By SANDY CLARKE
A few years ago, I interviewed Professor Larry Smith, who delivered the popular TED Talk, Why You Will Fail to Have a Great Career.
In the talk – and in his book, No Fears No Excuses – Professor Smith talks about what often holds us back from developing and building on our passions, and how we can overcome the excuses that drip so easily from our tongues.
At the end of the interview, I was curious to know which quality, over his 30 years of teaching, did he see as being diluted over time among students and young professionals. Without missing a beat, he replied, “Resilience”.
Read this: Strength is in Unity and Resilience
Resilience describes the ability to bounce back quickly from setbacks, possessing a certain emotional toughness and ability to persevere, come what may. Like any trait, while there might be a degree of some genetic influence, resilience is something that can be improved upon and strengthened.
In Professor Smith’s view, resilience has decreased due to a number of factors including increased conveniences, social attitudes, parenting styles, and cultural norms. He cited a school friend of his who failed to get into medical school a number of times before finally succeeding. I wonder how many of us would go through rejection time and again, and making the necessary improvements in order to achieve our goals? Or might it just be easier to choose a different path?
How we respond to adversity, trauma, setbacks and failure is different according to each individual. Accordingly, the same applies to how we develop resilience – everybody’s different. It’s something of a personal journey, as we take time to reflect on how we tend to react to difficult situations or unexpected challenges.
That said, there are some general strategies we can turn to that can help us begin to strengthen our minds and lay a solid foundation for resilience to flourish. Below are four strategies that, when practised regularly, can help us to bounce back in the aftermath of adversity and persevere as we push beyond obstacles.
1. Own your situation
When we’re faced with a problem, it might well be partly the fault of others, but resilient people don’t waste time focusing on that. They realise that they can only control their own actions and reactions, and concentrate on what they can do to overcome whatever challenge they face.
Resilient people have what’s called an internal locus of control, which means that they take charge of their life events, no matter how tough things get, believing that they possess the means to create change. On the other hand, those with an external locus of control often focus on outside influences, believing that they are less in charge of their lives, and therefore can be much less resilient.
2. Develop patience
In our world of instant gratification, it’s increasingly difficult to be patient as we become more used to getting things exactly how and when we want. While this might work in the world of apps, online shopping, and fast food places, working with others and towards worthwhile goals can often require a great deal of patience.
People who are best able to deal with crises when they arise are those who are comfortable with discomfort. They can wait out a situation, sit with unpleasant emotions, and act mindfully as they respond to difficult decisions. Developing patience also empowers us to make fewer mistakes and rash judgements which, in leadership, can be costly.
3. Face your fears
There’s a reason why exposure therapy is effective in diminishing people’s fears. Whatever we fear (public speaking, crowds, dogs), our minds tend to exaggerate the potential consequences, which means we become risk-averse, and therefore we are held back and don’t grow. As we consistently confront our fears, the brain ‘learns’ a new memory, which replaces our previous anxieties as it realises our fears possess much less danger, if any, than we previously believed.
4. Keep yourself mentally fit
Whether it’s reading, meditation, or learning a new skill (or all three!), taking care of our mental fitness really helps to build our resilience and enables us to bounce back from setbacks and failure. A 2004 study from the University of London found that people who were lifelong learners and who took care of their mental fitness showed “a range of health outcomes; well-being, protection and recovery from mental health difficulties, and the capacity to cope with potentially stress-inducing circumstances…”
These tips above will help us take ownership over issues we tend to run away from, deal effectively with unpleasant emotions, and step forward as we take committed action that align with what we value in the pursuit of what’s important to us.
Remember to give yourself time to strengthen your resilience. As with any muscle, building resilience is about consistency, patience, and reminding ourselves of the benefits of staying the course and reaping the rewards.
Sandy is a freelance writer based in Malaysia, and previously enjoyed 10 years as a journalist and broadcaster in the UK. He has been fortunate to gain valuable insights into what makes us tick, which has deepened his interests in leadership, emotions, mindfulness, and human behaviour.