Learning to manage your life more effectively

Meeting life’s challenges with resilience

Some people call it having thick skin. For others, it’s “resilience.”

No matter what term you use, developing the ability to overcome life’s setbacks, problems, stress, hassles and challenges can clearly enrich your life.  More than 50 years of research shows that resilience is the key to success at work, life satisfaction, and the quality of your relationships.

That’s the focus of The Resilience Factor, by Karen Reivich, Ph.D. and Andrew Shatté, Ph.D.

According to the authors, resilience enables you to achieve more, have greater energy for what you love to do, cope with crises productively, and make tough decisions – all with grace, humor and optimism. It transforms hardship into challenge, failure into success and helplessness into power.

They say the first step in developing resilience is to understand your natural approach to unexpected conflicts and challenges. Do you tend to face them head on, or shy away?

The authors explain that what makes one person resilient and another less so may be determined in childhood. We learn different ways of thinking and tend to react reflexively when things don’t go as we would like, they explain.

While most people consider themselves fairly resilient, many aren’t consistently able to face problems directly. But the good news is that there are concrete tools to help you boost your resilience.  The necessary skills can be learned over time, Reivich and Shatté say.

It all boils down to changing the way you think.

The first step in developing resilience is to begin to hear your “non-resilient thoughts,” such as harsh self-criticism, blaming others, or assigning responsibility to outside circumstances. Next, you will need to learn to identify unproductive rules for living, such as “I must succeed in everything I do or I am a failure.” Then, you’ll discover how to train yourself to fight back against your non-resilient thoughts as soon as they occur, minimizing any negative emotions.

In fact, the authors say these steps include seven different sets of skills that you can learn to help you develop resilience:

  1. Learning your ABCs.  Ever surprised by how you react to a problem?  Listen to your thoughts and learning to understand how they affect your feelings and behavior. (A is for “adversity,” or what pushes your buttons; B is for our “beliefs,” and C is for “consequences,” or what you do when you’re upset or challenged.
  2. Avoiding thinking traps. Do you sometimes jump to conclusions quickly? Who do you tend to blame? Identify mistakes you may be making that undermine your resilience.
  3. Detecting icebergs. Identify your deep beliefs about how others should operate. Figure out when they are effective and when, in fact, they are working against you.
  4. Challenging beliefs.  Feel helpless? Follow a problem solving approach even when it’s not working? Test the accuracy of your beliefs about problems learn how to find solutions that work.
  5. Putting it in perspective.  Is every problem a crisis? Are you anxious about things that haven’t happened yet, and may never happen? Learn how to deal with problems in real time,\ and avoid facing issues that don’t exist or are not likely to happen.
  6. Calming and focusing. Stressed out, finding it hard to concentrate? Feeling emotional? Discover how to stay calm and focused, even under stress, so you can zero in on what matters.
  7. Real-time resilience. Do counter-productive or negative thoughts recur? Find out how to change those thoughts into more productive ones.

Sounds like a lot of work?  Perhaps, but the good news is that many people find they begin to achieve dramatic results after mastering and using just a few of these skills.

In Chapter 3, “Applying the Skills,” the authors point out that the goal is to learn to apply your set of seven resilience skills to what matters most in your life, such as your relationships, parenting, work, and community.  Developing resilience can help you understand who you are and who you want to be. It can help you create meaning by reaching out to others, feel more comfortable taking risks, and heal after a loss.

Ultimately, being resilient should allow you to rise to life’s challenges and strive for a life full of meaning and purpose.  Using the seven resilience skills will help you feel more in control of your life, happier and more optimistic, according to Reivich and Shatté.  

Once you’re able to live a resilient life, you’ll connect more deeply with the people you love, no matter what challenges come your way.

Learn more: The Resilience Factor, by Karen Reivich, Ph.D. and Andrew Shatté, Ph.D., Three Rivers Press, 2002.

Article Topics

Discover More