There’s so little we can control. If the past two months have taught us nothing else, they’ve certainly reminded us of that.
Maybe you’re someone who finds this nudge to loosen your grip on life’s steering wheel a little liberating. Maybe you’re more within the camp of people mourning their loss of plans and the ability to form new ones. Regardless of how you’re currently feeling, one thing remains true: our lives will always flow through a series of ups and downs, many of which we’ll hold no influence over. And the most resilient people among us are the ones who’ve learned how to accept and work with that flow.
To that end, we heard from psychologists, mental health professionals and more about the tactics they use for increasing resilience and handling life’s setbacks with fortitude. And while, on the one hand, the following could be read as advice for "bouncing back" from those setbacks, remember: real resilience isn’t in thinking you can change an outcome by moving through a hardship faster. It’s in accepting there will be outcomes both good and bad in our lives — and maybe believing that, in the end, the good ones will matter more.
Here are 12 common habits of truly resilient people.
Optimistic people tend to be more resilient — not because they’re able to pretend the bad doesn’t exist, but because they can see the good within it.
“Optimism opens your internal world so your outside world does not feel as restrictive,” Dr. Bruce L. Thiessen, a licensed clinical psychologist and songwriter, said. “If you are focused on how many people are dying, how many people are losing their jobs and how many people are losing their homes, your mental world will shrink. Your mindset will be narrow and dark. You’ll miss opportunities that may be staring you in the face. You will lose the ability to find creative solutions.”
When we feel overly responsible for our life’s outcomes, we assume a power that we frankly don’t have. It’s a worn maxim, but a true one: the only thing we actually have ownership of is our actions.
“When you’re pursuing a goal, focus on your activity, not on the results,” Terry McDougall of Terry B. McDougall Coaching said. “You can control your activity. You can’t control the outcome.”
There is, simply, no way for this to not sound corny. But there’s also no denying: resilient people know what they’re grateful for, and they keep those things top of mind.
“Start a gratitude practice. Every morning, think of (or write down, if you can) one to three things, as big or small as you want, that you're grateful for,” Amanda Gist, a writer and speaker, said. “Even if it's just a hot cup of coffee. This helps to begin re-groove the neural pathways in your brain to recognize positive things in your life when maybe things have looked negative for a very long time.”
If your life feels like a series of things you “have to do” or “should do,” it isn’t likely you feel much agency within it. A key way of increasing resiliency, according to Michelle Pargman, a licensed therapist, is reframing those obligations as opportunities.
“We don't need to wait for a hardship to start putting in practice positive thought habits. These may include going from have to, to get to,” Pargman said. “We can easily get bogged down in the things we see as obligations: ‘I have to go to this meeting,’ ‘I have to bring my parent to their doctor's appointment,’ ‘I have to go through this hardship.’ But when we replace that one word ‘have’ to with ‘get’ to — ‘I get to go through this hardship and see what I can become on the other side of it’ — it immediately enables us to practice gratitude, which research shows has countless benefits.”
Before she started teaching individuals and organizations how to build lives of greater resilience, life coach Laura Macdougall went through a series of setbacks and failures. One of the things that helped her change course, she says, was recognizing the power of her “mind chatter.”
“Notice your self talk or your mind chatter — that little voice in your head that’s always speaking to you,” she said. “Once you are noticing it, start to get curious. For example, if your mind chatter says, ‘Oh my goodness, I am not going to get through this,’ look for reasons why that is not the case. ‘I know I have already handled worse’ or ‘I know I can take on whatever comes my way.’”
It’s hard to feel resilient if you’re consistently sleep deprived, said author Girish Dutt Shukla.
“Sleep well. This is a habit we ignore the most and whose effects we tend to underestimate,” he said. “A hardship may cause us to sleep too little, and it can change our sleeping patterns on a regular basis which in turn affects our mental health. Never ever miss out on eight hours of sleep.”
People who tend to be resilient often have a practice of getting the most out of their mornings, explained Jamie Bacharach, a licensed life coach.
“By waking up early and starting your work early, you can help yourself overcome setbacks by making progress on what still needs to be done after a setback has been experienced,” Bacharach said. “The sooner you make progress, the sooner you will overcome your setback and the more resiliency you will build.”
Being resilient against life’s challenges means seeing yourself as an active participant in those challenges, rather than a passive agent that things simply happen to. By embodying a growth mindset in which hardships are acknowledged as opportunities to learn, you'll be in the former camp.
“The growth mindset is one of the best predictors of speedy and smooth recovery from setbacks,” Rachel Drosdick-Sigaoos, a licensed mental health professional, said. “The growth mindset is the belief that a person's abilities and skills improve over time. The opposite, a fixed mindset, is the belief that our skills and abilities are static. People with a growth mindset tend to view setbacks as hiccups that lead to detours rather than the end of the road.”
It’s not up to you to solve all of life’s problems alone. That's something resilient people understand, said Katherine Bihlmeier, a certified transformational mental coach.
“Very often, we think we need to push through things on our own. Somewhere along the way we concluded that this demonstrates our strength, or that nobody would bother to help us anyway,” Bihlmeier said. “Whatever challenge comes your way, allow yourself to receive contribution, however it may show up. Allow yourself to be held. Allow others to have your back. Don't get stuck in expecting how help will show up and from whom. Everyone and everything you can contribute to where you are at the moment. You never know where a helping hand may appear from if you're open to receiving.”
Pointing fingers never helped anyone to navigate a hardship more easily. What's next should matter the most.
“It's important to realize where things went wrong, but it's also important not to dwell on it,” Claire Barber, a certified mental health consultant, said. “Don't try to pin any blame. You should instead learn from the mistake. With every mistake comes the potential to learn, so be sure to use it to your advantage. Therefore, don't panic and think about the reasoning for the setback and what you can do differently.”
If there’s one thing Tiiu Lutter, a mental health professional and owner of a counseling center, believes resilient people regularly do, it’s this: they cry.
“It’s important to acknowledge and feel disappointment, both to let out powerful emotions and to figure out where things went wrong,” Lutter said. “It’s OK to take some time to let your feelings flow through you, and let them out. Regularly identifying and expressing our emotions is a great habit to build.”
There is no set timeline for healing from hardship, so it's best to eliminate any guesses or expectations you have for when things will start to feel easier. But even though you can't — and shouldn't — try to rush yourself into healing faster, it can help to go ahead and take small steps that acknowledge your life's new shape.
"If it’s a breakup, clear out the photos and the momentos of your ex," Justin Baksh, Chief Clinical Officer of Foundations Wellness Center, said. "If it’s a job loss, update your resume, start applying to jobs, put the word out to your network that you are looking, and get that interview outfit ready. If a big client decided to walk, start researching new clients, brush up on your pitch, and up your digital presence by, for example, hosting a complementary, informative webinar to attract new business. Not only do you want to be ready when the clouds pass and the sun comes out, your actions can bring about that sunny weather more quickly."