What You Can Learn From Resilient People

This is a post written straight off the back of a series of long, tiring, & (more often than not) frustrating days.

The thing about several long, tiring, frustrating days is your ability to deal with them shrinks as the series drags on. If it is just one long, tiring, & frustrating day then it’s easier to put on a happy face the next day, but when they pile up back to back, your patience runs dry.

Ironically, if we don’t put on a happy face, we invite more and more frustrating things to happen to us. Misery loves company, as they say, and if you go around looking miserable (even if it’s completely justified) the world loves to hand you more reasons to be miserable.

Thus, the natural way to respond to a multiple frustrating days is not at all the best way to respond. The natural way is to be grumpy; let everyone know that you are not in the mood. Doing this will only invite criticism from your peers (I can already hear them mumbling “Doesn’t he/she know that everyone has bad days?”) not sympathy.

People who get admiration in this world are the people who can seemingly deal with all kinds of pressure and stress without letting the pressure and stress that affects them leak out and affect the people around them vis-à-vis their mood.

I have been thinking about (and trying to channel) these sort of people this week. I want to have their poise in the face of uncontrollable pressures, their peace in the face of unavoidable stress. So what do they do differently?

Whether you are facing stresses at home, problems at work, an overwhelming schedule, back-to-back appointments, or even clients who are just too demanding, here is what the people who strive despite the stress have in common:

Resilience Tip 1: They actively practice gratitude

Everyone practices gratitude, but most of us practice it with a sort of passive, nonchalant quality. We say “Thank you” when the person from Starbucks hands us our coffee. We say “‘preciate it” when someone holds the door. We give a wave when someone lets us over in traffic.

Actively practicing gratitude is much, much different. Rick Hanson puts it best in the first chapter of his book Hardwiring Happiness:

While I was in college I stumbled on something that seemed remarkable then, and still seems remarkable to me now. Some small thing would be happening. It could be a few guys saying, ‘Come on, let’s go get pizza,’ or a young woman smiling at me. Not a big deal. But I found that if I let the good fact become a good experience, not just an idea, and then stayed with it for at least a few breaths, not brushing it off or moving on fast to something else, it felt like something good was sinking into me, becoming a part of me. In effect, I was taking in the good a dozen seconds at a time. It was quick, easy, and enjoyable.
— Rick Hanson, Hardwiring Happiness

Saying “thank you” for a Starbucks drink or a door being held open is the “right” and “socially acceptable” behavior, but it doesn’t mean that you actually get to feel the overwhelming sensation of gratitude (and for those of you who haven’t experienced it, gratitude can overwhelm you just as stress does). People who actively practice gratitude spend 10-15 seconds right at the moment when they realize what they have to be grateful for to really let that gratitude fill them up.

I know I am guilty of letting the negative overtake me at times and not practicing gratitude fully. It’s so easy to let the negative take ahold of you, and usually you have people around you who will rally with you on the negative.

In reality, I’m just robbing myself of fantastic opportunities. When something negative happens, I will let that emotion take over my entire body. My posture will get slack, my thoughts will turn to how terrible things are, and my emotional being will cave to what I’m telling it. Yet, when something positive happens, I hardly let that emotion take me over in the same way.

So, practice gratitude to build your resilience and practice it with great intention.

Resilience Tip 2: They have a solid routine to default to

The most resilient people in the world who let the pressures and stress seemingly roll off their backs have something that the fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants people don’t: a routine. Routines are the bomb diggity because when times get hard, you don’t have to think so much about what you’re going to do.

When you’re going through a bad break up your days can start feeling long and dreary. My natural instinct tells me to crawl into bed and pray for sleep. If you can learn anything from this post, learn this: fight that natural instinct.

When times get tough, look for what the healthiest option would be for you and incorporate that into your routine. Figure out a way to make exercise or meditation or cooking or something both productive and relaxing a non-negotiable necessity of your day to day life.

Having a routine to fall back on means that you have to think less about how “terrible” things are around you. Instead, you are going through what you normally go through, and if you choose things that are healthy as part of your routine, you will have natural ammunition against those negative feelings.

Sure, sometimes your routine gets interrupted, but for people that have a solid routine, it can hardly get interrupted for days on end. It will only be a momentary thing which, people with this kind of resilience, can definitely deal with.

Resilience Tip 3: They stay focused on what’s immediately in front of them

It’s not that the past and future don’t exist for resilient people. They do, but nothing is as real as what is right in front of them.

We humans tend to get stressed out about things that don’t actually exist in the here and now. Robert Sapolsky explores this concept in great detail in his book Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers.

Zebras don’t get ulcers because after the lion stops chasing the herd, they don’t sit around and hash out how awful it was or worry about the next time it happens. No, they just go on living.

The human capacity for language gives us avenues for creating stress that other animals couldn’t even dream about. While our ability to think and communicate has mostly served to advance our species, there are also innumerable instances where it keeps us in a state of anxiety.

Resilient people are good at focusing on what is in front of them and leaving the “worrying” part of past or future things in the past or future. Do these people think about what happened yesterday or what may happen tomorrow? Of course, but they simultaneously recognize the futility of actively worrying about it.

 

Those are the three things I could pick apart from those people who seem to stay cool as a cucumber under enormous pressure and stress.

Writing this post was a bit cathartic as well. I know that you, the reader, are none the wiser as to why my days have been the way they are, but sitting down and getting this post written (one thing off my to do list) and writing it on something that is very present for me has been a great coping mechanism. Maybe I should add that to the list too ;-)

I’d love to hear from you in the comments below about any tips or tricks you use to not just carry on in the face of great stress, but really thrive through it. Hopefully writing it out will help you as much as it has me.

And if you are in the middle of a series of long, frustrating days, know that a girl in Charlotte has some empathy for you, but I also know that you can make it through.

-Lucy