfast action in the midst of resistance. It means you don’t merely take life’s punches—you punch back, too!

The best argument for resilience might be what happens when you are NOT resilient.

If you aren’t resilient…

  • You’ll be at the mercy of circumstance. You’ll have to hope things go your way, because if they don’t, you’ll crumble.
  • You’ll be mentally battered by people and events that you have no control over
  • You’ll suffer from preventable periods of depression and misfortune. Small misfortunes will routinely expand into larger misfortunes because of your response to them.

Basically, if you aren’t resilient, you’re at the mercy of a cruel world.

5 Ways to Be More Resilient

1. Know that others have been there and won. Believe it’s possible to win.

Whatever you’re facing, others have already been there, believed in themselves, and conquered it. We have a long history of resilient people to thank, because now we know it can be done. Many people have defeated illness, loneliness, depression, financial ruin, addiction, relationship troubles, and more. 

If you feel hopeless, remind yourself that it’s still possible to win. This is the beginning of resilience.

2. Don’t take things personally (most of the time…)

Sometimes we’re on the wrong end of a decision, event, or action that makes us sad or upset. The personal factor amplifies such events. Here’s an example: Imagine that you’re given a speeding ticket. Unfortunate, right? Well, what if you believe you were given the speeding ticket just because the police officer is your girlfriend’s angry ex-boyfriend? That’s personal, and it’s going to make you a lot more upset about the ticket.

Romantic break-ups can be taken personally or not. Romance is inherently personal, but incompatibility between two people is not. Any two people can be compatible or incompatible, and there’s nothing personal about that. Thus, if someone breaks up with you, it’s probably because you two simply aren’t compatible for one reason or another, and you don’t have to take it personally. 

There are instances when it may be advantageous to take things personally. When I couldn’t get a job for a year out of school, I chose to take the job rejections personally. I chose to see it as a statement against me, that the world was against me and trying to hold me back from my potential. This story I told myself made me angry, and that anger helped to fuel my resilience. This is the classic “chip on your shoulder” response. If taking something personally will give you a chip on your shoulder and help you take positive action to move your life forward, I say go for it! It’s smart to use whatever motivation you have at your disposal, especially in tough times, though be careful about letting it fester in your mind and get out of hand or you’ll turn into a bitter and spiteful person. Use it situationally and sparingly.

The general rule I like to follow is that if the event brings you down emotionally (makes you sad or feel bad about yourself), then do NOT take it personally because there’s no benefit or reason to do so. If it fires you up and makes you want to be better, take it personally if you think it will help you reach your goals. (It’s also fine and possibly easier to never take things personally as a rule.)

Remember that YOU get to choose whether to take something personally or not. Even if someone does something hateful to you and means it personally, you’re free to see it as a case of them being emotionally unstable and so they feel compelled to hurt others and boom, it isn’t personal. If they are crazy, it means they’re crazy towards everyone, not just you! Every action people take that involves you also involves them and where they are coming from.

The difference between a personal event and a non-personal event is that a non-personal event could happen to anybody. It’s not just because it’s you that it happened, it’s just how the world (and people in it) can be. That’s true of just about anything, which is why we get to choose what to take personally.

Taking things personally produces negative emotions, and most negative emotions decrease our resiliency, so let’s practice not taking things personally to bolster our resilience. Take a broader view of life and circumstances and you’ll see that she was just trying to do her job, he had a bad day which made him react like that, her disagreement with you isn’t an attack against you, and nobody understands you perfectly, so you can’t expect them to act as if they do.

Resilient people choose not to take most things personally.

3. Reject Victimhood

Victims are the definition of non-resilient people. But Stephen, some people are truly victims. 

You’re only a victim if you’re currently being victimized in this very moment. Beyond that, you’re only a victim if you choose to be labeled that. 

A person can be brutally tortured for weeks and choose not to be a victim the moment he’s released. In the technical sense of the word, yes, they were a victim of a heinous crime, but I’m talking about a mindset.

The victim’s mindset is that of no control. Passivity is implied in the word victim: “A person harmed as a result of crime, accident, or other event or action.”

So here’s the big takeaway: Anyone can be a victim of any given event, but nobody is a permanent victim unless they choose to be. The very moment a person gets out of the unfortunate situation, they are no longer a victim. They are free. But some people hold on to their victimhood, and in doing so, give up their power.

Those with a victim’s mindset hold on to negative events for sympathy. They accept defeat, basically, and pursue sympathy from themselves and others as consolation. Resilient people, however, always choose to fight back. The resilient have misfortunes too, but those misfortunes never become part of their identity; they don’t let misfortune change them unless it’s for the better.

Make the choice right now that you will not be a victim. If you’re not a victim, that’s good news! It means you’re a resilient fighter, and fighters always have a chance to win!

4. Establish dominant healthy habits

I’ve received many emails from people thanking me for writing Mini Habits. Some of those emails got specific and mentioned how their mini habits helped them cope with tragedy or hard times. In times of stress, we run to our habits, and if those habits are good habits, they renew and improve us!

Healthy habits are so powerful because they autocorrect our lives in times of desperation. If the more hopeless, sad, or desperate you feel, the more you exercise, well, you’re not going to stay hopeless for long because exercise is the world’s best antidepressant. 

Habits are our base, our foundation. If you have a rock solid foundation, it will hold strong when the enemy attacks.

Your habitual foundation is your army against the forces of sadness, depression, and discouragement. Even if you’re happy now, build that army. Incorporate healthy practices like exercise, eating well, reading books, meditating, social outlets, and reading stephenguise.com articles into your routine. When a crisis comes (and they always do), you’ll be ready for it. Your army’s response will resemble Gandalf’s arrival at Helm’s Deep (It’s one of my favorite movie scenes ever. It about brings me to tears each time because of the symbolism and music.).

Gandalf and Eomer stand on top of a tall hill overlooking the battle of Helm’s Deep, in which Theoden king is losing the battle. It looks bleak. 

Gandalf: Theoden king stands alone. 

Eomer: Not alone. Rohirrim!

*A large army appears behind Eomer and Gandalf*

Theoden: Eomer!

Eomer: TO THE KING!

*The Rohirrim and Gandalf charge forward with a significant advantage—The enemy is blinded by the sun rising just behind them.*

Trust me, good habits are THIS epic when you need them most. They can completely turn the tide of any battle, and subsequently, your life. Build them. Then rely on them.

5. Counterattack With Action

This has been a challenging year for me, but I’m currently thriving because I’ve been resilient. It’s important to note that resilience is marked by one thing—action. Movies and such can sometimes trick us into thinking that being resilient is an emotion, but that’s false. There are times that you will feel weak, unqualified, defeated, and unprepared to deal with all of it. That’s the time to practice being resilient. That’s the time to take action.

You cannot escape poor circumstances by standing still and thinking about them.

Action is always the way out! This is why I recommend creating that habitual base, because it makes taking valuable actions much easier in all circumstances. But you might also need to remind yourself that you’re not going to think your way out of a ditch. You have to move your legs or ask someone for help. You have to act

Think like a boxer. You’re not only looking to defend, you’re looking to get some punches in yourself, and often times, the best defense is a powerful offense. That’s why exercise, while unrelated to so many things, can improve so many things. Exercising your body is a proactive attack on all the negativity in your life, and it’s my #1 recommended for developing resiliency. Resistance training is even symbolic of being resilient and pushing through the resistance you feel.

Recap

Being resilient comes down to believing you can succeed, managing your emotions in a smart way, and having systems (habits) in place to keep you going even when you feel horrible.

1. Believe. If you believe something is impossible, you’ve made it so.

 

2. The most devastating emotions are personal emotions. When you take anything personally, you amplify its power. That’s why personal gifts are more meaningful than generic gifts. Just the other day I was thinking about some of the personal gifts ex-girlfriends made for me, and how amazing it made me feel. But it works negatively as well, so be careful not to take things personally if they bring you down.

3. Refuse to be a victim. Victims by definition, are defeated people. No matter what happens to us, we can refuse victimhood. If you’re fighting for your life (figuratively or literally), you can be a warrior. One of the most exhilarating things about being human is to be flat on your back, beaten and bloodied, and then rise to your feet again, to the dismay of whatever or whoever put you there. Humans are natural fighters—it’s in our DNA. 

4. Create a powerful defense system (habits). Negative events are like attacks—only the well-defended can stand up to them and fight back. Habits are our natural defense against life’s worst events. This includes bad habits, as anyone who has eaten a pint of ice cream while crying can attest to. Both good and bad habits can take our mind off of emotional pain, but only good habits can strengthen us. It’s never too late to build up your defenses. The brain can change at any time and any age!

5. Fight back with action. I don’t care what sort of rut you’re in. Action is the way out of it. Never forget that. If you feel bad, action is the answer. If you are in financial trouble, action is the answer. If you just got hit by a hurricane, action is the answer. Sitting around and waiting rarely solves problems. Action is the #1 sign that you are resilient.

To sum it up, I want to show you a video that contrasts a non-resilient victim with a resilient champion. In the movie Rocky Balboa, Rocky and his son have a discussion. The son starts by going on a long rant about how unfair his life is, and how Rocky doing XYZ has made his life hard (notice the implied lack of control in his language). This is a classic victim perspective: “I’m not where I want to be because [any reason but myself].” Rocky explains this to his son, and tells him that until he starts believing in himself, he won’t have a life. 

I especially like this scene because of the history of the Rocky movies, which Stallone says are based his own story. There’s a moment in the first Rocky film when Apollo Creed hits Rocky hard and Rocky collapses to the ground. It looks like sure defeat for Rocky, but then…

Despite the brutal hit, Rocky manages to pry himself from the mat and get back on his feet. The ref clears him just before the 10 second count is up. Then we see Apollo’s face, and HE is the one who looks completely defeated. He, the guy who just blasted the other fighter, looks defeated. Why? Because he’s seen Rocky’s resilience. When someone is that resilient, you simply can’t expect them to lose. How inspiring is that in the context of your life? If you are that resilient, you can’t be expected to lose. You’ll take shots and even get hurt, but you’ll bounce back and win eventually.

And going back to a prior point, do you think Rocky felt good when we was woozy and lying on his back? Or do you think his combination of belief in himself, habitual training, and action-first thinking helped him back up on his feet? Courage is not an emotion, it’s an action.

But let’s not forget the other key to victory—skill. You must have the ability to win in life. Desire and resilience alone are not enough. That’s why your habits are paramount to success.

If you stay resilient but don’t develop the skills necessary to get where you want to go, then you’re fighting a fight you can’t ever win. But combine the resilience of Rocky with skill development and you’ll go places!

Stay resilient and prosper! If you’re alive, so are your dreams.

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