5 ways to be more resilient

picture on resilience from unsplashIf you are going through a career or life transition, whether it is stepping up in your current role, changing career path, or starting up your own business, it is inevitable that things can get tough from time to time and you will face challenges that push you out of your comfort zone. In these difficult times, learning how to be resilient will help you adapt well in the face of adversity and emerge with even more strength and confidence.

Some people think resilience is a trait that one either has or does not. This is, however, far from the truth. Resilience has been defined as the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, or significant sources of stress. Psychologists have found that resilience can be developed and built over time if you have the right attitude, knowledge and mindset.

So what can you do to develop and build resilience, especially in challenging times? Here are a few tips to get you started:

1.Build in positive buffers.

For a moment let’s think of your psychological resilience as savings in a bank. The higher level of savings you have, the more you can protect yourself from financial difficulties. Similarly, you can build a “savings” of resilience reserve – the positive emotions that give you the energy and resources to cope with challenges. On the other hand, negative emotions and thoughts will drain your energy and deplete your savings.

A simple way to build up positive emotions (i.e your savings in the psychological bank) is by cultivating gratitude. Science has shown that feeling grateful leads to a boost of positive emotions. Our mind is hardwired to notice negative things in life without us even realising it, so by putting things into perspective and highlighting the positive things in life, you will build up a strong buffer to protect you during difficult times. You can start cultivating gratitude by keeping a gratitude journal, or having a gratitude stone in your pocket which can serve as a reminder.

2. Challenge your irrational beliefs.  

When things get tough, we tend to lose our confidence. In particular, we often have irrational belief about ourselves and about the situation we are in, which undermines our ability to deal with the challenge at hand.

This can be best explained by the ABC model, commonly used in cognitive behavioural therapy. The ABC model stands for “Activation – Belief – Consequence”. A simple example works as the following: you are rejected in a job application (the activation event), this makes you think you won’t be able to get a new job (belief) and so you stop looking for a new job and end up stuck in your current job (consequence). The consequence doesn’t end here, because when you stop making an effort to change, you feel even worse about your situation and then end up in a negative spiral.

In situations like this, it’s useful to challenge yourself: is your belief about your situation a rational one? Just because you didn’t get one job, does it mean you can’t get another? In the above-mentioned example, you fall in the trap of “overgeneralisation”. A more rational thought about the situation would be: the job probably isn’t the right fit for you; or there are things you can do better next time to secure the job.

As human beings are very good at holding irrational beliefs, such as overgeneralising in the example above, , all or nothing (if I can’t change it completely, there is not point changing it at all), filtering (forget the positive, only focus on the negative), catastrophising (it is a total disaster) and so on.

So next time, when you face a challenging business project or a difficult job search, rather than reacting immediately and falling in the trap of your irrational beliefs, why not have a pause and think about whether the belief you have about yourself and the situation is a rational one, and if not, how you can change it?

Challenging your irrational belief and turning it into a rational one will help you regain the confidence in your strengths and keep an optimistic outlook in difficult situations.

3. Develop a growth mindset.

The growth mindset, first proposed by Stanford psychologist Carol Dweck, is all about seeing challenges as opportunities to grow from, rather than letting the failure (or the possibility of failure) stop you from trying and growing. In contrast to people with a fixed mindset, who generally believe that our capabilities are fixed and see failure as indication of their lack of capabilities, people with a growth mindset are more willing to view difficulties and challenges as opportunities to learn and grow from.

Dr Dweck proposed a simple three-step approach to shift from a fixed mindset to a growth mindset. As you face a challenge, firstly pay close attention to the “fixed mindset” voice inside you: “ Can you really do this?” “What if you fail?”. The next step is to recognize that you have the choice as to how you interpret a challenge, setback or criticism: you can either let the fixed mindset voice paralyse you, or you can choose to replace it with the growth mindset. The last step is to talk back to your fixed mindset voice with a growth mindset voice. If you hear yourself saying “Are you sure you can this?”, you can reply: “I am not sure if I can do this, but I believe I can learn with time and effort”.

Next time when you face a challenge, try this approach to shift your mindset, and how you feel about it and react it will also change as a result.

4. Going back to your “why”

Often when we face difficulties or challenges, we focus solely on keeping our head above water. But it is worthwhile to take a step back and reconnect to the bigger picture and bigger “Why”. What made you start the business in the first place?  Why is this project important to you? What difference are you making with all the work you are doing?

As Friedrich Nietzsche once said, “he who has a why to live can bear almost any how”.  Whether you are going through a career transition, or leading your team to achieve business goals, having a clear “why” is essential to keep motivated and inspired to take consistent actions to overcome challenges. Simon Sinek articulated the importance of “why” beautifully in his popular TED talk on how leaders inspire change and actions by starting with the “why”. 

Sometimes your “why” may have changed and you might find yourself on a different path from the one you started with. It is ok as long as you are clear on the reason behind it and you keep connected to your vision, which help you regain the energy and momentum to take actions to overcome the obstacles.

5. Make connections and have a support network. 

If you want to go faster, go alone. If you want to go further, go together. Having a support network is vital in keeping you sanity in challenging times. Don’t be afraid to ask for support from your partner, friends, your trusted friends, your coach and mentor, and all of those people who will get your back when things get tough. Sometimes, it is very easy to feel we have to be “ independent”, and asking for help may be seen as a sign of weakness. The reality, though, is that showing vulnerability can actually be a source of strength and can connect you with people at a deeper level.

Find your tribe. You might join a local community or a business club with people going through the same journey as you, whether it is about changing career, or starting up your own business. Human beings are social animals, and we have the need for connecting with like-minded people.

American psychologists Edward Deci & Richard Ryan proposed psychological relatedness as one of the factors that motivate people to actualise their potential. When you share your challenges with people you trust, you are likely to feel better when someone understand your situation and you will also feel more encouraged to take actions to succeed.

Now I’d love to hear from you. What do you do to gain strengths in difficult times? What actions can you take to be more resilient? Leave a comment below and share your thoughts.

If you like this article, please share it with your friends especially those who can benefit it to gain the strengths and confidence they need to go through challenging times.

With love,


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2 Responses to “5 ways to be more resilient

  • Thanks for this, Jessie! Valuable insight.
    I’ve just shared it with my Zambian school leavers – we have a group page on Facebook – as I believe it’ll give them excellent food for thought and motivation with their final year exams coming up.
    And while I share your tips and advice, I’m getting some good reminders of how I can toughen up myself. Thanks again and keep the brilliant blogs coming!

    • Hi Lorna, glad you find it helpful! Thanks for your kind comments and for sharing it with your Zambian school leavers. I trust they will develop the strengths and resilience they need to prepare for the upcoming exams (and for life after school!). You are doing amazing stuff out there! Resilience is a constant practice and we will keep growing and become stronger through the challenges we are facing. Thanks again for sharing and let me know how they get on!

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