Providing support for the federal government can create stress. For those who provide that support, their missions are complex. Adrenaline-fueled. Life or death. Not the stuff you’d talk about at a party, even if you could talk about it, which they can’t. Yet each morning they awake and tackle a new day. We know how they stay in “fighting form.” Building resiliency is a mixture of science and psychology, but mostly it comes down to practice. And with the right approach, anyone can do it.
What’s so special about resiliency? Fifty years of research shows it increases confidence and productivity while reducing negative incidents—like accidents, mistakes, and outbursts. These are the traits that parent encourage in their children and that any employer would want in their workforce.
Let’s talk about stress
Stress is a natural physical and mental reaction to life experiences. Everyone experiences it. Our bodies are programmed to help us respond to stress by releasing hormones that increase our heart rate and breathing while prepping our muscles to move. Short-term this response is beneficial. However, extended periods of stress eat away at mental and physical health. So, building resiliency can actually help us live longer and be stronger. Who doesn’t wish for that?
To determine how to teach resiliency, researchers started by observing people who are naturally highly resilient. What they found is that resiliency went hand in hand with other practices: exercise, good sleep, good nutrition, and a focus on physical health and spiritual health. These are good practices, but not a prescription for resilience. As researchers dug deeper, they determined that these healthy activities actually represent cognitive and behavioral shifts that are complicated. Without guidance and support, people return to their baseline.
Learning resilience, practicing resilience
Research didn’t just tell us about resilient people. It showed us how to build resilience. We call the magic formula ‘social problem-solving,’ but really, it’s a collection of specialized skills.
These skills allow individuals to identify and anticipate challenges, understand their stress response, develop solutions that are likely to be successful, and then implement them.
Here’s where the social part comes in. For resilience to grow, there needs to be feedback.
This critical step allows you to gauge how successful your solution has been and how much of the challenge remains to be solved.
Those who become really effective problem solvers learn to avoid preventable challenges and make smarter decisions. We call this an additive approach; the more you successfully engage in problem-solving, the more effective you become at it. You may know this as practice makes perfect.
Real-world situations help people learn the skills, but practice requires them to face an actual challenge where their response carries consequences. And, unfortunately it takes lots of practice for a resilient response to become second nature. This also explains why some people aren’t very resilient at all; they either tend to avoid stressful situations or are lucky not to face many difficulties (on which to practice) in life.
Who’s in control?
Learning to be resilient puts you in control. Rather than feeling as though things just happen to you, the resilient mindset teaches you to look at stress as a problem that you can solve. This shift in thinking encourages individuals to be deliberate in how they react. They choose how to cope, and then they move on.
It is not always possible to develop the needed skills while struggling through a stressful time. Instead, you learn by looking back, and hearing from others about what you did right (or not), and using that information the next time.
Resilience is proactive. You can think about it like exercise. Going for one jog around the neighborhood doesn’t make you faster forever. But building your endurance and running consistently builds your ability, so you can expect to see your times improve. The skills and practices needed to become resilient can similarly be taught and exercised to tackle life’s challenges as they come.