You don’t have to be a super hero or have special powers to build your resilience, you just need a little know-how, and a lot of the right mind set.
I’m going to talk about resilience from two angles here, the ability to bounce back when you’ve taken a knock in life, and the in-the-moment resilience when you hit a stressful or scary situation. I’ll kick off with my own resilience story to give you some insight into my own journey.
Life doesn’t get easier, or more forgiving. We get stronger and more resilient
My Resilience Story
As with many of my blogs I want to start by sharing a little bit of my own story. The first time I recall lessons in resilience was at high school, that may be the same for many of you, or your resilience story might have started even sooner. I’m not going to go quite that far back for this story though; I want to share with you the first time when life gave me a flurry of knocks, all at the same time, and the only two options were sink or swim.
I’m taking you back to 1993. I had started a new job, and don’t get me wrong that was great, nonetheless a big step up, a lot to take on and a tad scary. Around the same time I’d separated from my (then) fiancé. Due to said separation I’d moved back temporarily with my parents and was in my old childhood bedroom again. My nan had reached the end of life stage after battling cancer for some time, and my mum was often absent while caring for her along with my auntie. I’d lost the (couple) friends we had, which were his friends to start with and subsequently my only friends at the time. I’d had to leave my two (cherished, loved, totally adored) cats behind with my now ex-fiancé. Someone at work wasn’t happy with my appointment, and was making that known. My dad was (not that I knew it then), trying to keep my brother on the straight and narrow, so quite preoccupied.
I was 23. I thought my world had caved in.
The way I dealt with it all at the time was by reading a lot of self help books, including books on spirituality, all in a guest to survive the turmoil. At this time I also started walking and taking a closer interest in natural history. Those books and walks quite literally picked me up, dusted me off, and gave me a resilience tool kit to start rebuilding my rather beaten self.
7 years later, there was another bout of numerous knocks, this time they were set to continue coming over a number of years. That’s when I launched myself into the world of life coaching, more books, and this time more focused time walking out, giving myself over to my love of natural history. That wasn’t the end of life knocks by any means, but those two bouts of multiple stressful life events changed me forever. My mindset and outlook had changed. I’d taken my lessons and become more resilient.
I want to share with you some of the things that worked for me, and which are used in professional interventions with clients who are struggling with life, very much as I do with my emotional and resilience coaching sets. Not everything below will resonate with everyone, take what you like, ignore what you don’t.
Building your Toolkit
Building resilience takes time and patience, nonetheless the sooner you start to use the lessons offered to you through life knocks, the sooner you’ll be reaping the rewards.
Looking through another lens
This first technique is about trying to remove the emotional element of what we are feeling, and looking at it more objectively. Not easy I know but you can do it. The trick is to make sure you do this when you are not in the midst of an emotional event or situation, wait until you have peace and you are as calm as you’re going to be.
Now imagine there are three people in the room; the client, the interviewer and the observer. You are going to play all three roles, one role at a time in a cycle starting with ‘the client’. Take your time to play each role. The aim is to hunt out the reality and see things from different perspectives.
- The client is you in your current state and will start the process by explaining what’s happened and how you’re feeling. After that point the client will respond to the ‘interviewer’s’ questions.
- The observer sits and watches, they don’t judge or ask questions, they are simply there to observe the situation as it unfolds, listen to what’s being said, note the feelings in the room, hunt for the reality through the responses and body language.
- The interviewer asks a set of questions (you may want a few set questions before you start, but also allow for whatever comes to mind). The aim is to understand the reality and truth behind the situation, and see if it could be viewed differently. It’s important to ask ‘curious’ and open questions, dig deep into the situation.
They may ask, for example, “what other ways could you look at this situation?”, or “when you say ‘all of the time’, what does that mean, every minute, every hour, every day, once a week, once a month…?”
In a quiet place where you won’t be disturbed, pick 3 positive affirmations that you will repeat to yourself daily. Morning is a good time to do these, albeit you may choose to do them morning and night if you wish. Even repeat them throughout the day.
For at least one of the sessions per day, be facing into a mirror to say your positive affirmations. Look at yourself and say them out load.
It could be something like “I’m a good person and I love myself”, or “This situation is tough, but I’m tough too”, or “I’m strong enough to get through this”, or “I have the ability to deal with this in my own time”
‘Dump it’ Diary
If diary keeping is your thing this should work for you. If it isn’t give it a go anyway.
Take paper and a pen and write everything that’s swimming around in your head down. Don’t think about it consciously. Don’t try to word it nicely. Just write whatever comes into your mind. Dumb all of the frustrations, negativity, hurt, sadness, anger, all of it onto that page(s). When you’ve finished burn it, shred it or bin it. Never look at it again. You’ve psychological dumped the crap from your mind.
Keep doing this at the end of the day until you don’t need to anymore.
Plan for Knocks
This might sound bonkers but being resilient is really about using what you know, what you’ve learnt, to help you the next time be better prepared. If you know certain situations cause you issues or if a situation is about to occur that you’re feeling stressed about (it might be a discussion with your boss or an event where you’re going to see someone who might kick off), play out that scenario. Visualise yourself in that situation, run through the conversation you’d have, consider their response so you can counter respond what you’d say. Visualise yourself as strong and capable, carrying out that conversation in a calm and measured way, with the intend of win:win (i.e. you both leave the situation unharmed mentally).
Be Kind to Yourself
It’s also okay not to be prepared. It’s okay to not always come out on top of a situation. You’ll do better next time, you’re actively building your resilience, you’re always learning.
I find that if I’ve done something with the best of intentions (and you might be planning that out before an action), even if what follows is utterly unpleasant, it softens the blow.
View the Process not the Emotion
Strong emotions can really knock us off kilter and change our perspective on a situation. Being able to control or deescalate this is key to building resilience, and is one of the skills of emotional intelligence. Deep breathing, calming down the fight or flight response, and balancing out our energy can really help the first step in calming our emotional response (see the next section for a selection of techniques). Once you’re calm, see the situation as a process, detach emotion, and look at it objectively. Walk it through, plan for if it occurs again, and know that you’ve addressed it the best you could, and move on.
Flexibility kicks Rigid’s butt
If we are always rigid in our approach, our expectations, and our behaviour, resilience will be challenging. Be prepared to back down, change your view, try something different. You haven’t failed, you’ve learnt something new.
Exercise & Nutrition
Our minds and physical states are connected. The more exercise you do (could be dancing, circuit, cycling, swimming… whatever floats your boat), the better control you have over your fight or flight response. Exercise releases serotonin and keeps our disposition in a much happier place. Food is essential for physical wellbeing and mental wellbeing too. Eat a colourful balanced diet that’s low in sugar to avoid spikes and troughs in your energy and mood.
Heart Chakra Fear Tap
This calms the Triple Warmer meridian which governs our fight or flight response, reduces irrational fear, soothes the body and mind.
Place the hand that you’ll be tapping on over your heart chakra (between your chest). Starting with your left hand, tap the point between your little finger and ring finger (see photo), using 2 or 3 fingers, do this for around 30 to 60 seconds (or 4 deep in and out breaths)
Make sure you are breathing in a conscious, slow and controlled manner, in through your nose and out through your mouth
Switch hands and do the same again.
Breathing in a deep, steady way will slow down your heart rate and help your body and brain regain calmness.
- Breath in deeply for the count of 2 seconds whilst you visualise drawing the first line of a square.
- Hold the breath in for 2 seconds whilst you visualise drawing the second line of a square, change the colour of each line if you like.
- Let the breath out over the count of 2 seconds, whilst you visualise drawing the third line of the square
- Hold for 2 whilst you visualise drawing the final line
- Repeat as many times as you need to.
Triple Warmer Neurovascular Point
This is another technique to calm your fight or flight response when feeling stressed
- Place one hand over your temple
- With you other hand cluster your fingers and rest them gently on the soft part of your throat (just up from your collarbone)
- Breath deeply for the count of 2
- Hold for the count of 2
- Breath out for the count of 2
- Pause the breath for the count of 2
- Repeat 3-4 times.
Wayne Cook posture
This is a great posture if you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed or emotional. If you’re sobbing, it’ll calm your emotion down.
Take 3 deep breaths – in through nose and out through mouth
Sit as the photo is showing.
As you breath in for the count of 2 pull your top leg in toward your body and hold for 2, then release.
Swap legs and do the same on the other side
Release your leg back down to the floor
Place your thumbs on your temples, place your fingers so they meet at the centre of your head as in the photo (don’t tip your head back – our lovely model in the photo did this to show you the thumb placement)
Breath in and press your fingers (not thumbs) into the centre of your head
Breath out as you pull your fingers across your head and out to your temples.
Relaxing mindfulness mini meditation
- Sit somewhere in comfort, both feet on the ground, hand palm down on legs.
- Take 3 deep breaths – in through your nose, out through your mouth
- Close your eyes
- Be aware of 5 normal in/out breaths
- Be aware of your feet on the ground, your legs/bum on the seat
- Starting at the crown of your head observe how your body feels bit by bit, where there is tension/tenseness, release tension consciously/relax part of body with an out breath
- Once your body scan is complete, Smile, breath in & out and say “I am ready for my day”
- bring your awareness consciously to yourself/surroundings & slowly open your eyes.
Remember these things, often:
- Every difficult situation is there to offer you a lesson, you might not yet know what that is, but have faith that you needed the lesson.
My lessons ultimately helped me find my life purpose.
- You’re stronger than you think.
- You are good enough.
- There’s always someone somewhere who would love to have the life you’ve got.
- Even great loss, can give you a gift if you look for it.
- There’s always someone who can help, seek them out.
- Don’t underestimate the difference little things can make; hooking up with a friend, watching your favorite comedy, or watching nature as it goes about it’s business.
- Life is temporary, cherish it and don’t let anyone or anything take your enjoyment away.
- Doing something for someone else less fortunate gives a special kind of warmth, and helps you reframe your own issues
- The sun is still shining above the dark clouds
- Aim to see the humour in situations, it will rewire your brain over time
- Again, you are good enough.
I hope you’ve found these things helpful for your journey to building resilience. If you think someone else might like to try these techniques out please feel free to share. If you use any photos in this blog please credit them to me/my website.
If you have your own techniques and want to share them, I’d love to hear from you.
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