“I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost more than 300 games, 26 times l’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.” – Michael Jordan. So why do some people seem to have a greater capacity to cope with adversity and bounce back, to keep going in the face of traumatic events and turn this into something positive. You might think resilience is something you are born with, something that only the extraordinary amongst us possess but that isn’t the case.
First we need to understand what happens to us when faced with a challenge. Stress is the body’s reaction to harmful situations, in primitive times when we experience a threat to our survival our bodies triggered a hard wired response that prepared our body to fight or flee. The hypothalamus deep within our brains, when stimulated, sent a message to the adrenal glands to release adrenaline and the stress hormone, cortisol, into our blood stream. Our heart rate quickened, breathing increased, pupils dilated, muscles tightened, perception of pain decreased, blood pressure increased and senses became sharper. Our bodies were now primed to face or avoid the threat, giving us the best chance of reaching safety with a short burst of physical exertion. Once the threat was over our bodies would return to calm with the levels of cortisol dropping as the body metabolised the stress hormones.
Today that same primitive response still exists within us, however the perceived threats today are constant, running late for an important meeting, giving that career defining presentation or being stuck in peak hour traffic. As the stress hormones flood our bodies the lack of physical exertion associated with the primitive fight or flight response means the levels remain higher for longer, manifesting itself in aggressive and overreactive behaviour. A little stress is OK, the physical changes brought on by the release of cortisol increase stamina, strength, reaction time and enhanced focus and if maintained within our comfort zone allow us rise to meet challenges. However too much stress over a prolonged period of time can result in fatigue, headaches, upset stomach and nausea, aches and pains in muscles, insomnia, frequent colds due a suppressed immune system, low sexual desire and weight gain. We become agitated and moody, feeling overwhelmed and out of control, unable to switch off, avoiding others and feeling lonely and worthless. It effects our ability to concentrate, resulting in poor judgement and inability to make good decisions.
We can’t suppress this primeval fight or flight reaction, it is something that exists in all of us but those who can moderate it, who can use it to motivate them to keep moving forward, focus energy on things that can be controlled and view difficulty as a challenge to be solved. They nurture a positive view of themselves and have confidence in their strengths and abilities, they set and commit to goals which align with their values, they express themselves and communicate with others and have a positive, supportive environment underpinned by trusted relationships.
Imagine having the confidence that you could not only handle but thrive on all the challenges life throws at you, that life changing feeling of empowerment and freedom is within your control.
Tip 1 Perspective - Maintaining a hopeful and optimistic outlook enables you to invite good things into your life. Try visualising what you want, rather than worrying about what you fear. Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems, you can't change the fact that highly stressful events happen, but you can change how you interpret and respond to these events by viewing them as challenges to be overcome. Be accountable and don’t look to blame others for the situation you are in, look beyond the present to how things will change over time noting any subtle ways in which you might already feel better as you deal with difficult situations. Try developing your own 1 to 10 resilience scale, ranking painful events like the death of a loved one high and trivial events low. When faced with a negative event compare it with those at the high end of the scale, I guarantee its impact won’t seem as bad.
Tip 2 Set Goals – Take the time to set both short term and long term goals which align with your values and truly commit to them. Ensure the goals can be measured and are time bounded so you know what and when success looks like. Having clear goals allows you to anchor to a purpose and become more resilient when challenges arise. Once your goals are set try listing three small accomplishments each day that once done enable you to move toward the direction you want to go instead of focusing on tasks that seem unachievable.
Tip 3 Act – Take decisive actions, face into adverse situations rather than detaching completely from problems and stresses or wishing they would just go away. Don’t procrastinate even if the path is unclear, make a choice at that point in time, trust your instincts knowing that you can adapt and change tact as new information comes to hand. Try writing down a daily list of tasks ranking them from the ones you find easiest to the ones you find hardest, then flip the list starting with the hardest at the start of the day when you are the most focused.
Tip 4 Love Yourself - Pay attention to your own needs and feelings. There’s only one person in this life that can truly make you happy and fulfilled and that is you. Engage in activities that you enjoy and find relaxing such as listening to music, reading a book, walking or schedule a massage. Develop confidence in your ability to solve problems and trusting your instincts. Invest in yourself, look for opportunities for self-discovery, self awareness and self improvement. Try writing down a list of your greatest strengths or talents and seek out situations where you can put these to good use to increase your sense of self worth. Pick one week where it's all about you, saying yes to only things that fulfil you and no to things that don’t.
Tip 5 Healthy Body Healthy Mind – Get plenty of sleep, while you're sleeping, your brain is preparing for the next day, forming new pathways to help you learn and remember information. Sleep helps you pay attention, enhances your problem-solving and decision making skills and helps with creativity, coping with change and controlling your emotions and behaviour. Keep hydrated, our bodies are made of up to 75% water and we need between 2 and 2.5 litres of water a day to maintain healthy brain function, blood flow, digestion and waste removal. When you are thirsty you are already dehydrated and you’re body is under stress. Try carrying an insulated sports bottle with you and fill it up periodically, try having a sip of water each time you go to the bathroom, little amounts throughout the day add up. Stay physically active throughout the day and steer clear of sugary foods and drinks. This will help metabolise the cortisol in your bloodstream and keep your blood sugar levels stable. Try getting out at lunch for a 20 min walk or just become more active around your office environment. Prepare a little care package of nuts ready to go instead of reaching for the muffin when that deadline is looming.
Tip 6 Nourish the Soul– Be genuinely happy for others, help others, find joy in other people succeeding instead of making life about a constant competition. Be satisfied in your own skin and be thankful for everything and everyone in your life. Share problems with trusted family, friends and colleagues, building strong relationships is important to your feeling of support and security and gives you a strong base from which to rebound from. Accepting help and support from those who care about you and will listen not only strengthens your resilience but provides you with a different perspective on how to tackle the problem. Try seeking out others who have a positive attitude, maybe someone you haven’t seen in a while. Have a regular round of catch ups, a positive attitude is infectious, and can be just the shot of adrenaline and energy you need to face the world with renewed optimism.