Our recipe for resilience

When you start researching resilience, you immediately become aware of how “hot” the topic is these days. And it’s not really surprising: we’re in an unprecedented period of uncertainty and complexity – not just on the global stage. As resilience expert Lucy Hone explains: “we now live in an era where we are constantly bombarded by threats, all day long”.

By this she means the everyday stressors our nervous systems identify and automatically respond to as though they were as life-threatening as saber-toothed tigers. 

Then there’s the fact we are constantly confronted by seemingly superhuman models of success in the media – pounded with the message that to “make it” in a competitive world, we must be better, faster, stronger, richer, and treat work like an extreme sport. No wonder our LinkedIn followers wanted to learn about “bullet-proof” resilience:

who are you in this world if you can’t power through a minefield of adversity like Elon Musk driving an armored Tesla on steroids?

Are you on a quest to learn how to let things slide over you like you’re made of Teflon or bounce off your muscled chest like you’re a superhero?

Then we’ll have to set the record straight: there’s no formula to become invincible or perfect, in fact, resilience experts everywhere emphasize that the first step to finding resilience is acknowledging you are vulnerable and subject to the laws of planet Earth. That’s the bad news. 

The good news is two-fold: 

1) Adversity does not discriminate – everywhere, everyday, people are struggling with situations that threaten their peace of mind, wellbeing and even safety. 

2) Resilience can be learned – no matter what your childhood circumstances or your genetic makeup, you too can reap the gifts of resilience. And they really are gifts: research shows that people who report higher resilience are physically healthier, more productive, happier, and have closer relationships.

Needless to say, there’s no mathematical model for predicting when and how adversity will come knocking on your door – whether a random everyday stressor, a high-intensity phase such as a tough work project or new parenthood, or a major crisis. But there are ways you can prepare for these experiences so you can land on your feet, no matter how far you’ve been thrown… 

The basic ingredients: healthy habits

We can’t say this often enough, the fundamentals of mental health and wellbeing are: 

  • Good nutrition
  • Enough sleep
  • Adequate exercise
  • Human connection (e.g.maintaining good relationships with family members, friends, and others) 
  • Time for other essential forms of self-care (e.g. hobbies)

Without these roots powerfully grounding you, you’re more susceptible to falling hard when storms blow through your life. And there will be storms. 

We think that two of these “roots” also merit some closer examination: 

Exercise

Our bodies give us many opportunities to become aware of and work proactively with stressors. If we make time to “listen” to the signals of the body to become more aware of how we respond to stress, we can counter its impact with tools such as intentional breathing and yogic movements to calm the nervous system and support the endocrine system.

Techniques such as the “4-7-8 breath”, which we teach in nilo.tools, can activate your parasympathetic nervous system, providing instant “real-time resilience”. 

Community and connection

Researchers at the Innovation Resource Center for Human Resources have found that resilience is “heavily enabled” by strong relationships and networks. These can “help crystallize the meaningful purpose in what we are doing or help us see a path forward to overcome a setback…can provide empathy or simply help us laugh and bolster our resilience by shifting perspective and reminding us we are not alone in the fight”.

Tempting as it may be, when things are tough, hiding in your room and feeling ashamed or sorry for yourself is not the best tactic. Yes: give yourself space to process, but also remember to reach out for the emotional connection that is at the very core of being human.

The method: 3 steps to get back on your feet

There are plenty of different models of resilience, offering “pillars” or checklists of preventative measures or remedies.

Likewise, nilo programs provide a diverse range of exercises to help users reflect on their habitual thinking patterns and behaviors and encourage them to develop fresh perspectives and try out new approaches to combating stressors. All this to say: there are many roads to resilience.  

The “recipe” we’d like to share with you here is an impressively straightforward 3-pronged approach presented by academic Lucy Hone in her impactful Ted Talk. Hone’s method quickly and effectively empowers you to shift your mindset from victim-mode to being in the driver’s seat. (Note: The step names do not come from Lucy Hone)

Step 1: Acknowledge sh*t happens

As already stated, misfortune doesn’t discriminate: it hits everyone sooner or later. A key shared trait of resilient people is that they are able to recognize this, and, when faced with a challenge, to shift their focus to the aspects of a situation they do have control over.   

Interestingly, a survey of individuals after the terrorist attacks in the United States on 11 September 2001 found reduced levels of post-traumatic stress symptoms in those who had accepted the situation.

On a similar note, in a study conducted on mothers whose children had life-threatening cancer, those who had accepted the situation reported fewer symptoms of depression.

Step 2: Find the silver lining

“Benefit finding” and “positive reappraisal” are the psychological terms for the process of identifying the potentially positive aspects of neutral or negative events.

There’s no doubt that doing this can be a challenge when things are tough, but being able to re-construe stressful events in this way has been correlated with improved overall health outcomes, so it’s worth making the effort.  

Gratitude journaling, a tool we teach in the nilo.programs, can provide quick support when you’re on the go. The powerful effects of expressing gratitude have been studied extensively, with some researchers even finding this practice can boost your long-term happiness by more than 10%!

Step 3: Use your heart as the compass

Hone’s final piece of guidance is to ask the question: “Is this helping me or harming me?” when you want to evaluate your coping strategies and decide the best way to move forward.

As she points out, this simple method of tuning into your feelings instantly puts you in the driver’s seat so you’re navigating life from a place of self-care and -compassion, rather than jumping blindly into action or reacting as a victim.

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For the advanced mental health “chefs” out there, there are two further ingredients you can fold into your resilience mix to take it up to 5-star gourmet level…

Humor – the secret sauce

In his book Man’s Search for Meaning, neurologist, psychiatrist, and Holocaust survivor Viktor Frankl says of humor that it “more than anything else in the human make-up, can afford aloofness and an ability to rise above any situation, even if only for a few seconds.”

Although some people may think there is no room for humor when dealing with serious topics like grief, resilience researchers explain that humor can be especially helpful in that it can “foster exploration, creativity and flexibility in thinking[…] It provides distance and perspective, but does so without denying pain or fear.” 

Naturally, you should read the mood in the room before cracking a one-liner at a somber occasion, but even if you opt to keep your jokes to yourself, finding a light-hearted angle on an experience can be a quick and effective way to break up your personal pity party! 

“Be water, my friend.”

There’s probably a subconscious reason why so many people turn to this quote when talking about facing adversity: people who are resilient actually do tend to be flexible in their problem-solving.

“They are not wedded to a specific style of coping. Instead, they shift from one coping strategy to another depending upon the circumstances,” according to the authors of the book Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life’s Greatest Challenges.

And there’s a further dimension to their flexibility: it’s not only about the what, it’s also about the who. Researchers at the Innovation Resource Center for Human Resources found when they spoke to people they deemed to have shown exceptional resilience: “they often have cultivated and maintained authentic connections that come from many parts of their life – not only through work, but through athletic pursuits, volunteer work, civic or religious communities, book or dinner clubs, communities of parents they’ve met through their children, and so on.” 

Having such extensive resilience networks helped the research subjects by “‘opening the aperture’ on how they look at their lives.”

It’s another important reminder to reach out for community and connection in hard times – and not always look for support in the obvious places. 

There will be storms

Nature photographers have given us inspiring images of landscapes that have spectacularly recovered from complete obliteration. Such resilience is also possible in humans, but there is no one-size-fits-all “hack” for bouncing back from life’s challenges. Every journey is unique:

“Our resilience needs are personal and are shaped by our unique history, personality, and professional/personal context.” 

Finding your resources to overcome adversity requires a commitment to staying attuned to your emotions without letting them rule you, nurturing self-knowledge while building healthy relationships, and standing up and dusting yourself off again and again and again…

Only in this way will you grow into a bigger, broader tree with new rings of strength that enable you to bend in the winds of life – rather than breaking when a tempest comes.

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