Resilience – How to Bounce Back from Adversity Without Breaking
“The way I see it, if you want the rainbow, you gotta put up with the rain.” ~ Dolly Parton
Even if you don’t care for country music, you’ve got to hand it to Dolly Parton, she’s a dynamo.
Her accolades are staggering – award winning singer/songwriter, actress, successful businesswoman, director, producer, philanthropist, theme park owner, and more.
Yet, despite her accomplishments, she’s had to endure her share of life’s misfortunes and heartbreaks.
Raised dirt poor, Dolly was one of twelve children born in a one room cabin without electricity or indoor plumbing.
She shared a bed (and hand-me-downs) with her sisters. The family ate what they foraged.
Despite her talent, she was voted least ‘likely to succeed’ in high school.
After graduating, Parton pursued her Nashville dreams. Like so many, she faced rejection after rejection, but she remained undaunted.
She was dismissed as a ‘dumb blond’.
She’s endured lawsuits, death threats from the KKK, confronted health issues, and suffered from severe depression.
Many would have given up on their dreams, but not Dolly. Despite adversity, at the age of seventy-three, she still seems unstoppable.
Each of us face our own adversities.
And the list of potential misfortune and suffering is long – financial troubles, job loss, terrorism, natural disasters, poverty, political turmoil, not to mention our own personal demons, and more.
It’s no wonder we sometimes struggle to overcome our own hardships.
But what makes one person tackle setback after setback, while another person gives up in despair? Certainly, it takes intelligence to overcome misfortune.
It also takes passion. It requires faith. It involves finding the strength to dig deep within and to rise above.
But there’s another, secret ingredient that successful people cultivate to improve the odds of achieving their dreams when they face tough times.
That secret ingredient is resilience.
So, how do we embrace resilience to help us avoid buckling under the pressure of a crisis?
Can we learn to overcome adverse situations and go on and fight another day? How do we rebound when we experience a devastating loss?
All great questions. But before we can explore them the first question we need to answer is, what is resilience?
“Resilience isn’t a single skill. It’s a variety of skills and coping mechanisms. To bounce back from bumps in the road as well as failures, you should focus on emphasizing the positive.” ~ Jean Chatzky
The word resilience comes from the Latin, resilire, which means to rebound – to bounce back.
Resilience is most often described as the ability to recover from misfortune, adapt well to change, and find a way to carry on.
According to the American Psychological Association, resilience is “…the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress – such as family and relationship problems, serious health problems or workplace and financial stressors. It means “bouncing back” from difficult experiences.”
Essentially, resilience is the ability to protect ourselves from the potential negative impact of stressors that misfortune brings.
It’s having a knack for rebounding quickly after facing significant stress with our physical, psychological, spiritual, and emotional state intact.
Facing stressful situations with resilience makes us stronger and more resourceful and prepares us to face future challenges.
Looking up images of resilience online, the animated depictions typically show an unfazed character preventing a comically large boulder (or human-sized domino or mountain) from landing on their head.
But these images omit one hard truth: resilience is messy. Facing our fears brings up all kinds of unpleasant feelings. It’s scary. It’s intimidating. It’s traumatic.
But facing those fears is also a necessary component of nurturing our resilience which, in turn, has a direct impact on our health and well-being.
Several studies suggest people with high resilience experience an improved quality of life especially when it comes to health – everything from managing skin and digestive issues to arthritis, diabetes, and cancer, for example, can be impacted by our resiliency.
A survey conducted by The Gerontologist in 2016 found that people who had higher levels of resilience experienced fewer health issues and lower levels of disability as they aged.
In a perfect world, we’d be at our prime all the time. But we live in the real world. We get tired. We’re get overworked. We feel overwhelmed.
Sometimes it doesn’t take much to knock the wind out of our sails.
What happens when our resilience wavers?
When our resilience is depleted it’s difficult to recover from setbacks in a timely way.
Our response time to new obstacles suffers as well, meaning our troubles fester and multiply.
Talk about stressful! That stress can lead to anxiety. Our self-confidence suffers.
Not only that, when we’re down we tend to give even more weight to our problems rather than their solutions.
And that negativity can tempt you to throw in the towel and give up on pursuing something you really wanted.
All this can eventually lead to unhelpful coping strategies like binging, compulsive behavior, or emotional eating – who needs that?
On the other hand, nurturing our resilience is beneficial in more ways than one. It helps you survive unpleasant experiences.
It provides proof that you’re not a victim of circumstances.
It offers opportunities for learning valuable life lessons. It builds your self-confidence. It helps you move forward. Moving forward is empowering.
You discover that your actions, not your problems, define you.
We learn we’re capable of handling whatever life throws at us. We discover ways to thrive because of adversity.
Our resilience is also a key ingredient in experiencing success. Still not convinced that experiencing adversity is a good thing?
Perhaps Dolly’s Goddaughter, Miley Cyrus, can help.
“Ain’t about how fast I get there. Ain’t about what’s waiting on the other side – it’s the climb.” ~ The Climb, sung by Miley Cyrus, music and lyrics by Jessi Alexander and Jon Mabe.
Who doesn’t like it when things go your way?
But have you ever noticed when you face your troubles head on it’s usually more rewarding because of the struggle?
Have you ever confronted a difficult situation and felt really activated and alive from the experience? That’s because adversity is a teacher.
It gives us the opportunity to remember our talents and discover strengths we may never have realized we had.
We learn. We gain insight. We grow. We take risks. We get rewarded. We develop the calluses needed to protect us from the next misfortune.
Our world expands. Sometimes the struggle is the reward. Sometimes ‘it’s the climb’.
So, do you feel like your resilience could use a boost? If so, then you’re in the minority.
That’s right, it turns out, most of us overestimate our ability to persevere through tough times – and not by a small amount.
According to a report conducted by The Ohio State University and Everydayhealth.com a whopping 80% of Americans surveyed felt they excelled at resilience when, in fact, only 57% scored as ‘resilient’ on the same survey.
When it comes to resilience, the huge gap between how well we think we’re handling adversity, and how we’re actually handling it is hard to ignore.
With that discrepancy it seems clear, we could all benefit from a resilience tune up.
“It’s your reaction to adversity, not adversity itself that determines how your life’s story will develop.” ~ Dieter F. Uchtdorf
Our brains are wired differently. They interpret and respond to experiences in different ways.
Some brains are more resilient that others, but that doesn’t mean resilient people are superhuman.
Resilient people have simply learned how to be more resilient, and so can you.
Maybe your goal is to prevent obstacles from stopping you in your tracks so you’re free to pursue your dreams.
Or perhaps you simply want to handle adversity with more confidence and less drama. Whatever your motivation, building your resilience will help.
Having healthy strategies in place to develop your resilience can be the lifeline you use to pull yourself back up when life knocks you down.
Here are a few tips to help supercharge your resilience:
- Develop a positive outlook by lowering your gratitude bar. Sure, big milestones are worthy of celebration, but so are the ‘little’ things in life.
- The smell of a Sunday breakfast, feeling the sun on your face, a playful pet. It’s easy to overlook all of life’s little blessings, but making the effort is worth it.
- Intentional gratitude trains your brain to give less stock in the negative and more power to the positive.
- A positive outlook puts things in proper perspective when life throws us that unexpected curve ball.
- Optimism isn’t enough. The late vice Admiral James Stockdale survived over seven years of imprisonment and torture during the Vietnam war.
- When asked what role optimism played in his survival he said, “The optimists, they did not make it.”
- When it comes to resilience, optimism only works in conjunction with a healthy (if sometimes brutal) reality check.
- Could dialing down your optimism help you to see a reality you’re missing?
- Find the meaning. Resilient people find a way to make meaning out of their suffering.
- In his book, Man’s Search for Meaning, Holocaust survivor and author Viktor E. Frankl said, “We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation, when facing a fate that cannot be changed.”
- Instead of asking why me? How about asking, why not me?
- Instead of focusing on what you lost from an ordeal, tally what you’ve gained from the experience.
- Develop your sense of humor.
- After researching Holocaust survivors, (former) president of the Boston Psychoanalytical Society and Institute, Maurice Vanderpol, concluded that a sense of humor plays a big role in resilience.
- Humor, even dark humor, can provide stress relief and perspective to challenging circumstances. Did you hear the one about…?
Facing adversity is demanding. Sometimes we just want to curl up in a ball and hide.
There’s nothing wrong with a brief pity party, especially if there’s a potential for cake. But seriously, it’s okay to let the feeling of overwhelm, overwhelm you.
The trick is in not letting avoidance become your default coping strategy.
Cultivating your resilience allows you to pull back the veil of suffering to reveal your inner strength.
It requires hard work, discipline, and, at times, nerves of steel, but the end result is worth it.
Incorporating these tips will help you built your resilience muscle and prepare you for life’s inevitable trials.
“Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it.” ~ Helen Keller.
There’s no question that life can be tough. It can be painful. It can feel unbearable. It may push us to the limits of our endurance.
While being smart, passionate, and having faith are valuable traits to help us endure tough times, the real key to surviving and thriving in the face of adversity is resilience.
So here is your challenge, should you choose to accept it. Choose one situation you’re facing in your life right now that’s challenging your resilience.
Now, make a decision to apply your newfound resilience to this situation.
Even a small change can make a big difference. Take one small action. Pay attention to how it feels.
Notice what impact your action, no matter how tiny it may seem, has on you and the circumstance you face. Repeat.
That’s all life really is, one experimental action after another gradually adding up to change and growth.
No matter your age, background, experience, or your line of work you can learn how to improve your resilience so you’re ready for any challenge life puts in front of you.
Are you willing to give it a try?
If you answered ‘yes’ then that’s all you need to get started – a willingness to try.
If you’re feeling like some inspiration to get you started take a line from the resilient Dolly Parton: “I never tried quitting and I never quit trying.”
That’s a tune we can all sing along to.