When I look back on some of the challenges I’ve been through – the health scares, the break-ups, the losses, the toxic relationships – I wonder to myself how I managed to survive and thrive with my sanity (mostly) intact. This isn’t to say that giving up never crossed my mind. When times were tough, I often contemplated one of three possible scenarios: Sell my possessions, join a convent, and take a vow of silence; move to the wilderness and live in a little hut eating berries and searching for Yeti, or voluntarily commit myself to an asylum. Would I consider myself a mentally tough person? Not a chance. But once the shock of a sudden, negative situation wears off, there’s a sense of something akin to acceptance. “This has happened. I have no choice but to deal with it.”
I’ve always pictured resilient people as a) people that I am nothing like, b) street smart, c) rugged and d) so confident and sure of themselves, so toughened by life’s storms that absolutely nothing bothers them. Basically, someone with the fearlessness of the Terminator and the omniscience of the Dalai Lama.
Here’s what resilient people are really like, thanks to data from our Emotional Intelligence Test, and not my overly active, nonsensical, yet Hollywood script-worthy imagination:
- They don’t question their skills or their ability to succeed. They refuse to entertain any doubts that they can overcome an obstacle or hardship. Even if they do get discouraged sometimes, they won’t give up that easily.
- When change is needed (or thrust upon them) they accept it and adjust their life accordingly. They may not like change but they also recognize that under some circumstances, it’s absolutely necessary and totally unavoidable – and that they have no choice but to adapt.
- They maintain a hopeful, optimistic attitude. They don’t allow themselves to fall into the trap of pessimistic, cynical thinking, which can lead to discouragement and helplessness, and limit their potential to come up with creative solutions.
- They accept themselves, faults and all. They don’t see mistakes as weaknesses but rather, as a normal part of the human condition and most importantly, as learning experiences. They are not ashamed of their vulnerabilities. To resilient people, failure is nothing more than a stepping stone toward success.
(Despite many of his off-the-wall theories, Freud did get a few things right – like this: “Out of your vulnerabilities will come your strength.”)
- In a previous blog, I discussed the destructive, virus-like potential of rumination. When you over-analyze a situation (or every little thing a person says, which is my superpower), you start to create problems that weren’t there before. Resilient people refuse to over-think things. They face a problem head-on, give it its due consideration, find a solution, and/or let it go.
- Resilient people are very much in touch with their emotions. They allow themselves to feel what they want to feel, be it anger, sadness, or fear – the key is that they won’t do so unconsciously. Rather than simply wallowing in their feelings, they see their emotions as a form of communication, alerting them to important insights or information: “Why am I feeling so angry? What is it about this person that is so upsetting to me? What does my response to this person’s words or actions say about me? Is there a deeper issue here that needs to be explored? Is this situation bringing to light my own insecurities, fears or hang-ups?”
- They recognize, appreciate, and bank on their strengths, and use them to help orient themselves in new situations. If they don’t have the knowledge or resources to resolve a problem, they seek it out. Whatever they don’t know, they learn about; whatever they can’t do they learn to do.
- They do everything with a sense of purpose and commit to every task they take on. They find meaning in what they do, whether it’s a hobby, a major project at work, or a mundane chore. Even if there are aspects of their life that are not ideal, resilient people count their blessings and adopt an attitude of gratitude.
- They are their own cheerleader. Resilient people don’t depend on others to motivate them into action, and they don’t require or seek out other people’s approval. They are resourceful and self-reliant.
- At the same time, they also recognize the importance of social support. While determination is valiant, struggling isn’t. Resilient people know when to ask for help, if only to add to their strengths and resources.