You need challenges in your life to develop resilience. You have to get knocked down in order to learn how to pick yourself back up. Over time, being knocked down can even make you stronger. Plus, it makes you less afraid to get knocked down again.
Not sure if you approach challenges in the ways that build resilience? Here’s how to do it.
1. Use emotional distancing
When experiencing a challenge, the ability to think about your experiences as if you were “a fly on the wall,” or as if you were someone else who is witnessing your experiences from afar, keeps you from getting stuck in your negative emotions. Emotional distancing also makes it less likely that you will replay the unpleasant details of the event, and as a result, you don’t feel quite as bad when bad things happen.
To practice this technique, first recall a recent stressful conflict you had with another person. Be sure to choose something very specific. For example, recall when “You got into a fight with John about forgetting your birthday.” Try not to think about fights with John in general.
Now reimagine the stressful event from an outside observer’s point of view — for example, from the point of view of a stranger on the street or a fly on the wall.
Ask yourself these questions to practice being a fly on the wall:
- Would the observer be able to understand why you are upset?
- Would the observer be able to see the other person’s point of view?
- How would the observer evaluate the situation?
- Might this observer view the situation differently than you do?
If you prefer, you can also practice this on social media. Next time you are reading about one of your friend’s negative experiences on social media, practice switching back and forth from being in their shoes to being in your shoes. Try to notice how being an outside observer helps make the experience seem less intense.
2. Use temporal distancing
Another technique that can help you better handle stress involves thinking about the outcomes of stressful events in the relatively far future. For example, you might tell yourself that “time heals all wounds,” or “this too shall pass.”
The ability to think about a future where you will no longer be feeling so bad about whatever you’re struggling with helps you get through difficult experiences. It can reduce the intensity of negative emotions and the distress caused by the situation. So next time you are in the midst of a stressful situation, try to look back at the situation from sometime in the future.
Start by recalling a recent stressful event. Be sure to choose something very specific. For example, try to recall, “When I failed to get the promotion I was after” instead of failure, in general. Now imagine what your life will be like five years after this event. Ask yourself these questions:
- In five years, what will you be doing?
- How will you be spending your time?
- How will you be feeling?
- How will you feel about this particular event?
3. Use reappraisal
The ability to find the silver linings in stressful or difficult situations (also referred to as reappraisal ability) helps us generate positive emotions, even when there is nothing in our situation to generate positive emotions for us. This is why finding silver linings can help counteract negative emotions, decrease stress, and quicken recovery from stressful events.
How do you find silver linings? You might remind yourself that you’re lucky to have what you have. Or, you might see a challenge as an opportunity to learn and grow.
You see how it works? Now it’s your turn to try. Recall a work or school project that didn’t work out the way you hoped. Now, try finding the silver linings of this situation. How could the situation be worse? What are opportunities that could result from this situation? What are the positives? Think of as many reappraisals as you can. Try to be creative and think of anything that would make you feel better about this experience.
4. Find the benefits
Benefit finding is similar to reappraisal, but it can be used in negative, neutral, or positive situations. For example, you might say that the benefits of working a really difficult job are that you learn new skills and build character. But you might also say that the benefits of working a really easy job are that you feel relaxed and have more time to devote to other things you enjoy. With some practice, you can find the benefits to just about any situation.
To practice finding the benefits, first think about a slightly negative experience you had recently. Try not to choose an experience that is extremely negative — it’s important to choose an experience that’s not too bad when you are first learning how to use this technique. You can work up to harder experiences as you become more skilled. For example, maybe your car broke down, or you got in a small fight with a friend.
I know that at first it can be hard to find the benefits of these situations. But the more you practice, the easier it will get. Start by spending a few minutes thinking about the benefits of a negative experience. Try to really search for as many benefits as you can think of. Ask yourself these questions to brainstorm.
- Were there, or will there be, any positive outcomes that result from this situation?
- Are you grateful for any part of this situation?
- In what ways are you better off than when you started?
- What did you learn?
- How did you grow and develop as a result of this situation?
5. Face your fears
In life, a great many things will make you feel uncomfortable. For example, if you’re worried about your finances, you may not want to look at your credit card balance. Or if you had a bad day at work, you may want to drink alcohol to forget about it all. But this kind of experiential avoidance can be dangerous, because the emotions never get resolved. Instead, they fester and build up. If you’re not addressing negative emotions, they never go away, and you carry them with you wherever you go. Now, imagine facing a big challenge when you’re already carrying a bunch of negative emotions with you. It’s going to be a lot harder to cope, be resilient, and thrive.
So if you are the type to avoid feeling uncomfortable—for example by avoiding doing things that will be hard, having difficult conversations, or being out of your comfort zone—challenge yourself to feel uncomfortable, just in small ways at first.
Think of something small that makes you uncomfortable, something other people might even find silly, and face your fear. Don’t let yourself back down. If you do, your fear will just build, preventing you from moving forward in the ways you desire.