Life skills: making yourself resilient

Have you ever had that gut-wrenching feeling in the pit of your stomach when someone tells you something you’ve done isn’t good enough? Or when you ‘fail’ at something, and you just want to curl up into a ball and hide from the world, thinking that what you do or think does not matter?

One of the most debilitating and negative emotions humans can have is lack of confidence, which is the predominant reaction to what we perceive as ‘failure’. These emotions are stultifying and paralysing and can stop you from trying at all. To understand our reaction to failure, we must first unravel what ‘resilience’ and ‘confidence’ actually are.

Resilience is the ability to cope with the difficulties life throws you

Resilience is the ability to cope with the difficulties life throws you, whether these be as big as a tragedy, disaster or trauma, or as small as an everyday problem with work or relationships. Confidence is having the belief in your ability to succeed and overcome these problems. Learning how to deal with small challenges first, liking solving a conflict with a friend; to change the outcome of a bad situation. Learning to properly apologise if we have been wrong and show willingness to make amends is hugely helpful in everyday life. And being able to deal well with the smaller and everyday things is the start of becoming more robust. This can help us overcome difficulties better than someone with less resilience. The concept of there being ‘another day’ and that the “sun will be out tomorrow” is a great way to give ourselves some perspective about the here and now.

Imagine being in the Army, in combat. Or parachuting out of a plane in enemy territory. Being far away from home. These things certainly require a lot of resilience and nerves of steel. This is why the Army is the center of excellence for building a high level of mental and physical resilience in its soldiers. And it is from the Army we get a lot of the deeper know how behind the construction of resilience.

But can we learn it? Can resilience indeed be learnt in more every-day situations, too. And if so what’s the secret? Is there one?

According to psychologists, you can. There are key characteristics and traits in a person who has good resilience. These include: having a sense of autonomy, remaining calm under pressure, optimism and confidence in your strength and abilities, self-esteem, having a rational thought process and the ability to manage and control strong feelings.

That sounds good, but this may precisely be the problem as this presumes one is confident enough to do all that or to display all these characteristics.

However, even if you do not feel confident, you can always control your reactions to something by staying calm, by taking a few deep breaths and pause before you react. This ‘pausing’ will really help making your response to adversity more rational. It is the flying emotions that get us into trouble most. Controlling your feelings and pausing gives you a very good sense of control and will increase your feeling of confidence in dealing with the particular situation at hand. Remember the old saying ‘count to 10’ (and sometimes it needs to be counting to 20, it is truer than true. If you wait 10 seconds before saying awful things to a friend or a relative in a fight, the urge will have gone and you feel all the stronger for it. And sometimes applying a bit of humour to a situation will help too!

According to an article by psychologist Harold Cohen in Psychology Magazine, all you need to become resilient, is the “willingness to do so”.

The result of trying to build resilience can be life-changing. Or so it was for Bonita Norris, a girl who, at 22, became the world’s youngest person to ever climb Mount Everest and to reach the North Pole. She is a case in point of how learning ways to overcome adversity and building resilience can result in change. Developing an eating disorder at 13, Benita cut short a promising career as a young athlete and stopped exercising totally. She battled bulimia for many years. That until she forced herself back onto a running machine, which was parked next to her desk and had been left unused for years. The first time back on, she could not even run for 2 minutes! She build up her running by a minute a day and finally rediscovered running (and eating) and how this gave her back her life, so to speak. A chance encounter with an Everest climber, made her decide – despite having no climbing experience and having no money for the expedition – to climb Mount Everest.

Norris’ feat- like Army training- required both extreme physical and mental strength. And even being up Mount Everest for the final ascent, she had to gather herself to just get up and go and out of her tent into the extreme cold, one foot before the other and just thinking of one step at the time. Benita’s extraordinary story is an example of how everyone can face challenges and learn to overcome them, and in the process attempt to achieve something far greater than we expected we ever could.

So is there is a secret to becoming resilient? It might be to rule of 10 +1 . The number 10 as in the 10 seconds of patience & pause before we react to something or someone and the number 1 as in not giving up too early and too easily (ie stumbling at the proverbial first hurdle). Get over this one and you are on your way!

Read more

The Girl who climbed Mount Everest. Lessons learned facing up to the world’s toughest mountains. By Benita Norris. 2017.