We’re all beset with difficulties, obstacles, pain, tiredness, and a thousand other setbacks, small and large.
What determines whether we take these setbacks in stride, or let them bring us down, is something that psychologists call “resilience.” It’s the ability to bounce back from setbacks, and adapt, learn, and not be dragged down by them.
I’ve found resilience to be an important factor in my own journey, from struggling through finance and health changes over the years, to navigating the scary and uncertain waters of running my own business.
Resilience has allowed me to
- Run several marathons (among other physical challenges), despite injuries and other training setbacks.
- Write numerous books and courses, even in the middle of personal challenges, fears, and delays.
- Face challenges such as debt or declining income with a positive attitude, and deal with them as they come.
- Raise six kids (with a little help from my wife) no matter what difficulties they face, or what personal baggage I have as a father.
- Deal with deaths in the family with an open heart, finding compassion for my own grief and helping my family members in the midst of theirs.
None of this is to brag, but to show the power of simple resilience. I’m not greater than any other human, but resilience has helped me deal with these difficulties, as I’m sure it has for many of you.
Resilience is such a powerful thing, but how do you develop it? Make no mistake, it’s a set of skills and capacities that can be learned and improved over time. Some people might be born with greater tendencies toward resiliency, but we can all get better at it.
The following is a set of practices that you can work on to develop extraordinary resiliency.
Whenever you face stress, difficulty, grief, pain, struggle, setbacks, failure, disappointment, frustration, anger, or uncertainty, see it as an opportunity to practice. Here are some ideas to try:
Consider what you’re not seeing. When you’re frustrated or upset, it’s because you’re only seeing the “bad” side of things. That means you’re blinding yourself to the whole picture. When someone is being rude to you, do you notice that they may also be in pain? Do you notice your own humanity and compassion? In each moment, there are amazing things to notice. When we’re focused only on the parts we don’t like, we’re stuck in tunnel vision, and therefore missing out on the greatness of life.
Tap into something bigger than yourself. As a father, it’s amazing what I’ll go through to help my kids. I’ll endure incredible discomfort if it means protecting or helping them somehow—and it doesn’t even feel like a sacrifice. Anyone who serves others knows this feeling: When you are doing something for others, the discomfort is just an afterthought. So when you’re facing difficulty, if you can connect your task to something bigger than yourself, the difficulty becomes much more manageable.
Practice compassion (for yourself, too). When you’re in pain, just notice that. Wish yourself peace and happiness, the same as you would for a loved one. If someone in front of you is angry or irritated, wish them peace as well. Every difficult interaction is an opportunity to practice this key skill.
See it as a part of growth. When you face a setback, it’s not the end of the road, it’s a part of it. No journey worth traveling is free of discomfort and setbacks. If we want to grow, we have to go through challenges. Instead of thinking negatively about it, see the beauty of it guiding your personal growth.
Practice flexibility. Rigidity only causes frustration. If we can learn to be flexible and adapt to change, we’ll not only be happier, but also more successful at whatever we’re trying to do. So when you’re in the middle of a challenging situation, ask yourself how you can be more flexible. When you’ve been hit with a failure, try to adapt and get better so that you’re more likely to succeed in the next attempt. See it as an opportunity to improve.
See everything as a teacher. Every single thing that comes before you is your teacher. You can reject the lesson and see it as something you don’t want, or you can open your mind to it and figure out how this situation, this person, this setback, is your teacher. Which of the above lessons is it teaching you? Which of the above practices is it helping you get better at? Figure that out, and you’ve unlocked a chance to get better at resilience.
In each moment, you have a choice. Do you want to succumb to your difficulties, or be made stronger by them, learn from them, and open up to their brilliant lessons and experiences?
In each moment, you have the opportunity to practice. It’s not easy. But it’s the path of best resilience.
Leo Babauta is the author of six books and the writer of “Zen Habits,” a blog with over 2 million subscribers. Visit ZenHabits.net