The Resilience Workout Will Take You From Weak to Strong

Some want to fly. Others want X-Ray vision. But I’ve got my eye on resilience.

When life hits me direct, I want to skillfully welcome its intense burst — -not shy away. As I say in my book, The Charisma Code: Communicating in a Language Beyond Words, “The more moments we spend dancing with the various flavors of life, the more passionately engaged we become. The more passionately engaged we become, the more the often mysterious “gift of grace” comes flooding into our lives, transmitting itself to others as the charismatic contagion it is. Similarly, the more flavors any one of us pushes away in disdain or disgust, the less magnetic, appealing, and valuable we become to our fellows.”

Resilience, or the capacity to grow and rebuild after adversity, is essential to human thriving — -and yet, it’s association with the hard work of overcoming pain and grief, means it’s often sidelined for flashier self-development goals. But resilience sets us up to let in the life-force available in even the hardest of situations. Becoming resilient means you don’t turn away — -you step up to the plate and meet whatever “balls” life pitches you!

From a biological standpoint, we’ve learned why many of us flock to safety when the balls in front of us change from a nice neutral to a racing red. For over a decade developmental psychologist, Bruce Ellis and developmental pediatrician W. Thomas Boyce have been studying how genes effect resilience, particularly amongst children. They discovered that our genes do predispose how sensitive we are to the stresses and strains of our environment, creating in the words of a Swedish metaphor, either “resilient dandelions” or “vulnerable orchids”.

With that said, resilience is like a muscle; it can be built. I suggest you begin in the shower:

At the beginning of a shower, while the water is warming up, most people let the cold water run down the drain. But hey! That’s the best part! Don’t ever waste that cold-shower water again. Jump right in and be delivered to the kingdom of Intense Sensation. You may enjoy it so much that later, after your body gets to soak in heat (make it so hot your skin turns a nice, healthy, rosy red), you turn that shower handle 180 degrees, back to ice cold again! Not only will this wake you up better than warmth, it requires you to open up to the uncomfortable sensation. You will discover that the more you resist, the more uncomfortable you become. Keep reminding your reactionary reptilian mind that neither the superhot nor the supercold water is hurting you. If your tissues start curling in on themselves like sea anemones, deep breaths focused on opening them will provide the needed reminder. Beyond being an awesome way to build your resilience, this invigorating shower play is great for your health! Alternating hot and cold water submersions will get your lymph moving and your circulation racing while rolling your depression right down the drain. And if you have sore muscles after a workout, alternating between hot and cold will help the soreness-causing lactic acid build up to exit your muscles. Test it out for yourself. Today is as good a time as any.

Next resilience exercise: Walk on gravel:

Take your shoes off, find a nice stretch of gravelly rock, and walk. Like hot and cold showers, dealing with the intense sensations of gravel-walking helps you build your resilience muscle and thus your ability to let the more challenging moments inspire and enliven you instead of stress you out! As you will discover with practice, the only way to survive a stretch of pointed rock on bare feet is to let in the strong sensations. Beyond resilience practice, rack up your health points by using your gravel walk to stimulate all of the acupressure points on the bottom of your feet.

So there you have it, my two-part resilience workout: Take cold showers and walk barefoot on sharp gravel. And what are we really doing when we practice these two physical feats? We are practicing acceptance.

Resilient people are masters at simply leaning into their pain, accepting and trusting that however hard it is, they’ll bounce back. But here’s the secret practices like cold showers and gravel walking reveal: we don’t become resilient through will power and bearing the awfulness of the pain. Actually, the truly resilient learn, through acceptance, to transform their would-be pain into pleasure. I’ll say no more. Try for yourself. And remember: if you begin to coil in like a sea anemone to the strong sensations, just keep repeating to yourself the following mantra: This is not hurting me. This is good for me.