4 ways to build personal resilience
Coconuts are pretty cool. At first glance, they look like unassuming, furry heads and given how difficult they are to crack open, it’s a miracle any of our ancestors were persistent enough to try. Over a period of time, they draw enough water from the ground to grow from tiny seedlings into little balls of nutrient-rich liquid capable of keeping many a stranded human alive (or Tom Hanks, at least). During my visit to a coconut farm in Bangladesh last year, the one thing that struck me was the unyielding resilience of the coconut tree. Almost entirely self-sustaining and requiring very little maintenance, these trees could withstand extreme weather conditions to continue to do what they do best- make coconuts.
For want of a better metaphor, building resilience is like building a coconut. We want to slowly extract the richness out of our environment over time and condense it for use when we really need it. You can’t build resilience overnight. It’s a slow, painful process that requires deliberate effort. When life is good, it’s easy to forget that adversity is always just around the corner. How do we use the good times to prepare for the tough? These are some useful strategies:
1. Know thyself
Taking the time to nurture self-awareness is absolutely critical to building your ability to withstand difficulty. Understanding why you respond to certain things in a certain way will help you develop an emotional blueprint that will be crucial to helping you navigate your way through unexpected adversity. Tracking your thought patterns during the good times will help you sustain them during the not-so-good.
2. Finding the root cause
You’re having a good day then boom! you suddenly feel like crap and it sticks with you the rest of the day. You’re not sure why its hung around or what’s causing it but your mood is well and truly in the dumps. Truth is, rarely do emotions come out of nowhere. If you’re feeling down for no apparent reason ( unless it’s persistent in which case it may be depression and you really should get that checked out), chances are a thought/memory/realisation triggered it. Go back and work out what that trigger was then work through it. The limbic brain has an uncanny ability to make problems feel far worse than they actually are which then affects our moods and interactions with the world. Don’t let it.
3. Choose your pain
We all aspire to greatness. The pursuit of happiness is so cliche it’s not even a cliche. Happiness means something different to everyone and usually centres around the question- what do I want? But perhaps the more important question is, what pain do you choose to endure? Nothing in this life comes easy and all decisions have elements of adversity regardless of the choice you make. Trying to lose weight? Being unfit is painful. So are diet restrictions and exercise. But which pain would you honestly prefer? If you want something badly enough, the pain of achieving it pales in comparison to the pain of not. Choose your pain and own it.
4. Find your rock.
What is the one thing that brings you comfort regardless of what happens? For some its faith, for others it’s a personal connection with others or a hobby. This may seem obvious but knowing what it is that brings you deep meaning in life is essential to coping with hard times. If you haven’t figured it out yet ( and a lot of people haven’t), do some soul searching and find it. Life is a series of rainy days followed by sunshine. Use the sun’s light to look for your rock so you know where to find it when it’s raining.