Build Your Resilience to Achieve Your Goals

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I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

—Michael Jordan

What is resilience? 

Some people say it’s mental toughness, and not giving up. Others say it’s the ability to get back up and try again. In the field of physics, resilience is the power to resume an original shape or position after compression. 

My personal definition of resilience is the ability to recover from setbacks. 

No matter which definition resonates with you, we all understand that resilience is something we want. We see resilient people as awe-inspiring, encouraging, and empowering.

Resilience is being able to focus and be productive after a meeting that’s gone sideways.

Resilience is reworking a piece of art a hundred times until you achieve your vision.

Resilience is not letting discouraging comments deter you from pursuing your dream.

We need resilience more than ever in today’s world because resilience is also being able to adjust, be flexible, and create our new norm after a series of global calamities.

Resilience is a human experience that leads to improved wellbeing

The latest research understands resilience to be a human experience based on a biopsychosocialspiritual model. 

That’s a mouthful, but it means that there are many factors that can contribute to our experiences of resilience. Looking at this term more closely, it means our physical, emotional, and mental states can influence the level of our resilience, as can our support system and our spiritual experience of connecting to an energy that’s bigger than us. 

In fact, research shows that, when we practice specific skills tied to each of the biopsychosocialspiritual aspects, our resilience grows. 

We can all agree that we want to show up in our daily lives in a way that makes us proud. 

When we lack resilience, however, we stay on the ground longer when we’re knocked down by setbacks that are a part of life. Sometimes, even just the thought of the possibility of a setback can keep us from doing what we want to do.

This is why we build resilience so that we can focus on what matters to us despite any fears that might arise. 

Proven drivers of resilience

The following are five proven drivers of resilience: 

  1. Cognitive agility
  2. Emotional regulation
  3. Physical health
  4. Social support
  5. Purpose/meaning

These factors build resilience because they allow us to have the courage and persistence to do hard things – an integral part of building resilience. 

Michael Jordan was known for saying “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Let’s start with cognitive agility

This is our ability to stay open-minded. To put it another way, the opposite of cognitive agility is being stubborn and stuck in a way of thinking – even when it doesn’t help us.

What blocks cognitive agility? Thinking traps.

A lot of stress we experience actually comes directly from the thoughts in our minds. And, if we’re stuck on an unhelpful thought or in a thinking trap, it can color the way we view our reality.

Some common thinking traps include polarized thinking (or black and white thinking), mind-reading, fortune-telling, catastrophizing, mind-filtering, and emotional rationalization amongst many more. Psychologists call them cognitive distortions because they distort our reality

What helps to build resilience is being knowledgeable about thinking traps and recognizing when one pops up so that we can shift out of it. 

Not only are thinking traps unproductive, they can also negatively affect our emotional state, which is another area that impacts resilience.

Emotional regulation

Emotional regulation is our ability to experience and navigate our emotions.

When we don’t have emotional regulation, we’re easily triggered by the events around us. As a result, it feels like emotions are happening to us without our permission or control.

This often results in well-meaning people reacting impulsively or compulsively in a way that’s not aligned with who they are or their values. This can be overwhelming for the person experiencing the emotions as well as the recipient of their impulsive or compulsive reactions. 

When we don’t have the skills to process our emotions, we often end up acting out from the discomfort of the overwhelming emotion.  

So, at the core of emotional regulation is the development of the skills for recognizing our emotions and allowing ourselves to feel them. When we get comfortable with our emotions, they become powerful data points for actions we can take toward self-care and fulfilling our goals. I talk about a popular framework called RAIN that can help with emotional regulation in this episode.

Another practice that helps our emotional states is finding the good. Our brains are built with a feature called negative bias, which makes us better able to spot what’s wrong than what’s right.

Research shows, however, that it’s possible to balance this bias for the negative and experience more optimism when we build the muscles needed to spot the good.

Negative bias makes us less resilient by creating spiraling thoughts that recall all the ways we’ve messed up or times when we weren’t good enough. We can recognize that negative bias and counter it by noticing all the things that we’re actually getting right and are proud of. An easy practice for building your optimism muscles is to make note of one thing that’s going well every time you eat.

Physical support

When it comes to physical support, I sometimes think about it like characters in video games; if your character’s fully charged, it’s able to take a few hits and keep going. 

Practices that foster physical health include things like sleep, nutrition, exercise, play, fresh air, the sun, rest, and stillness – among many other things. 

Although it might seem like they’re all unrelated, the impact of each one of these practices is actually more connected to the others than we think. 

For example, when we’re sleep-deprived, our level of leptin – a hormone that signals satiation when we eat – is naturally lowered. Not only do we eat more when we’re sleep-deprived, but research shows that we also crave certain kinds of foods like sugar and carbs more.

And, if you’re like me, once I’m sleep-deprived and not eating well, I’m also less interested in exercising and moving around. 

Often, focusing on the one thing that’s most important to you regarding your physical health will create a positive impact in other areas as well. 

Just focusing on that one thing that interests you the most creates tiny habits around that activity.

If we’re feeling the best we can physically, we have more resources to handle curveballs. This makes us more resilient.

Social support 

Most of us have some level of social support in our lives. It could be the person we confide in at work, our partner that helps with chores around the home, or our family members who check in on us. It could even be the helpful neighbors, therapists, or coaches who support us. 

Social support includes three components: the love that comes from caring, task-oriented help (e.g., cleaning or building a PowerPoint), and emotional support that allows us to vent and share our wins and difficulties. 

As humans, we’re not meant to carry all of our burdens on our own. 

When we reach out for social support, we immediately gain access to a broader perspective, opportunities, ideas, resources, and community. 

As the proverb says, “If you want to go fast, go alone; if you want to go far, go together.”

Resilience is all about the sustained journey. 

Purpose and meaning

Purpose and meaning tie our day-to-day activities to a bigger vision. When we work toward something that aligns with our purpose and gives us a sense of meaning protects us from stress.

When our brain thinks we’re on the right path (whatever that means for you), it will give us more energy. Even though science explains how that happens, we’ve all lost track of time when we’re engaged with something meaningful or felt energized when we’re doing something we love. 

Knowing your purpose and what matters to you allows you to view your setbacks through the lens of how they serve your greater purpose. And, even when you fall, that fall can become a meaningful lesson or experience that serves your greater purpose. 

In summary

These are five factors that have been shown to build resilience in humans through a biopsychosocialspiritual model. 

I have seen it in my coaching practice; when individuals deliberately work on even just one of these areas, their overall sense of resiliency increases. 

Having more resilience allows you to focus on what matters to you instead of the noise around you. With resilience, you’re able to continue pursuing what you’re passionate about, be present with your loved ones, generate ideas and possibilities that energize you, and show up every day, putting one foot in front of the other in the direction of your dream. 

These practices I shared help with resilience because they nurture us and act as what I call our “inner ally” that supports us, roots for us, and pulls us up from the ground rather than our “inner enemy” that keeps her boot on our neck. 

If you’re interested in learning more about resilience and trying hands-on practices – plus an extra ingredient that will supercharge your growth – join the six-week journey that begins on March 28, 2022! I look forward to connecting with you in the course!