Building resilience is no different from building fitness. You have to work at it regularly for the most improvement. What follows is a two-week program that features 14 different exercises for increasing resilience. Some are as simple as looking in the mirror, while others will take a great deal of self-control and willpower. Some are fun, like laughing more, while others might sting a little, because they force you to confront life and your role in it.
Overall, it’s a novel type of “personal training” that we think will benefit you and that you’ll enjoy. One final tip: Keep the program next to the coffeepot or in your bathroom so you’ll be reminded to “work out” every day. Now, let’s get started.
1. LAUGH AT LEAST FIVE TIMES TODAY.
Humor and resilience are actually quite similar. After all, what is humor but the ability to make light of real life? Laughter keeps you optimistic, helps you cope, reduces stress, and reminds you of what’s important. If you don’t have a sense of humor, it’s time to work on one. Start with the professionals: Add more funny movies to your Netflix queue, or start listening to humorous books-on-tape during your commute. Be less stern and more playful with your family. Have animated conversations about unimportant things with friends. Learn the art of the gentle tease — and be open to teasing in return. Come bedtime, look back on your day, and think about whether you laughed enough — and then vow to laugh more tomorrow. Just one warning: Avoid sarcasm, mockery, and any other forms of humor that degrade or hurt others. Humor, when twisted improperly, can be more bitter than sweet.
2. IDENTIFY ONE POSITIVE THING IN A NEGATIVE SITUATION.
We’re not recommending you become a “lemonade-out-of-lemons” kind of woman, but no matter how bleak a situation is, there’s always something positive to be found. Today, when a challenging situation emerges, your task is to find it. We know a couple whose house burned down on Christmas Eve, just two days after they’d moved in, when the husband tried to light a fire in the fireplace. They lost everything they had accumulated over their 40-year marriage. But they still had each other. And, they told us, starting over was kind of fun.
3. BUDGET 20 PERCENT MORE TIME FOR EVERYTHING.
If you expect everything to go perfectly, you’re setting yourself up for continual disappointment. Plan for road construction, flight delays, and missed deadlines by building 20 percent more time into everything on today’s schedule. You’ll quickly find that saving frustration is even more important than saving time.
4. LIST SEVEN PERSONAL STRENGTHS.
This could be anything from your ability to interact with anyone at any time, to your talent for baking. It doesn’t matter if you keep the list in your head, or on your smart phone. Just don’t make it entirely on your own; ask people who know you well for their advice. Knowing your strengths — becoming aware of your strengths — is like putting money into the resilience bank. When it’s time for a withdrawal, you’ll know how much you have to use.
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5. CHANGE THREE THINGS ABOUT YOUR ROUTINE.
“With age, we move in tinier and tinier circles,” says Professor Davey. We become so entrenched in our routines that we no longer even notice them. Then, when something happens to change that routine, we lack the flexibility to cope with it. To prevent this from happening to him, he changes one thing about his routine every day. He might brush his teeth with his left hand, take a different route while riding his bike to work, or sleep in a different bedroom in his house. It sounds trivial, but it isn’t. Being open to change, and handling it well when it occurs is a fundamental part of resilience that takes practice to maintain.
6. PICK SOMETHING THAT’S WORRYING YOU, THEN LOOK IN THE MIRROR.
This exercise teaches you to compare yourself only to yourself. Just because Mary in accounts receivable got laid off this week doesn’t mean you’ll be downsized next. And just because Sandy’s husband is cheating on her doesn’t mean you need to start checking up on yours. Mary and Sandy are very different women in very different situations. Don’t believe us? Just look in the mirror. Focus on your situation in the context of your life, not that of anyone else around you.