How to Build Everyday Resilience

November 16, 2021

When you think about a “resilient” person, who comes to mind? Often we think about people like Rosa Parks or Viktor Frankl, but resilience isn’t just for times of need; it’s a trait we can cultivate in ourselves to enhance how we experience everyday life.

Most of us will be lucky enough not to need exceptional levels of resilience, but leaning to be more resilient in our everyday lives means that we can:

  • Accept criticism with grace, and without getting defensive
  • Process loss and manage our grief in healthy ways
  • Navigate conflicts without resorting to name-calling or insults

In this post we’ll discuss three examples of “everyday resilience” and offer examples of how you can cultivate those traits to become more resilient to the stresses and challenges of your life.

Everyday Resilience Trait #1: Accepting What You Can’t Change

One of the keys to developing a resilient mindset is to face challenges head-on. 

Instead of burying their head in the sand or living in denial, people who practice everyday resilience accept what they can’t change, and this makes them better-equipped to develop coping strategies that help them get through difficult periods.

As an example, let’s say that you’ve just presented an idea to the executive team at your office. You worked hard on your slides, practiced your pitch, and believe that your idea is strong.

However, instead of responding with praise, your bosses start picking apart your idea and responding with criticism.

You start to feel angry and defensive, and at this point you have two options:

  1. You can act on your hurt and defensive feelings. You might feel justified to respond with a snarky remark, but that could result in your idea being rejected entirely — or even worse, you might say something that could put your position and relationship with your bosses at risk.
  1. You can acknowledge that you’re hurt but try to understand your bosses’ perspectives. While this is harder in the moment, in the long run it can help your relationship and potentially lead to an even better idea or outcome.

Of course, it’s natural to feel upset when someone criticizes you, but it’s important to remember that our default responses aren’t always in-line with reality. Your bosses might not have the same level of technical understanding as you, but maybe an outside perspective could be helpful.

When we get into the habit of responding appropriately to our environment and aligning our thoughts more closely with reality, we can center ourselves in the moment and find more productive ways to move forward.

In psychology the process of accepting reality when confronted with new information is called accommodation, which means being flexible with our own beliefs in order to make room for new facts. People with high levels of resilience can accommodate new input and feedback and become stronger as a result.

How to Practice Assimilation

Below are some steps to help you get into the habit of questioning your default assumptions about things and becoming more accommodating of new thoughts:

  1. Pause. When you get upset, pause and ask yourself “what’s really going on here?”

  2. Identify the trigger. Ask yourself “what made me upset? Was it something someone said or did? Was it something I was thinking about?”

  3. Notice your automatic thoughts. What were the thoughts that crossed your mind immediately? What did you tell yourself about what happened?

  4. Identify and rate your emotions. Reflect on how you’re feeling: what is the strongest emotion you’re feeling? Rate it on a scale of 1-10.

  5. Think alternative thoughts. How else could you interpret what happened? What would a 3rd party looking in have to say about it? Rate some new alternative thoughts to what came to you automatically.

  6. Re-rate your emotions. Now that you’ve created some new alternative thoughts, re-rate that same emotion on a scale of 1-10.

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Everyday Resilience Trait #2: Have a Sense of Purpose

Most people assume that having a “purpose” refers to something large or even spiritual, but having a sense of purpose can be as simple as having things in your life that you’re excited or curious about, something you’re looking forward to, or that has meaning to you.

Our sense of purpose becomes stronger with the more values we have and acknowledge, which gives us the motivation to be resilient during difficult periods.

For example, during periods of loss— say, after the death of a loved one — it can be hard to pull ourselves out from that dark place. By focusing on the road ahead, the family we still have, the experiences we have yet to enjoy, and the other positive aspects of our lives can help us to  refocus ourselves and find purpose on a daily basis.

How to Develop a Sense of Purpose

One of the tools we recommend for creating a sense of purpose during difficult times is a process called Values Clarification.

“Values Clarification” is a fancy way of saying “sitting with your thoughts and intentionally reflecting on your values and the things that matter most in your life.”

The key to the exercise is to align your actions with your values.  For example, if you value learning, you might learn a new skill.  

If you value family, you could set aside an evening for a special time to be together with all family members.  Finally, if you value social responsibility, you might sign up to volunteer your time at a charity that matters to you.

Try setting aside 30 minutes every two weeks to practice freeflow writing and write down whatever comes to mind when you think about your values.

By taking time to consciously clarify what matters to us, big and small, we create powerful reasons to persist and persevere through not only the hardest of times, but those times that are mundane and monotonous. 

Everyday Resilience Trait #3: Be Adaptable 

Resilient people are able to be flexible when situations change unexpectedly. Instead of becoming paralyzed with fear, complaining, or wishing things were different, resilient people work to change the one thing they can control: themselves.

This ability allows people to roll with whatever they’re facing instead of resorting to denial or avoidance, which can make things worse.

How to Practice Adaptability

One of the key elements to being adaptable is the ability to imagine how things could be different, and then being mindful to work towards one of those desirable outcomes. 

To build resilience in this area and increase creativity, we suggest practicing Divergent Thinking

Divergent Thinking is the process of taking a question or a problem and coming up with multiple answers or solutions. We love the 10 New Ideas Exercise, originally created by James Altucher. Here’s how to practice it:

Pick a length of time (say, a week) and try to generate 10 new ideas within a specific category or example every day. 

For example, Monday might be 10 ideas for a new business, Tuesday might be 10 ideas for a new book, Wednesday might — well, you get the idea. The key is to make time to explore new ideas and practice thinking outside of the box.

Here are a few more guidelines to help you get those creative wheels turning:

  • Choose a specific time to work on your list. Make sure it’s a time free of distractions when you can completely focus on the exercise.

  • Physically write down your ideas. Choose a notebook and pen, or list them on your computer — either way is fine, as long as you document your output.

  • Don’t judge your ideas. The point isn’t to come up with “good” ideas; it’s to generate new ideas and practice being creative.

  • Don’t censor or edit your ideas. Just write them out without judgment.

Building Everyday Resilience: Conclusion

Developing resilience doesn’t just help during times of need; it creates an emotional framework to help cope with day-to-day challenges and find the joy in life that builds perseverance.

A great place to start is by taking our “Learn to be Resilient” self-paced course, which will help you learn how to better use your emotions to be more resilient and to better tolerate stress.