One beautiful autumn evening, after a full day with clients, I was carrying the groceries through the living room when I noticed my dog's peculiar paw prints on the carpet. In shock, I quickly dumped the bags on a table and walked into our kitchen, which now resembled a toddlers' wading pool.
The floor was covered with an inch of water, and it was rapidly seeping into the dining room carpet. Where the heck was the water coming from? Quickly I ran down to the basement to grab old towels to soak up the water—and was greeted with the horror of another flood, water still gushing from above and multiple boxes dripping water from the shelves.
Small floods are minor setbacks in life, of course, but there are also major setbacks: loss of a job, break-up of a relationship, a sudden illness, an emotional letdown. What we need at times like these is resiliency—the ability to bounce back. Fortunately, emotional resiliency is a learned skill that we can develop and refine. It is a quality that allows us to greet new circumstances, no matter how difficult, with grace and courage.
Think of resilience as a set of muscles that need to be exercised. The ability to bounce back is vital to our sense of well-being, and it is worth investing some time in developing our resiliency muscles. Here are some tips that will help you spring back when confronted with challenges, big or small. Practice them regularly, even on little annoyances like detours on a highway or a small flood like mine, to develop more resiliency in your life.
Tips to Build Emotional Resiliency
- Practice gratitude. Studies have shown that the regular practice of gratitude increases happiness, improves health, and expands overall well-being. You can make it a habit to begin or end your day with thoughts of gratitude, or make a formal ritual out of writing in a gratitude journal. Once gratitude becomes a habit, you are more likely to respond with gratitude to the curve balls of life. ("Good thing this flooding didn't happen last week when we were on vacation!")
- Find the good in everything. I'm not talking about pretending everything is okay when it's not or only seeing life through rose-colored glasses. I'm referring to what makes us uniquely human—the power to choose what we will think and how we will feel about anything. When something we consider negative happens, it is a good practice to look for the good. This simple mind-shift (or what psychologists call "reframing") helps give us a more balanced viewpoint. ("Well, I guess I can kiss this ugly linoleum good-bye." or "I never liked this linoleum; now I'll finally get to replace it!)
- Accept what is. Many times, the real culprit in difficulties is not what has happened but our refusal to accept what happened. Denial, even in small doses, inhibits our natural ability to learn from our mistakes and prevents us from bringing our strengths forward to assist us. Look at the situation squarely with eyes wide open and accept what is. Feel your feelings fully. Acknowledge your pain and then determine to shift before getting stuck in a negative whirlwind. ("What a mess! Total bummer! But then again, I've been wanting to replace this kitchen floor for a long time.")
- Respond instead of react. Often when confronted with difficult people or situations, we tend to react in a knee-jerk way—and regret it later. One of the most helpful skills to develop is the ability to push our pause button, self-calm, and regroup before saying or doing anything. Getting into an emotional flurry can keep us from thinking clearly and make the situation seem worse than it actually is.
Many times we have misinterpreted something. Once we get some distance from the situation, we often discover that it is not as bad as what we had imagined. Space increases perspective. Give yourself the safe space to center before acting. ("Hmm. The dishwasher is still oozing water. Stuck in refill mode! Buttons aren't responding. I'm calling the plumber right away.")
A practice of mindfulness can be very helpful to make a habit so when we're challenged, we can respond instead of react.
- Focus on what you can change, not what you can't change. In problem solving, it's possible to get stuck trying to change things that we really have no power over. Or sometimes we waste time and energy trying to fix someone who doesn't want our help and has no intention of changing. It is vital to focus our time and energy on what will move us forward, even in small steps. Action primes the pump and brings unexpected opportunities to us. ("The water damage is something I can't change. Hey, I should check out our home insurance to see what they cover. I'd really like to install tile instead of linoleum, but it's more expensive.")
Resiliency is an asset that cannot be monetized but results in enormous wealth that is enduring and unchangeable. When we develop our resiliency muscles, we increase our happiness exponentially—every situation, even an flooding kitchen, becomes an opportunity to grow ourselves. Then we learn from our mistakes, shift our attention to what really matters, and begin to build an internal compass that isn't dependent on outside circumstances.
Oh, and the ruined linoleum tile? Now I have a new kitchen floor with beautiful Italian tile that we got at a 75% discount from one of my husband's contractors. And the home insurance covered most of it. Not such a catastrophe after all!
So next time life hits you with a curve ball, "inhale, exhale, and breathe."
Try practicing one or two of the above tips for a greater sense of well-being, and enjoy an increased leverage in all areas of your life. You'll be able to bounce back when you start to feel flattened. And for more information on emotional intelligence and creating thriving relationships and a rewarding life, contact Jennifer@heartmanity.com.