I have been doing a lot of work on resilience lately. We have all been told that the concept of resilience refers to one’s ability to “bounce back” from adversity.
Being resilient helps us to recover from setbacks relatively comfortably. It also allows us the grace to move forward through difficult situations in life.
While resilience comes naturally to some, anybody can train himself to become more resilient. Like any skill, resilience can be built with time and practice so that you can feel confident in your ability to face adversity and come through it.
This first instalment forms part of a building resilience series that I am creating. This one addresses understanding the skill, so a good place to start is by defining what I mean by resilience.
Three Types of Resilience
In my vernacular, there are three different types of resilience. Here is a short description of what they are and how you can start to build them:
Physical resilience means responding to physical and physiological challenges. It is the body’s ability to cope under stress and deal with physical injuries or stress.
Unfortunately, physical resilience typically decreases with age (as the body becomes frailer); but there are a range of activities you can undertake to build and maintain physical resilience. The key things to focus on are your general physical health—and this starts with the basics: a healthy diet, regular exercise, and a good sleeping routine.
As we grieve, we tend to neglect the physical routines that have sustained us for most of our lives. By recognizing and understanding that physical resilience is part of what we need to work on, we can begin to shift the focus away from the depths of that grief and start to work on our true self.
Mental resilience is another way of talking about our mental fortitude. It is our ability to deal with stressful situations using the mind. In other words, it is taking control of your thoughts and having the ability to focus on the task at hand—no longer being distracted by the “overwhelm” of grief, trauma, or any other issues we face.
This is likely to involve problem solving and decision making, important parts of moving forward through any challenging situation. To increase mental resilience, work on limiting your multitasking and focus instead on one task at a time.
Mindfulness and meditation are great ways to begin to identify your thought patterns and start to become present in each moment. Theoretically, if you can achieve a state of metacognition (thinking about the way you think), then you can begin to significantly increase your mental resilience.
Finally, and this is the hardest when we are grieving, we must strengthen our ability to control emotions. This is probably the largest part of building resilience. Emotional resilience “what it says on the tin”, especially the ability to manage negative emotions when things go wrong.
Building emotional resilience takes time but can be increased by developing a habit of meditating and by practicing gratitude daily. For me, this means I begin each day with a gratitude practice and a meditation. Before opening my eyes after my alarm goes off, I think of three things for which I am truly grateful each morning. I then switch off the alarm and sit still, with a clear mind and meditate for at least 10-minutes before I get up to face each day.
It helps me to start the day on a positive, emotionally gratifying note. It also helps to retrain the brain to acknowledge emotions before focusing on and action you can take. This helps us focus on the positive rather than dwelling on negative thoughts, feelings, and emotions.
Emotional resilience is the key to helping us move forward in our grief. It helps us to start to focus on those beautiful memories we have of the person we lost, the life we have lived and the living we have yet to do.
By focusing on the present and using a gratitude and meditation practice, we can truly start to shift into a higher level of resilience. Once present, we can start riding waves of grief like a pro surfer instead of a tumbling pebble.