Building Resilience: 5 Ways to a Better Life

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Nov 12, 2018

In case you hadn’t noticed, life is difficult and unpredictable. So, how do you move forward in such a complex and confusing world? UCLA Medical School psychiatrist Dr. Stephen Marmer offers 5 tips for coping with life’s unwelcome surprises.

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Building resilience—the ability to bounce back from life’s disappointments and pains—is key to enjoying a better life.

  • Mental resilience is the skill to deal with the common slights and disappointments of ordinary life.View Source
  • It’s possible to become more or less resilient depending on how you think about your problems.View Source
  • Failing to develop resilience leads to psychological fragility, which often devolves into a victim mentality and self-destructive behavior.View Source
  • Related reading: “The Road to Resilience” – American Psychological AssociationView Source

Want to be happier? One step is to get a more realistic perspective on your situation—it’s often far better than you think. 

  • To break the cycle of negative thoughts and gain a more realistic perspective, ask yourself this question: “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” A realistic perspective on your situation often reveals it’s far better than you think.View Source
  • Look forward to the future and don’t narrow your focus on your current problems.View Source
  • Recovering from life’s difficulties can take time, keep your perspective broad to notice progress even if it’s slow.View Source
  • Related reading: “10 Traits of Emotionally Resilient People” – Psychology TodayView Source

One key to enjoying a better life is refusing to see yourself as a victim.

  • Viewing oneself as a victim inevitably leads to a sense of helplessness and bitterness. Happy people tend to focus on the undeserved good things that happen to them rather than the undeserved bad things.View Source
  • You can’t be happy and ungrateful at the same time.View Source
  • When we focus on the good things, we become happier people, which makes the world around us better.View Source
  • Related Reading: “Happiness is a Serious Problem: A Human Repair Manual” – Dennis PragerView Source

Want to improve your life? One of the best things you can do is toughen up—face challenges, don’t avoid them.

  • Parents who coddle their children and protect them from every hurt and failure are not setting then up for long-term success.View Source
  • Colleges who provide students with so-called “safe spaces” are only stunting students’ growth.View Source
  • According to a Harvard study, “triggers” are evidence that a person needs to deal with the cause of their stress — not retreat to safe spaces.View Source
  • Working hard on daily goals can help connect your daily life with the future.View Source
  • Staying flexible is a key to navigating life’s changes.View Source

The people who live the most fulfilling, happy lives are those who proactively seek to improve themselves and accomplish their goals.

  • An important step in improving one’s life is to analyze it in new ways to see what can and can’t be changed.View Source
  • Reaching out to others, and building relationships helps create community and move forward in life.View Source
  • Taking action toward one’s goals helps build confidence and resilience.View Source
  • If someone has hurt you, forgive them instead of nursing grudges.View Source
  • WATCH: “Fix Yourself” – Jordan PetersonView Source

Taking an honest inventory of both your strengths and shortcomings will help you live a more productive and happy life.

  • Want to improve your life? See change as an opportunity to learn more about yourself.View Source
  • Think of how you have responded to adversity in the past and how you can respond better in the future.View Source
  • Focus on how you have harmed yourself and blamed others. This will help you grow and mature as a person and develop strategies for avoiding similar pitfalls in the future.View Source
  • Martin Seligman, a University of Pennsylvania psychologist, found that how people explain their lives has an impact on how resilient they are.View Source
  • Focus on your power, not your helplessness, and differentiate between problem-solving and obsessing over life’s difficulties.View Source
  • Related reading: “Who Is Happy?” – Dennis PragerView Source

In case you hadn’t noticed, life is difficult, complex and unpredictable. You can’t change this. It’s the nature of things. But you can prepare yourself for the next unwelcome surprise.

How? By building resilience.

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from life’s inevitable disappointments, failures, and pains.

Let me use an analogy here.

If cars didn’t have shock absorbers, every ride would be a miserable experience. The ride through life without shock absorbers – that is, resilience – would be the same. So, without building resilience – your own internal shock absorbers – it’s not possible to lead a happy and productive life.

Resilience is the opposite of fragility. To be fragile means that just about everything upsets you. And if just about everything upsets you, you will spend a lot of time angry and hurt. And if you spend a lot of time angry and hurt, you will not be a happy person.

Here, I’m not focusing on severe illness, the death of a loved one or any crushing life-changing event. In such cases, people usually need help to recover. But for most of us, such situations are rare – while the slights and disappointments of ordinary life are not. And for those, we need resilience.

OK, then. How do you develop resilience? Here are some suggestions to get you started, drawn from my forty-plus years as a psychiatrist.

First, get some perspective.

Step back and assess your situation with as much objectivity as you can. “How bad is this problem?” “Have I overstated it?”

Sometimes my patients think an unhappy occurrence is much more serious than it really is – usually because it’s amplified by evoking a painful childhood issue. Often getting perspective is as simple as asking yourself this question: “What’s the worst thing that can happen?” Usually you’ll discover the worst thing isn’t that bad – and isn’t even likely to happen.

Second, compare the undeserved bad things that have happened to you with the unearned good things that have happened to you.

When I ask my patients to do this, they invariably conclude that the unearned good in their life far outweighs the undeserved bad. I’d say the ratio is at least 10 to 1. In my own case, I didn’t earn the incredibly good fortune of my grandparents moving to America, or that life-saving penicillin was available to me in my childhood when I was sick. I could go on and on. And so could you.

In light of this, maybe things aren’t so bad after all. In fact, they’re probably pretty good.

Third, toughen up.

Life hits you from all directions – health, personal relationships, work challenges, family issues. To deal with them, you need to build up your mental toughness. The earlier in life one starts this process, the better.

That’s why parents who coddle their children and protect them from every hurt and failure are not doing them any favors. Nor are colleges that provide students with so-called “safe spaces.” To toughen up, you need to push yourself. How do you know what you’re capable of if you don’t do that?

I was a sickly child. I saw myself as physically fragile. But the grueling hours in medical school and treating patients with serious illnesses during my residency showed me I was much tougher than I thought. You, too, probably have more strength than you realize.

Find out. Finding that strength will give you resilience.

Fourth, be the architect of your own fate.

Although there are many times in life when we can’t control circumstances, there are very few times when we can’t control how we react to them.

The late Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist Charles Krauthammer provides an inspiring example of this. Krauthammer became a quadriplegic in medical school following a freak diving accident. Rather than wallow in self-pity, Krauthammer resolved to finish his medical studies from his hospital bed. He did – and without missing a single semester! 

Fifth, take an honest inventory of your life.

Make a real effort to discover how you have contributed to your own misery. In other words, how many of your life’s speed bumps have you created? This will help you see that the ability to change your life lies as much within you as in external circumstances.  

You can then avoid those behaviors that expose you to failure or difficulty.  Focus on your power, not your helplessness. And the greatest power anyone has is the capacity to change.  

You can certainly experience happy moments without resilience. But to lead a happy life, it’s essential.

I’m Dr. Stephen Marmer, psychiatrist, UCLA Medical School, for Prager University.

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