It’s easy to float through life when things go well. However, we are defined by our ability to cope when things go wrong. This trait is called resilience.
Most of us think it’s something you either have or you don’t. But truthfully told, anyone can become more resilient with the right habits.
“[Resilient people] have a knack for creating good luck out of circumstances that many others see as bad luck,” wrote the late Dr. Al Siebert in his book The Resiliency Advantage. No matter what your challenge is, you’ll be better able to handle it if you cultivate a practice of resilience.
Here are 11 science-backed habits that will help you become more resilient. They may not be easy or quick, but they’re worth it.
1. Use Learner Thinking, Not Judgment Thinking
When something goes wrong, what’s your first instinct? Do you ask whose fault it was, or do you ask what’s useful here? The former is more common because it lets us immediately shuck off the blame to someone else, which is easier for us to cope with mentally. But the latter leads to greater resilience.
“Questions are at the very core of how we listen, behave, think and relate,” says Dr. Marilee Adams, psychotherapist, and executive coach, to the Experience Life blog. “Virtually everything we think and do is determined by the questions we ask.”
Just by noticing the way you ask questions after something happens is enough to get started on this habit, but the more you do it — and the more you focus on asking learner questions instead of judgment questions — the more resilient you will become.
2. Don’t Be Afraid to Let People In
Many people assume resilient individuals are those who can handle anything life throws at them alone, but nothing could be further from the truth. Humans are social creatures. We thrive on networks, groups, and relationships with one another. Resilient people don’t try to go it alone — they rely on their relationships to bolster themselves.
When my heart broke for the first time, my sister helped me get back up. I relied on her to remind me that I was still a worthy person who deserved love, that I was more than my relationship. I leaned on her to give me strength.
It’s scary, honestly, to make yourself vulnerable and let other people into your failure. Resilient folks are those who aren’t afraid to do so.
3. Find Eudaemonic Happiness in Your Life
It sucks to get knocked down when you’re trying hard. When this happens, we sometimes pretend that we didn’t really care in the first place. That lets us off the hook for our failure — if you don’t care about the outcome, you don’t have to be ashamed when you fail.
Aristotle wrote, over two thousand years ago, about eudaemonic happiness. He explained that happiness is effectively a practice. “It’s living in a way that fulfills our purpose,” Helen Morales, a classicist, told the New Yorker.
Resilient people aren’t always successful, but they aren’t afraid of failure — and they aren’t afraid to say they did try. This is because finding purpose in what you do, no matter if it’s writing online or a candle-selling business, makes you happy. Failure can’t knock you astray.
4. Don’t Let Yourself Lose Perspective
It’s not that resilient people are always successful or cheery — it’s just that they know how to weather the ups as well as the downs. Perspective is what helps them do this.
As a writer, I put a lot of myself out there on the world wide web. When I fail — when I don’t earn enough money, when I don’t get the views I want, when I get a bad comment — I often start to spiral into a miserable circle of sadness. I personally find it really hard to regain my sense of perspective and remember what my priorities are.
To become more resilient, it helps to try to retain your perspective. What are you learning? Could it have been worse? Will this experience help in the future? In my case, it helps to remember that I love what I do, and every story published is a lesson learned, regardless of the outcome.
5. Let Others Rely on You
Resilient people don’t just let others in when they struggle; they help others, too. At times, it’s tempting to do the selfish thing and focus just on yourself and your problems, but if you want to build your resiliency, you need to open yourself up to building relationships with others.
There are two reasons this helps. First, if you’re constantly crying on other people’s shoulders, it’s exhausting and unfulfilling for them. Let your shoulder be the one that’s cried on every once in a while. Secondly, research shows that people who feel they have more control over their situation experience higher levels of resiliency.
By building the relationships that will help you in future crises as well as proving to yourself that you’re helpful in any situation, including helping your friends and family when they need you, you’ll experience a greater sense of self-efficacy and resilience.
6. Make the Hard Choices for Personal Wellness
It’s an unfortunate fact that when we’re under pressure, the basic building blocks of wellness are the first to go. Nutrition, sleep, and exercise all become harder choices to make.
One of the most stressful times in my life was during my final exams. Because all my mental energy was being expended on studying, I couldn’t bring myself to do the right — and hard — thing in the moment. I was low on sleep, I’d been reduced to snacks and coffee for fuel, and I hadn’t been for a run in weeks. Unsurprisingly, I didn’t do very well in those exams.
Resilient people make a habit of prioritizing their personal wellness. Just having slept well increases your ability to cope with stress — if you make sure you’re fueled, rested and exercised, you’ll be able to bounce back better.
7. Fully Embrace Gallows Humor
The last thing you want to do when you fail is to laugh. Speaking for myself, I most often want to cry or yell. Resilient people feel those same negative temptations, but instead of giving in, they find humor in the situation.
From a physiological standpoint, laughter is really good for you — for example, one study shows that attending a laughter therapy session once a fortnight improved quality of life in cancer patients. It reduces blood pressure, stress, and can boost your mood.
The physiological benefits are what help resilient people bounce back from adversity, but the real habit is just learning to laugh even when things aren’t going great.
9. Don’t Fall Into Loss Mentality
When you’re facing something hard, a lot of us revert to a loss mentality. What do we stand to lose? What is at stake? Resilient individuals, by contrast, view difficulties as challenges in their own right, unrelated to what they have to gain or lose personally.
One study looking at Polish firefighters found that those who appraised the threat in terms of a challenge, rather than what they would suffer after the stress didn’t just go back to normal more quickly, but actually experienced posttraumatic growth — that is, they achieved a higher level of functioning after the trauma.
To become more resilient, make an effort to view difficult events not as threats to yourself or wellbeing, but rather as a potential challenge to face, even if you don’t overcome it.
9. Learn to Appreciate Rejection
I’m afraid of rejection. Even when I’m sure I’m qualified, sometimes I don’t submit stories to publications because I’m afraid of getting that kindly-worded note that tells me, “Sorry, you’re not quite good enough.”
Resilient people aren’t afraid of being told no. Similar to the point above, resiliency comes from viewing obstacles as challenges rather than a risk of losing something. In my case, it helps me to view submissions as challenges — and opportunities to learn — instead of a chance for someone to tell me how much I suck, and the loss of self-esteem that comes from that rejection.
To increase your resilience, cultivate the perspective that rejection is not a closed door, it’s just a turn on your path. Sometimes turns lead to yes, and sometimes they lead to no, but they’re part of your journey all the same.
10. Manage Your Resources Sustainably with SMART
Resiliency doesn’t just help you get back up after being knocked down — it gives you the tools to avoid burning through your resources unsustainably. Sometimes a non-resilient response doesn’t look like a breakdown — it looks like giving up after blazing through everything you had left to give.
Burnout is defined as “a chronic psychological syndrome … characterized by physical and mental exhaustion, cynicism, and feelings of poor personal accomplishment.” One method used to combat this in teachers is SMART (Stress Management and Resilience Training), an intervention that has participants practice mindfulness to help reduce the risk of burnout.
To use SMART in your own life, there are two steps. First, avoid the impulse to immediately assign judgment to events. Secondly, try to pay more attention to the “novelty of the world” — this breaks down to focusing on the present moment, wishing others well, and interpreting events with compassion.
11. Openly Seek Out Small Failures
As a rule, humans are risk-averse. If there’s a good chance we won’t succeed, we avoid the thing. But one trait many resilient people have in common is that they’re used to adversity, and this changes their brain.
We already know that if you feel like you’re more in control of a situation, you experience a greater sense of self-efficacy. By intentionally trying things that you know you’ll fail at — or at least have a hard time succeeding at — you’re putting yourself in an experience where you control the situation and you’re aware of the likely outcome, and you’ll have a chance to start creating good post-failure habits, like using learner questions or relying on a support network.
Resilient people seek out smaller failures, in an arena they control. This makes the stakes lower, but the rewards — getting the chance to practice resiliency — much greater.
Becoming more resilient will improve nearly every aspect of your life. It’s a benefit that can’t be overstated, because you’re guaranteed to experience failure and adversity during many points in your life, and your resilience will dictate how you respond to those events — and how you grow from them, too.
A lot of us cling to the myth that we’re either born resilient or we’re not, but the harder truth is that anyone can become more resilient with practice and the right mindset.
The good news is that once you understand how to develop your resilience, there are many strategies to do so. These eleven science-backed habits will help you grow on your journey to increasing your resilience. It may not be easy, but it’s worth it.
Zulie Rane is a reader and a writer who believes in the power to change the world through the written word. You can find her writing on ZulieRane.com, posting selfies and art on Instagram at @zulierane and tweeting bad puns on Twitter at @zulierane.
Image courtesy of Garon Piceli.