Four Ways to Improve Your Resilience Muscles

“Success is not final, failure is not fatal, it’s the courage to continue that counts.”

It was inspirational when Winston Churchill said it.  But for most of us, mustering the courage to go on in the face of failure is not easy.

My ancestors braved war and famine, but if my email goes down, I feel like I can’t cope. Intellectually you recognize, on the scale of human suffering, greater tragedies have been endured.  But in the moment, it still feels hopeless.

Failure comes in many forms.  Maybe you were passed over for a job, maybe you lost your job, maybe your spouse left you, or maybe you’re just having a bad day.  Your customer shouted at you, your server went down, and someone took your yogurt from the break room fridge.

Challenging situations – be they large or small – require resilience.  You can use Churchill’s quote as your screensaver; it might help.  But it you really want to improve your resilience, you need to train your brain.  You see resilience is a muscle, and like any muscle you have to train it if you want it to get stronger.

Here are four techniques to improve your resilience muscle:

1. Preemptive mindfulness

Studies have shown mindfulness, gratitude, and other meditative practices increase your resiliency.  Even 10 minutes a day listing your gratitudes will improve your brain’s ability to deal with stress and failure before it happens.
If keeping a gratitude journal isn’t your speed, you can increase your resiliency by sleeping, seeing the sun everyday, or spending 15 minutes without your phone while you’re eating.
These small things add up to a more mindful person, and mindful people can handle stress.

2. Breathe 5 times

There’s a reason you always hear the words, “take a deep breath.”  Breathing gives your brain oxygen.  This helps your mind remember things, make measured responses, and be strategic.
In a stressful situation, your temptation is to hold your breath.  Instead, do the opposite.  Take five deep breaths before you even try to think.  You can train yourself to use this as your default response to challenges.  The 30 seconds won’t matter to the problem, but it will matter very much to your brain.

3. Go to the good

Before you tackle your big challenge, reset your brain by focusing on something positive. When I’m feeling frazzled, I send a gratitude email or a wow you message to a client or colleague.  Telling a client what a great job they did on a project builds your resilience muscle because it reminds your brain, things are good.  When I do this, I usually get a second round of dopamine when the client sends back a thank you.

4. Look for 10%

Tackling big problems is daunting.  Your brain shuts down because it can’t process the full situation.  Instead, focus on a marginal gain.  Ask yourself, how can I improve this situation by 10%?  If you lost a customer, improving the relationship by 10% may mean one sincere phone call.  If you got a bad performance review?  A 10% improvement may be writing a plan for you to improve.  Focus on 10% a few times, and you’ll quickly make a sizeable dent in a setback.

When you develop your own resilience muscle, the payoffs are huge.  You’re happier, and you’re also more effective.  These few easy practices will help you tackle the tough stuff with grit and fortitude.