Building healthy resilience means taking a five-a-day approach.
Journals, self-help books and psychology papers all buzz with ‘resilience’. And rightly so – statistics tell us that the cost of poor mental and physical health to individuals, businesses and society as a whole is enormous.
Resilience is about how we recharge, not how we endure. We all know we should get more sleep, eat better, drink less, exercise more, perhaps meditate. These are tried and tested ways of managing our stress, and thereby improving our resilience. And yet squeezing them into an already maxed-out day often makes us feel more stressed and inadequate. We need to understand how to address the holistic drivers of healthy resilience as opposed to living with unsustainable, clinging-on-for-dear-life, brittle resilience.
In researching resilience, I have found that there are five consistent factors that universally determine an individual’s ability not just to cope with the stresses and strains of life but to actually bounce back stronger from them. Pausing to think about your relationship with these five factors below is half the way towards becoming a more resilient human being.
A sense of purpose brings a direction to our lives and empowers us to make choices in how we align our values with our daily life. In 1989 Emmy Werner, a developmental psychologist, published the results of a (then) 34-year research project studying all of the children who had been born on the Hawaiian island of Kauai in 1955. She found a surprising number of those whose childhood lives had been chaotic and dysfunctional had become “competent, confident, and caring young adults”. But how? The resilient children had what psychologists call an ‘internal locus of control’; they believed that they, and not their situation, affected their accomplishments. A sense of purpose, hope and a meaningful goal make us more resilient to the bumps in the road.
Resilience is not a constant state, nor is it an innate trait or a resource that can be used up – it is a managed state of mind and can be learned and improved. Daily awareness of one’s mindset is key to this. Recognising when our expansive, ‘can do’ mindset is supporting us and when our habitual ‘I can’t’ mindset is holding us back is the first step. Martin Seligman, pioneer of positive psychology at the University of Pennsylvania, found that training people to change their attitude from personal to perspective (‘Bad events aren’t my fault’), from global to specific (‘This is one narrow thing rather than an indication that my entire life is all wrong’), and from permanent to impermanent (‘I can change this situation’) made them less prone to depression.
It’s important to know your true self and be kind to it. Appreciate and build upon your strengths and be compassionate with your weaknesses. Polish the rough edges, accept the things you cannot change and ask for help to fill in any gaps. Know and manage what triggers negative responses in yourself and the accompanying bad behaviours. Embrace vulnerability, seek and give feedback and be honest and open when you are going through a tough time. And go slowly – behaviour change happens one step at a time.
Possibly the most important factor in healthy resilience is having a safe and trusted person in your life to talk to. We all need at least one person from whom we can draw strength and perspective, with whom we can explore challenges and who makes us feel valued and heard.