Simple Ways to Build Resilience and Emotional Fitness

Have you ever wondered why some people have knee-jerk reactions while others chill and think before they act? Do you get overwhelmed by too many demands with too little time? One of the best remedies for stress is being resilient. Resiliency is a critical attribute of emotional intelligence, one many overlook, yet one that is like the automatic gear shift in a car. It helps you shift quickly and stay calm when faced with the unexpected.

In my own life, it's been a long journey of learning to listen to emotions, modulate my feelings, and practice mindfulness to change perspectives and see more clearly and calmly. 
Resiliency is needed to avoid overwhelmAt any time in our life, curve balls can take us off guard. Sometimes it's that extra request from our boss and sometimes a friend bails. If you are resilient, then you have the ability to keep your balance in the midst of challenges. Resilience allows you to recover more quickly. 

For me, it was coming home to find the unexpected after a full day with clients. As I carried the groceries in from the car through our living room, I noticed paw prints pressed into a wet carpet. I dumped the grocery bags on a nearby table and dashed 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. I ran down the basement to grab old towels to soak up the water—and was greeted with the horror of another flood, water gushing from above and multiple boxes dripping water from the shelves. The dishwasher had been stuck on fill most of the day!

Of course, small household floods are minor setbacks, but there are also major setbacks in life: the COVID pandemic, loss of a job, break-up of a relationship, or a sudden illness or loss. What we need at times like these is resiliency—the ability to bounce back.

Resilience and mental health are connected; when we have mental and emotional stamina, we can handle what life throws at us more gracefully. We derive meaning from our experiences, which helps us to navigate hardship with confidence. Fortunately, emotional resiliency is an emotional intelligence skill that we can develop and refine.

What Is Resilience?

Emotional resiliency is a quality that allows us to greet new circumstances, no matter how difficult, with grace and courage.

Think of this trait as a set of muscles that needs to be exercised. There are different definitions of resilience, but basically it's the ability to bounce back. And it's vital to our sense of well-being so it is worth investing some time in developing emotional intelligence skills like resilience.

Another resilience definition or a way of being resilient is emotional agility. The dictionary defines agility as the ability to move quickly and easily; nimbleness; acuity. Emotions are fluid. They are intended to move easily through us and help us draw helpful conclusions to take actions that make our lives better.

Related reading: "How Emotional Resilience Can Help You Cultivate Happiness"

Empathy for self and others helps us be resilientBelow are some ways to help you spring back when confronted with challenges, big or small. Practice them regularly, even with little annoyances like detours on a highway or a small flood like mine, to develop more mindfulness and resiliency in your life. (See how I translated and applied each of the tactics below with my kitchen flood.)

Related reading: "An Unexpected Place to Discover Love and Resilience."

Ways to Build Emotional Resiliency and Mindfulness

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. Journaling is an enjoyable practice with many benefits. It's a great way to empty your mind and process emotions that may be brewing but choked off by a busy day. Mindfulness can help you get in touch with your feelings or be a gratitude practice or a form of meditation.

Once appreciation becomes a habit, you are more likely to respond with gratitude to the curve balls of life. (Me: "Good thing this flooding didn't happen last week when we were on vacation. Now that would have been a disaster!")

Related reading: "Practicing Gratitude in a Time of Uncertainty and Unrest"

Stress is diffused by gratitude and mindfulness

Look for and find the good in everything. 
A good strategy for building resilience is spotting what's good in our lives. 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 shift and reframe provides us with a more balanced viewpoint. (Me: "Well, I guess I can kiss this ugly linoleum good-bye.")

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. (Me: "What a mess! Total bummer! ... Hmm. But then again, I've been wanting to replace this old kitchen floor for a long time.")

Train yourself to 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 emotional fitness skills to develop is the ability to push our pause button, self-calm, and regroup before saying or doing anything.

Young girl peering out a windowGetting too emotional can keep us from thinking clearly and make the situation seem worse than it actually is. Many times we even misinterpret something. Once
we get some distance from the situation, we often discover that it is not as bad as what we had initially thought or imagined.
Space increases perspective.
Give yourself time to center before acting. (Me: "Whoa... The dishwasher is still oozing water. Looks like it's stuck in refill mode and the buttons are unresponsive. I'm shutting off the water and calling the plumber.")

Related reading: "Why You Should Care About Emotional Regulation"

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 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 draws unexpected opportunities to us. (Me: "The water damage is something I can't change. However, I can check our home insurance to see what's covered. And I'd much rather have tile than linoleum in the kitchen anyway.")

Purple pansy growing in a crack of sidewalkJust like a flower pushing
through a crack in the sidewalk, we can develop emotional agility. When we do, our happiness increases. Emotional fitness is an asset that cannot be monetized but gives us enormous benefits that are enduring. Every experience holds an opportunity for growth, to learn from our mistakes, shift our attention to what really matters in our lives, and build an internal compass that isn't dependent on outside circumstances.

Oh, and my kitchen flood that ruined our linoleum tile? I got a brand 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 the bill. Not such a catastrophe after all!

Try practicing one or two of the above tips for greater emotional well-being, and enjoy an increased clarity in all areas of your life. You'll be able to bounce back when you get discouraged.

For more tips on emotional literacy, listen to our free webinar.

And if you'd really like to dig in and understand more about emotional intelligence, check out our Emotional Intelligence Online course.

Yes, teach me emotional intelligence!

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Jennifer A. Williams / Emotional Intelligence CoachJennifer A. Williams / Emotional Intelligence Coach
Jennifer’s passion is to help people create thriving relationships first with themselves and then with each other. She teaches emotional intelligence skills and a step-by-step process that removes the obstacles to growth, loving connection, and communication. Her popular One Year Makeover and Return to Serenity programs provide a personalized approach to transformation. Her understanding of brain science strategically reshapes a person’s pain into power while restoring inner peace and well-being through a fun and remarkable learning experience. She also works with companies helping to promote organizational transformation of culture, leadership, and relationships. Jennifer is happily married to her beloved husband of 40 years and is the mother of three grown children.

Posted in Emotional Intelligence & Fitness

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