Resilience Isn't Magic--It's Work

"If people knew how hard I worked to get my mastery, it wouldn't seem so wonderful at all."  This quote by Italian Renaissance artist Michelangelo serves as a helpful reminder to us all that our capacity for greatness is not divorced from our blood, sweat and tears. In fact, it is during the most challenging times in our lives, when we are pushed to our absolute edges, that true growth happens. It is also in these deeply difficult moments when resilience, or our capacity to cope, adapt and recover from traumatic life events, is formed.  

Because success and triumph over adversity are often displayed as an iceberg, with the crowning achievement on the surface and all the hard work hidden under water, many people hold incorrect assumptions about their capacity for resilience. At our core, we're all capable of training our resiliency muscles, so let's take this opportunity to raise some common myths to the ground and rebuild a new narrative that goes beyond the cliches and offers all of us potential for growth. 

Myth #1: You are either a resilient person, or you are not. 

Resiliency was once considered to be a fixed personality trait, creating a sense that certain people were somehow inherently more resilient than others. What we have come to know through the concept of neuroplasticity, though, is that the brain changes over time. This scientific wisdom shows us that our patterns and practices--including those for resiliency--are shaped by what we do, not by what we know. Thus, the more a habit is practiced, the more we create a new tendency for our behaviors. Put simply, practice makes perfect. 

To support the path of resilience and lean in when that is not your first inclination, put these ideas into practice: 

  • To steal a phrase that recovery communities have been using for years, "fake it 'til you make it"!
  • Find a resiliency role model--someone you respect who has fallen and gotten back up again--and pick their brain for tips on building your own roadmap for success 
  • Get good sleep, nutrition and movement each day to scaffold your journey 
  • Strengthen your mindfulness muscle with exercises that will help you to be present even when it feels truly challenging to do so  

Myth #2: True resilience means you are a lone wolf in the face of hardship. 

The old Horatio Alger adage of "pulling yourself up by your bootstraps" burned into our collective brains that you are only truly resilient if you overcome adversity solo. This couldn’t be farther from the truth. 

As human beings, we are wired for connection, and when we reject this, we are not only less resilient but also less healthy in the long run. We release the hormone oxytocin in our bodies when we bond with others, which not only allows us to build feelings of trust but also downregulates our nervous system and counterbalances the stress hormone cortisol. In order to not only survive but thrive in difficult situations, it is essential that we team up with others.  Whether you're leaning on a strong support system, calling in reinforcements when the going gets tough or simply being open to outside influences in difficult times, social connection is one of the top predictors of truly resilient people. 

Myth #3: People who suffer from depression and anxiety are not resilient. 

Let's get one thing clear: Some of the most resilient individuals are the ones who struggle the most deeply. After falling again and again and having the courage to keep getting back up, these survivors among us are more emotionally intelligent as a result of the struggle and are often able to bounce back more quickly than those who have not known suffering.  Mental health conditions do not preclude someone from developing resilience, but, in fact, often provide a basis for it. Next time you see a struggle like this in yourself or another, see it as fertile soil rather than dry earth.  

When we are going through hard times, individually or collectively, it can be difficult to see the forest for the trees. But, in the words of Hellen Keller, "Although the world is full of suffering, it is also filled with the overcoming of it." So go out today and look for resilience: find it in the quiet whispers and the loud roars; notice it in people, places and things; and remember to see if you can find it, most importantly, in yourself.