Resilience. It may be one of the most important characteristics a person possesses. Resilience has popped up in all kinds of research as a key predictor of a person’s success in life. Companies realize they need to be developing resilience in their managers and executives especially given our uncertain economy and world. I have friends who live in countries who fear unpredictable bombings or fighting. Students who are challenged by a learning disability or psychiatric issue experience failure on a regular basis yet somehow must find a way to try again and again. Our world is an unpredictable place and this requires us to be able to endure chaos and bounce back rather quickly.

Psychologists now believe some people are born with more resilience than others, however, most agree that resilience can be fostered. The genetic component of resilience explains how siblings raised in identical environments can walk out of their childhood in very different states of trauma. One child remembered home to be wildly frightening leaving the grown up version of the child traumatized while the other child gave little meaning to the craziness that went on the house. The second child demonstrated resilience or the ability to overcome adversity.

So what can we do to help ourselves become more resilient?

First, I recommend assessing how well you cope with adversity. Journal the most memorable challenges you experienced in your life and document how you coped. Did you collapse? How long did it take to recover? What stories or beliefs were birthed by this experience? Do you still ruminate on these events today?

If you are quite resilient, meaning you have survived adversity and walked away stronger for it, then good for you. Note what worked for you and build on that. If you did not fair so well, then give yourself a hug because you are human and realize you have identified a way to make your life better and happier! Yay!

So what works to build resilience besides years of psychotherapy? (This list is by no means exhaustive.)

  • Tell yourself that the event does not define you
  • Know failure and chaos are just learning tools not forms of punishment
  • Process your emotions fully and then move on
  • Find ways to stop ruminating (I make lists and then burn them)
  • Focus on gratitude and appreciation for what you do have, every day, multiple times a day
  • Foster strong relationships with other people (it is especially important for children to have strong adult-child relationships)
  • Work on strengthening trust in your closest relationships so you know you are not alone
  • Build a sense of self-efficacy and perceived control (meaning you are not helpless and you have the power to make your life into what you want)
  • Be a part of a community
  • Find your faith (Did I just say that outloud?)

Okay. I will address the last one further (the others will have to wait for another blog post). The Western culture is suffering from a lack of faith in themselves, faith in their communities, faith in their families, faith in their country, etc. We have all realized that other than faith in ourselves, all these other people or groups are unpredictable and, well, flawed. We no longer have religion as our pure guiding light either. We only have ourselves, and if we do not believe in ourselves or view ourselves poorly then we suffer. We must know that no matter what happens, we will be okay. The most resilient people have faith in themselves. They know that no matter how tough things may get they will go on and eventually return to their happy, productive selves.

Man needs some version of spirituality to have faith in himself. I am not a proponent of any particular flavor of spirituality but you have to have some philosophy on which to base your existence or you are going to eventually wake up one day and freak out that this is all meaningless. How can you be okay if all you know is that someday your identity/existence will face oblivion? Oblivion is a core fear of every human. Even if you do not fear death, most people fear oblivion.

We must clarify that religion can be a part of your spiritual practice or beliefs but it is not a necessary component. Research has supported culture and tradition as a necessary part of our well-being. So if you come from a long standing tradition of a certain religion and you have embraced it, wonderful! If you have no religion in your life at all, no problem. Spirituality in the context to which we are referring simply embraces the meaning of life and often includes a sense of a connection to something bigger than just ourselves. No two people have identical spiritual beliefs, nor should they.

Spiritual counseling is a favorite of ours. When someone comes to us and asks, “Can you help me figure out what I believe about the purpose of my life?” we are ecstatic. Too few people wake up and start to wonder. We wondered as children about the meaning of life, and then we got distracted by school and responsibilities. Some start to wonder when they are facing the end of their life, and unfortunately that gives them little time to embrace the joy of discovery. The journey to understanding your unique perspective of the universe and life is an incredible one. Don’t avoid soul searching because it will lead you to a stronger sense of self which fosters resilience.

We have all experienced trauma in some form or another. We all have uncontrollable chaos in our lives. The world is a crazy place. Resilience is key for us to keep moving and growing despite it all. Your inner world — your beliefs, thoughts, emotions, and faith — are the only thing you can control. Consciously managing your inner world is critical to resilience.