Have you ever wondered where your resiliency comes from? Do you get a certain amount of it when you’re born, and when you run out, it’s game over? Or, is resiliency something that you can build and nurture?
You probably know people who get knocked down and get back up again and again with seemingly no effort. You might wonder: how do they do it? But then, maybe you cross paths with them later in life, and they don’t have any more “get up and go” left. What’s happened? Have they run out of resiliency? Can they get it back?
I recently spoke with Andrea Marcellus, life coach, fitness expert, and author of self-help book, “The Way In” to explore these questions and discover new ways to keep building that all-important resiliency muscle.
What is resilience?
We all face rejections, betrayals, or disappointments from a young age—whether in our family of origin, in our schools, or in our communities. And we all need ways to help us get back up again. This ability to rebound is resilience.
Resilience gives us buoyancy and elasticity to address stress, pain, or loss in our lives without snapping. Think of a rubber band, and how it snaps back into shape after it’s stretched. This stretchability is a quality of resilience. Except, what doesn’t work about the rubber band metaphor is that resilience does more than help us return to our original shape; Andrea defines resilience as “the capacity to expand.” Perhaps a better metaphor, then, is bread dough, that is stretched and kneaded by our experiences.
Mentorship through adversity
We all have a natural survival instinct, but our level of resiliency has more to do with how we’re raised and the amount of adversity we’ve had to face. In other words, our upbringing and our life experiences are an important key to how much resiliency we have than our DNA.
The key question, Andrea says, is did you learn to help yourself through positive mentorship following adversity?
In this case, one or more of these statements is probably true:
- You were given space and time to feel your emotions and express your disappointments.
- You were taught how to address and move through the emotions of the disappointment
- You learned to see life in a larger perspective, with all its peaks and valleys.
- You learned to reframe failures without resorting to defensive stances such as “They didn’t deserve me anyway” or downplaying them by saying, “I didn’t really care that much.”
If the answer is no, then perhaps one or more of these things is true:
- You were raised to “suck it up” or “push through”, getting into a habit of getting by on willpower.
- You heard that life is a battlefield filled with winners and losers, so you became adversarial, and all the language around your efforts was about “the fight.”
- You heard that the person who strikes first wins, so you learn to address problems with knee-jerk, reflexive words or actions.
- You grew up to believe that suffering in silence is a virtue, while talking about your struggles is complaining or whining.
No matter our upbringings, however, we can all strengthen our resilience muscle. Below are three ingredients Andrea recommends for creating an environment in which resilience can grow.
“Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.” ― Thomas Edison
What is your “why” in life? It is your birthright to live a life that excites and motivates you. But it’s easy to get stuck in malaise, get sidetracked by egoic ambitions, or lose the plot on what you really love and care about.
According to Andrea, you need to find “focus and purpose and a constant journey that’s above and beyond your occupation. Because when your mind is activated by purpose, it is forward-thinking and full of positive possibilities. It’s creative, it’s curious, and it’s non-judgmental.”
So, having a strong purpose in life is directly correlated to our ability to be resilient. Maybe we should update the phrase, “When you love what you do, you won’t work a day in your life” to “When you love what you do, you build resilience for life.”
Train your brain
Despite what you may think about our brains deteriorating as we get older, recent studies show that the opposite is true. Andrea says that our positive brain centers: the hippocampus, the cerebellum, and the prefrontal cortex—can be trained, just as the body can, so that you have the ability to pull yourself out of any downward spiral.
Tara Swart, Neuroscientist, MD, Executive Advisor, Author of “The Source,” offers up these ideas to help support our brains in their ability to be more resilient:
“Start with the physical foundations: Rest your brain with 7-9 hours sleep per night. Hydrate your neurons with half a liter of water for every 30lb of body weight. Oxygenate your brain by walking 5000-10,000 steps per day and doing 150 minutes of aerobic exercise per week. Meditate for 20 minutes a day. Take the supplements that suit your needs. Eat as much oily fish, eggs, nuts and seeds, green leafy vegetables, avocado, olives, and coconut oil as you can. Drink four cups of green tea per week.”
Life is too hard to go it alone. We need others who we can trust to share our journeys with, and who can help us process, reframe, learn, and grow from each experience.
A few tips:
Make sure that you’re surrounded by people who won’t try to minimize or always expect you to see “the bright side,” and who support you in the ways you need to be supported.
- Create a circle of allyship in which no one feels pressured to put a happy face following a disappointment or hardship but are instead held in support while they process and regain their footing.
- Consider modeling yourself after someone who is resilient. Pay attention to how they navigate their lives and disappointments. Note that they are not driven by pride, arrogance, boastfulness, or bluster. Instead, they carry an unbreakable sense of personal authority and inner resourcefulness.
Creating a supportive community can become pseudo-resilience for when you need to take a moment before you can tap into your own, or, as is often said, the “strength of others give us strength.”
No one escapes this life without experiencing setbacks and hardships. It’s healthy to feel your feelings and communicate these with others in the aftermath of a loss or failure. We all need to occasionally take a time-out to get our balance and find that focus again. Having a strong purpose, training your brain, and building a community of supportive people are three of the things you can do to make sure that you rebound in a healthy way.