In life, we inevitably stumble across setbacks. However, the ability to bounce back from challenges is a necessary life skill. For students and grads dealing with stress and anxiety, resilience is the key to learning from your professional and personal experiences to achieve future success.
Feeling empowered by life’s adversities is an ability with which few people are naturally blessed. Luckily, resilience is a skill that can be learned with practice. Instead of sidestepping challenges, or neglecting studies or work opportunities and focusing inward on our shortcomings, we can adjust our way of thinking for greater optimism, accuracy and success.
How can you turn a challenge into a learning experience? Let me begin with an example from my own life.
During our time at university, my identical twin Hannah and I experienced, as students often do, an academic setback and received lower grades than we had hoped. Unsurprisingly, as twins we are often compared to one another. Sometimes we act similarly— when we didn’t get the marks we expected on our work, we shared many negative emotions; frustration, anger and sadness. However, after a few days Hannah picked herself up, went to have a chat with a tutor at the university and committed to improving her grades and moving forward with her education. In contrast, I found myself heading towards a descending cycle of pessimism, unable to let go of my frustration with the situation.
Hannah and I are similar people who faced the same difficulty. So why did one of us bounce back while the other did not? Why was our response to the same situation so different? Though some of this difference may simply be a result of genetic temperament, personality, and external circumstances, it ultimately came down to one fundamental factor: the way we think.
Years of research have shown that the way we deal with setbacks is influenced by the way we think about them. Doctors Gilham, Reivich and Seligman, who research resilience in children and college students at the Positive Psychology Center, found that cognitive style was the biggest influence on resiliency. Luckily, as individuals we are able to adapt and transform our own mind-sets to cultivate self-awareness and optimism in order to breed resilience and become happier.
How to Nurture Resilience
It can be easy to rush through our days without noticing the present moment. Yet becoming aware of the world around you and pausing to appreciate the good things in life encourages mindfulness, a mental state achieved by focusing one’s awareness on the present, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. Mindfulness is key to managing your emotions and building resiliency. If you meet a setback, being mindful encourages self-compassion and helps you put your struggles in perspective. Sure, you might not get perfect marks, but in the grand scheme of things, an education is about learning from your mistakes and improving. Rather than wallowing in your disappointment, mindful thinking can help you assess the situation at hand to find a solution.
Seeing Challenges as Opportunities
It is often the most challenging moments in life which offer us the biggest opportunities to grow and improve. Much like mindful thinking, taking time to recognize the learning opportunity in each setback encourages a higher level of resilience. Didn’t get the job you applied for? Turn that challenge into an opportunity by revamping your resume, refreshing your networking skills to meet new people, and looking for new ways to broaden your professional skills. Ultimately, you’ll find a job that is fulfilling and rewarding. There will be challenges that you cannot control, but instead of dwelling on these, focus your energy towards aspects of the situation that do offer opportunities to find a positive outcome.
Having focus and passion are crucial in order to nurture resilience. Once you find something you’re passionate about, such as achieving a goal, participating in a sport, practicing an art, or even fostering a relationship, you will feel more motivated to tackle a difficult experience. When you’re pursuing work that is meaningful to you, no challenge is too great to stop you from doing what you love. Once you have a goal in mind, you’ll become more resilient without even knowing it.
Quite simply, looking after yourself means you’ll become a stronger person both mentally and physically, making you more resilient in mind and body. If you’re looking for ways to take a break and relax in a healthy way, try going to a yoga class (or take a free tutorial online such as Yoga with Adriene), running 5k, going for a bike ride, playing football, playing an instrument, sparking up Duolingo to learn a new language, whizzing up a 5 fruit smoothie, reading an empowering book or watching a feel-good movie. Do whatever it is that makes you happy so by the end of your break you are ready to tackle the next challenge with added vigour.
Reaching Out to Others
After experiencing a challenge, the last thing you want to do is talk to someone about it, but reaching out to others is important in your journey towards reaching resilience.
After finishing my exchange program abroad in snowy/sunny Peterborough, Ontario, and returning back to the routine of “ordinary” life in a rainy northern city in England, I felt really deflated. I’d seen a bit of the world I never knew with the most beautiful landscapes and had shared amazing moments with people I met abroad. When I got home, I was sure nothing could compare to skiing, watching the Blue Jays in Toronto, hiking 7667ft up Sulphur Mountain in Banff, watching the sunset on Vancouver beach or simply eating poutine by Otonabee river.
Yet being insular was one of the most damaging things I could do. I forced myself to go out and met people who had also been abroad and felt the same as I did. After meeting some people who were about to embark on their own study abroad to England, I reached out to them to let them know about some amazing things they could do on their travels. Connecting with new people in the middle of my funk actually helped me recall the great things about my exchange, while remembering that my home country is pretty wonderful. Persevering in the hard times can be truly tough, but being resilient gets a little easier when you realize that there are people who want to help you.
When life gets challenging, learn how to avoid dwelling on your setback. Resilience can be learned and shared, and these simple steps will make you feel a lot better in the long run. Make an effort to nurture mindful thinking and cultivate a mind-set which focuses on progress and moving forwards.