Tips to Building Your Resilience Toolbox
Build a Resilience Toolbox

Tips to Building Your Resilience Toolbox

Okay, you have an idea about what sorts of resilience skills appeal to you and whether you tend to be more internally focused or externally focused. What should you do with this information?

Step 1: Select the skill you want to improve

You're probably already pretty strong in your most favoured skill group. Improvements there may not help the most for situations that you can't already deal with effectively. But picking your weakest preference also may not be a good idea. Building resilience means developing a new habit with respect to how you deal with a situation. You won't want to practice a skill that doesn't appeal to you enough to make it part of your life. So pick a skill group in the middle range of your preferences.

Also, be aware of whether you tend to be focused on things entirely inside of you or on interactions with the outside world. If there's a big difference in those scores, aim for developing a skill that seems like a good "fit" for your focus.

Step 2: Select a specific behaviour you want to develop

Chart A (below) highlights group answers from about 125 people when asked the skill they relied upon most. There are LOTs of other applicable skills (and we'd really appreciate you sharing the skill you use most often so we can share it with others). Use the skill and focus you selected in Step 1 and look at the range of options presented. If you have scores that are similar for internal and external focus, look at both lists for your selected style. Alternatively, you may talk to someone who you think handles difficult situations without becoming overwhelmed. Ask them what they do to make it through and for any suggestions they might have for you.

The principles for selecting a new skill to develop are simple. Pick something new, but something that feels comfortable and possible. Remember you will have to practice the new skill until it becomes second nature to you. Pick something that will work in your everyday life.

Step 3: Learn a new habit

It's not enough to learn a new skill — you also have to recognise when you need to use that skill to deal with what you are facing. Look for the signs of being overwhelmed:

  • Anger
  • Anxiety
  • Grumpiness and over-reactiveness
  • Tuning out, or using alcohol or drugs as an escape
  • Getting sarcastic or moody
  • Wasting time or procrastinating
  • Whatever your particular behaviour is when things aren't right for you (again, it may be helpful to ask someone who knows you well)

Make a conscious decision to recognise the situations where you are under stress and try to use your new skill every time that occurs. You will not be successful all the time. Recognition is probably the hardest part, followed by trusting enough that your new skill will help that you let yourself take the time to use it. Keep at it. Learn from the times that go well as well as those times that don't. It takes about six weeks of concentrated practice to establish a new skill — longer when you only practice occasionally. Keep practicing.

One thing that helps is to really appreciate the times when the new skill "worked." Pat yourself on the back when you react better than usual to something that was hard for you. Take the time to relish how good it feels to have a small victory over something that might have gotten to you before. Progress comes with practice — if you just take a moment to let yourself see it.

Chart A: Suggested Resilience Skills, Sorted by Style and Focus

Some of these are "skills" in the normal sense of the word. Some are expressed in the words of the people who suggested them. They are more like attitudes or ways of processing information. This is far from an exhaustive list. Will you help us build it? Please send me an email using our Contact form.

  • Past successes are a predictor of future success
  • Fake it until you make it
  • Belief that you will be reunited with loved ones
  • You can control how you perceive things
  • This will pass
  • "If you think you can, or think you can't, you're right."
  • It's all uphill from here
  • Belief in a Higher Power
  • Belief that there is a plan/purpose for you being here
  • Ask for what you need and it will be provided to you
  • What would _____ do?
  • Faith in the goodness of people
  • The expectation that things will work out
  • One door opens when another shuts
  • Appreciation for/focus on all the good in your life
  • Finding a lesson in every challenge
  • That which doesn't kill you makes you stronger
  • Don't take anything personally
  • Putting yourself in the other person's shoes (empathy)
  • Let everyone take care of their own business
  • Because I am privileged, I have a responsibility
  • Making lists of what needs to be done today, tomorrow and after that
  • Accomplish something and tick it off your to-do list
  • Acknowledging responsibilities to others
  • "Inaction is not an option"
  • You can push through any one day, no matter how hard
  • Start a collection or hobby where there is always more that can be done
  • Golf (and other activities that cannot be mastered)
  • Physical fitness activities
  • Mindfulness meditation
  • Getting a sense of all things being connected
  • Envision a good outcome to the current challenge
  • Let go of control
  • Finding humor in a situation
  • Find things of beauty in the outside world
  • Solitaire or other mindless computer games
  • Attending artistic exhibitions or music performances

Case study

I am fairly resilient guy with skills centered around reframing and belief in my own abilities. But somethings aren't helped very much by those skills. I used to live in the desert Southwest and was used to an environment with about 325 days on which the sun shined every year. I moved to a "maritime" climate, with long periods of cloudy weather, misty rain and no sun. It started to affect me. I started dreading winter (the worst season for weather). I got grumpy and started complaining all the time, focusing on how rotten the weather was and how it affected everything I did.

One day I pulled into a parking facility that had an open field nearby. It was overcast, misty and I was in a really bad mood. I looked into the open field and noticed it had several different kinds of grass, clover, and weeds. In the light overcast and dampness the colors of the foliage really "popped." I just stood there, looked at it for a few minutes, and then went about my business. I found myself smiling and being friendly and not at all grumpy. I realised that the beauty I had found gave me a bit of space in which to separate myself from telling myself how bad things were. I gave myself a pat on the back and started consciously developing that externally focused distance skill.

I learned to recognise when I started telling myself how bad things were — with the weather, with neighbors, with anything. When that happened I would just give myself a few seconds and look around. There is always something that is beautiful, if you just look for it. And, I would focus on the beautiful scene that I had found for just a few seconds — and simply appreciate it. I wasn't consistent at first. If might forget or didn't recognise I was in a bad place. But over time I developed a habit of looking for beautiful things to give myself a little peace from the self-talk that interfered with the good things in life. I don't get affected by the seasons anymore. I'm happier and much easier to be around.

You can find a new skill that will help you get through the things that challenge you. It's not easy. You have to practice to establish a new habit. But it works!