Forget “stress management.” Resilience is the buzzword these days, particularly for anyone who cares about optimizing potential, as opposing to just managing it efficiently. Why? Well, it’s one thing to put out a fire, but it’s another to walk through it.
The fact is, resilience in a person is far more than a tough-as-Teflon surface or rubbery resolve that helps you rebound from stress or disappointment. While we humans are all made from the same stuff, some of us clearly have a way of thriving even when times are tough and stress is unabaiting. There is real science behind this. And there is a payoff: Highly resilient people handle stress better than others, they don’t get sick as often, they are more productive, and they have higher job satisfaction.
So what’s the secret? Is there a magic formula that can be learned?
Yes. It absolutely can.
Resilience is a state, not a trait—it can be learned, practiced and made habitual. A few point improvement in your resilience score can make a significant difference. As the CEO of the leading provider in scalable resilience training solutions for employers, health plans and consumers, I find the work I do thrilling and satisfying—because when people hone their resiliency skills, they can keep the negative effects of stress at bay and let their energy, acuity and imagination take charge.
(Read: Signs you may be on the road to burnout.)
I can point to lots of science around resilience, but as people are always asking me how I define resilience, I give you my knock down definition of how to spot it, learn it and live it:
- You believe in yourself. Seems simple and obvious, but in fact, you won’t get very far without this. A resilient person is not cocky; quite the opposite: He has a clear sense of his own potential, capability, and ability to cope and achieve—a top trait of resilient people. It’s this belief that contributes to another of my favorite qualities: self-efficacy, which means not only your ability to do a thing but to access the resources to get the help you need.
- You see the power of possibilities. Optimism has been touted as above-all important, but resilient people temper this with a less-is-more approach. Blind optimism is a liability, but tempered with clear vision, an optimistic outlook is an asset. The most resilient people assess their surroundings as well as their own strengths and weaknesses in context, and know where they will excel—and where they will fall short. At the same time, they have a positive bias—they expect good things from the world and from other people.
- You stay calm and keep your cool. The ability to self-evaluate and assess is best served by the ability to manage impulses and emotions. This is where a resilient person’s rubber meets the road. The most resilient people I know aren’t hotheads; they don’t combust over little (or big) things. They’re able to take everything into account before they respond so that they don’t make mistakes, rash decisions, or other actions they may regret. Unchecked emotions and impulses not only contribute to those actions, but can cost them some self-preservation, as they’re big contributors to stress. This takes a lot of practice, no question!
- You reach out. A resilient person doesn’t curl up and die over the slightest rejection or failure. In fact, a resilient person does the opposite of curl up; she expands. She reaches out—even in the wake of crisis. This is one of the most distinguishing characteristics of resilience: Your ability to continue to aim high and reach for it, as opposed to lowering your standards, expectations, or efforts. So when things don’t go your way (as they sometimes don’t), and you feel hindered or pushed back, your inner resilience can keep you coming back, and reaching out, not just to “try again,” but to outdo yourself, once again.
- You connect with and support others. Another hallmark of resilient people: They reach out and support other people. You may think things are so chaotic and crazy and stressful that any ounce of effort not focused on your own stuff means the world will come crashing down. But what resilient people know is that the act of supporting other people strengthens their own ability to cope, puts things in perspective, and opens them up to accepting support as well. Offer help—and ask for it—and your ability to withstand even the worst day improves.
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Jan Bruce is the co-founder and CEO of meQuilibrium, a digital coaching platform that delivers clinically validated and highly personalized resilience solutions to employers, health plans, wellness providers and consumers to help improve outcomes in managing stress, health, engagement, productivity and performance.