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Stories of underdogs — those individuals who overcome tragedy, loss and setbacks of all types — intrigue and inspire us. The ability to “bounce back” after disappointment and failure is a theme in myths, legends and folklore passed from generation to generation throughout history. Surprisingly, resilience is neither rare nor extraordinary, appearing every day in our lives, though unnoticed.
The power of resilience
While we celebrate the accomplishments of Helen Keller, George Washington Carver and Stephen Hawking, resilience is demonstrated by many around us. Ernest Hemingway, the Nobel-winning American writer, was an ambulance driver in World War I and a reporter in the civil war of Spain. His experiences were the basis of his most acclaimed work and his recognition that, “The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places.”
Few, if any, go through life without disappointment, failure or loss. The challenge is handling using the experience to learn and grow.
Psychologists suggest the quality of resilience is present in everyone, but one in four do not know how to develop or use it. When encountering the inevitable obstacles of life, they retreat, give up and become bitter. In the extreme, they yield to self-pity and seek scapegoats, certain that they are victims of inequity and partisanship. Most people reach a low point at some point; the fortunate find the courage and strength to move forward.
Qualities of resilience
Resilience involves behaviors, thoughts, and actions that anyone can learn and develop. Even so, the ability to rebound is not attained overnight. Increasing one’s resilience takes time and intentionality, according to Amit Sood, MD, the executive director of the Global Center for Resiliency and Well-Being.[iii] He notes that resilient people cultivate three characteristics:
- Other centric: Resilient people typically exhibit a strong sense of purpose focused on serving others. The more we think about serving a purpose higher than ourselves, the stronger we get.
- Hope: Expectations of a better, uplifting view of the future are shared among the resilient. Despite all the uncertainty, they believe that their efforts and intentions matter.
- A different attitude: Resilient people resist emotions of envy or blame. Instead, they are quick to reframe their situation. Even if they experience negative emotions, they are quick to rebound. In other words, resilient people see setbacks as learning experiences, not failure. Jeff Bezos, the founder of the online retail giant Amazon, once talked about his failures, saying, “It was like getting a root canal without anesthesia. None of those things are fun. But they also don’t matter.” Bezos continued to follow his mission, knowing that some failures are inevitable and necessary to grow.
Resilience is like a muscle that is strengthened through use. Each person can increase their resilience by practicing the following five steps:
1. Have a purpose
Purpose is a commitment to making a meaningful contribution to the world and promotes physical, social and psychological well-being. People with purpose see themselves as having something important to contribute — to their family, community, society or the world — and are driven to do it. Studies indicate that people with a higher purpose recover faster and more completely following a negative experience.
Related: 7 Keys to Developing Resilience
2. Practice acceptance
A willingness to accept change minimizes the stress and emotional turmoil that accompany negative events. It is the understanding that change is continuous; good times come and go, as do bad times. People can’t always control their circumstances, but can choose how they react.
3. Know yourself
Ron Carucci, management consultant and best-selling author on transformational change, explained the value of self-knowledge, saying that leaders with strong self-knowledge are more likely to sustain resilience to thrive through adversity.
Psychologists like Susan David, author of Emotional Agility: Get Unstuck, Embrace Life, and Thrive in Work and Life, also claims that those who are self-aware can address crises and challenges more effectively by responding, rather than reacting to them.
Related: 3 Reasons Investing in Employee Resilience Pays Off
4. Exercise forgiveness
Forgiveness is essential to reduce the stress we feel when something is done to us, whether by a third party or ourselves. Forgiveness is an act you do for yourself; the alternative is being imprisoned in your anger and inability to move forward.
5. Reach out
Connecting with empathetic and understanding people helps you to remember you are not alone in facing adversities. The tendency after an emotional, physical or financial setback is to withdraw and avoid external contact. Some resort to alcohol, drugs or other measures to escape their pain, typically continuing a downward spiral to greater damage. Many feel that asking for help or understanding is a sign of weakness or incompetence. They are wrong.
Community is vital for every human. We are innately social beings. Our relationship with others gives us a sense of belonging and proportion. Sharing victories and losses is how we demonstrate support for each other, making accomplishments sweeter and setbacks more bearable. Community is the foundation of personal growth.
Related: How to Strengthen Your Personal Resilience