In coaching and leadership development, there is a lot of conversation about resilience. Resilience is an ability to cope with unexpected changes and challenges in your life. The demands of life require it, but how do you build it? Here are 3 strategies.

  1. Own and label your emotional state

Don’t suppress your emotions. Acknowledge them, they have something to tell you. Name them – not just good bad, but using a broader and more specific vocabulary, find the couple of words best suited to how you’re feeling.

  1. Allow a gap between the experience of your emotions and your response

Emotions drive thoughts and behaviour. Ensure yourself a gap between experiencing the emotion and responding. Get curious, and ask yourself questions like: What’s going on? What am I feeling? What’s driving it? How am I responding to it? You can even jot your thoughts on a post-it, your phone or in an email to yourself. Is there a pattern? Is there something proactive you can do to manage a situation when you spot it coming? This gap between experience and response is sometimes called a purposeful pause, a term I like a lot. And remember, emotions provide information/data, not direction. You can choose your response.

  1. Create a tolerance for discomfort

Brene Brown, a shame and vulnerability researcher, found that people with high self-awareness and a willingness to tolerate the discomfort that can come from difficult situations are more resilient. Read on for 3 ways to grow these capabilities.

  • Meditation and/or Mindfulness: Taking time out (even 3 minutes a day) to stop and observe your breath, thoughts, body parts, sounds or emotions can enhance your capacity to relax and/or manage emotions.
  • Journal Writing: In her book, Emotional Agility, Susan David shares a journaling guide from Pennebaker, a researcher in this area for the past 40 years. He consistently found that people who wrote about their emotional experience from the past week, month or year for 20 minutes for at least a few days found it helped in dealing with it. I also found this article that gave 3 simple tips for journal writing – T, F, A. Thoughts (write them down), Feelings (write them down), and Actions (write them down). TFA can be done in a minute!
  • Creating an alternative story: There is truth, and there is supposition. Often, the stories we find whirring around and around in our head contain a fair amount of supposition. We can infer intent based on another person’s behaviour towards us, and may feel hurt, indignant or angry. To counter this, try creating two more stories to explain their behaviour. I did this the other day. A woman berated the dental surgery administrator loudly and publicly for not having her young daughter’s appointment in their diary. Despite them showing the woman a letter they had mailed to her, and their electronic appointment diary, she waved her phone at their faces and said “I have it in my phone so it’s your error”. Maybe she entered the date wrongly in her phone, maybe she didn’t. Who knows. But her reaction was extreme and I remember thinking that perhaps she had other stresses in her life and this was just the last straw (as opposed to being always angry and aggressive). Next time you have a story causing you angst, consider the facts and whether there might be an alternative explanation. It may help lower the angst.

“Life doesn’t get easier or more forgiving, we get stronger and more resilient.” 
― Steve MaraboliLife, the Truth, and Being Free