How to Develop Real-Time Resilience Skills

Resilience is often named as one of the core skills required to become successful and lead an emotionally balanced life. Although reverting to alcohol and chocolate incorporating daily yoga and meditation into my life has helped me get perspective on life and thus become a calmer (and more resilient) person, I think you can always improve your resilience skills. Besides, I used to be a super anxious person (the type that would choose to eat a questionable quality avocado in a cafe rather than speak to a waiter, because I felt anxious about their possible reaction – true story!), so I have a long way to go.

Thinking Traps

Thinking traps are overly rigid patterns of thinking. They are often at fault for our inability to stay resilient in a stressful situation. Our thoughts drive our emotions and behaviours, so having these thinking traps can be a bit of a problem. However, once you know what they are – you can notice them as they come up. And once you do – you can change them! When reading any spiritual literature there’s always a theme of everything that happens to us is neither positive nor negative, it is neutral. It is our interpretation and often our ‘thinking traps that add a ‘flavour’ to any situation.

There are many thinking traps, but these are the most common.

  • Mind Reading Mind reading is when you think you have superpowers  know what the other person is thinking. Based on your supernatural abilities you make up a story without any facts.

Example: You present an idea to your boss. She says: “I need time to think about it” (your boss is a measured woman and does not like making snap decisions.) You think:”Oh no, she thought my idea is horrible. She definitely now thinks I am stupid. She will never give me that promotion. I am sure she will fire me at the very first opportunity!”

  • ‘Me’ This thinking trap happens when you think you are God everything is your fault and it is only you who is to blame for EVERYTHING.

Example: You present an idea to your boss. She says “I need time to think about it” (Your boss needs to rush off to the airport right this moment but she is planning to think about your idea while she is on the plane and come back to you). You think: “Oh no, I have completely stuffed up presenting this idea! I should have done a lot more research and presented more data. I am just no good at those things at all. I am never going to get promoted here, in fact, I probably will get fired!’

  • ‘Them’ This is when you think that the whole world is against you and it is always somebody else’s fault.

Example: You present an idea to your boss. She says “I need time to think about it” (she may need to clarify a few things and come back to you with a few more questions). You think: “My boss can never recognise a good idea! She is always so conservative and never seizes an opportunity to innovate. I don’t understand how she even got the job. The leadership in this company has no idea what they are doing!”

  • Helplessness This thinking trap leads us to believe that there is nothing we can do. The life is completely outside of our control.

Example: You present an idea to your boss. She says “I need time to think about it”. You think: “That’s it, nothing I can do now. It’s all up to my boss’ decision, if she doesn’t like it there are no other options, it is not up to me to decide what happens next. Even if I send a follow-up email clarifying some of the points I don’t think it will make any difference, it will be just a waste of time, I am sure she has made up her mind already”

  • Catastrophising You catastrophise when you blow something out of proportion. If I stick to the same example it would sound something like this:

You present an idea to your boss. She says “I need time to think about it”. You think: “Oh no, she hates the idea. This is a disaster! How can I even come back to work tomorrow? This is so embarrassing! What am I going to do? I am pretty sure I will get fired. And how am I going to find another job if I get fired? Nobody will hire me and we will lose our house! I am going to be homeless’

Catastrophising seems to be my ‘personal favourite’. I remember how once my wonderful fiance’s golf outing with his friends turned into a  boozy day and he came home in the afternoon, not in a state I expected. I calmly said hi and did not think much of it as I knew this is very uncharacteristic of him  started to think that I couldn’t marry him as I imagined him getting drunk every day while I am running around with 2 children (who we don’t even have in planning yet!). And I heard people saying to me that I am a logical person…

How can I become more resilient? 

The good thing is, once you are aware of these thinking traps you recognise them once they occur. And once you do, you can learn to tackle them directly.One of the things you can do to develop real-time resilience is to challenge these thoughts directly in following 3 ways:

  1. This is not true, because…. This method helps you directly challenge your thinking trap by relying on the facts and your logic. Example: My thought of me getting fired is not true because I have a consistent record of high performance over the past 3 years. I have also done a lot of research on my idea and am confident there is substance in it.
  2. A better way of thinking about it is… This method helps you to reframe your thoughts into being more productive and helpful. Example: A better way of thinking about this is that I did not let my self-doubt and fear hold myself back. I used my initiative and spoke up about something important that I believe can make a difference. Even if the idea does not get accepted, at least I know I have made an effort to get it off the ground.
  3. If x happens, I will do y…. This method helps you plan for the worst-case scenario. By forcing you to think proactively about what might happen, you often will come to the realisation that the worst case is actually not that scary, and even if it happens you have a plan to tackle it. Example: If my boss rejects the idea, I am going to organise a meeting with her where I will ask her to discuss her reasons. That way, I will have an opportunity to address her concerns or learn some valuable insights from her.

What else can I do to build my resilience skills?

  • deep belly breathing activates your body’s parasympathetic response and calms you down on a physical level and
  • cultivating mindfulness. This is something that will only work with deliberate consistent practice, but once you learn to focus on the present, notice and appreciate the beauty of every moment there will be no room for your thinking traps as they all take you away from the present into the future that only exists in your mind…

Reference: Most of the information in this blog post is adapted from my learnings and takeaways from Karen Reivich’s, PhD course on Resilience in the Positive Psychology specialisation at the University of Pennsylvania through Coursera.  

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