Everyday tools for building mental resilience
Updated: Dec 13, 2019
Alisa Camplin shares some tools and techniques for cultivating a stronger, more resilient mindset.
We kicked off this month with an introduction to mental strength, and how important it is to actively practise, develop and strengthen our resilience. Mental strength enables us to better navigate some of the trickier things we face in life, but more importantly, it allows us to be more comfortable when we are outside our comfort zones, and therefore make us more able to thrive. But how do you start doing it?
Below are some exercises and tools that I’ve found to be helpful. They don’t take any extra time out of your day and even though they’re simple, they’re incredibly effective.
Reframing has been developed through years of research into Positive Psychology, Resilience and Cognitive Behavioural techniques. Karen Reivich, author of The Resilience Factor, teaches the reframing technique as a skill that anyone can use in day-to-day life.
Imagine that you arrive at work one morning and greet your boss. You might ask them how their weekend was, and in return you get an unexpectedly gruff or short response. Immediately, your mind goes into overdrive and you begin to stress. You might question if you’ve done something wrong, start wondering if you’ve let the team down, or even worry that your boss doesn’t like you.
It’s so easy to fall into the trap of overthinking things or jumping to a negative conclusion, and these thoughts can create a ripple effect that impact your mindset and behaviour all day. But you can ease this kind of response and positively coach yourself through it by doing one of three things that fall under the notion of ‘reframing’.
The first is to externalise, not personalise. Step back and consider the broader context. Your boss might have a meeting they’re worried about, they might be underprepared for a presentation, something stressful might be happening with their family, or their child was screaming when they walked out the door this morning. Put simply, there are a million reasons for unexpected responses that don’t involve you. Taking stock of the broader picture can help ease anxiety and stop disruptive thoughts.
The second approach is to use hard facts to dispute your negative thoughts. Ask yourself, “Do I have any facts to suggest they don’t like me?” or, “Are there any facts to suggest I’ve done something wrong?” If there are no facts to support your assumption, then let it go.
The third and final thing to do is to measure the usefulness of your thoughts. More often than not, thinking the worst is detrimental to your mood, confidence and productivity. So, ask yourself, “Am I motivating myself or hurting myself right now? Is this thinking useful?” If the answer to your questions provides useful information, then you might want to explore it further. But, if the answer is, “No, it’s not of any use”, then discard it and focus on moving forward.
Use empathy differently
It can be useful to think of empathy not just as an emotional ability, but also as a tool. Karen Reivich lists empathy as one of the seven key areas of resilience.
Empathy can be utilised in everyday scenarios where you feel challenged, frustrated or at odds with someone. It could be when you find yourself in a disagreement with a colleague, or perhaps a friend has let you down.
Using empathy in this kind of situation – putting yourself in someone else’s shoes in order to consider why they’re reacting the way they are (even if you don’t agree), or trying to see things from an alternative point of view – can quickly diffuse a difficult atmosphere and potentially improve a strained relationship.
If tensions are running high, just stopping to ask, “Are you okay?” lets the other person know you’re aware there might be bigger issues at play. Using empathy as an engagement tool is not only empowering but it also improves your self-regulation and facilitates a greater connectedness with others.
Proactive trigger and response routines
Think of this a useful reminder system; a way to ingrain better habits or improve behaviour.
To set up a trigger and response routine, start by identifying something you interact with regularly, and assign a response to it. For example, your trigger could be a doorway, and your response might be to look for the positive in the room upon entering. Or, if you suffer from stress and anxiety, your response might be to take five seconds to breathe and reset each time you walk through a doorway.
The difficulty comes when you walk through a doorway and you’re challenged by what you see. That’s when it’s all the more important to try and stick to your response. Make a purposeful effort to take those seconds to breathe and really look hard to find the positive in the situation. You may not succeed every time, but creating and practising those patterns – your trigger and response – will help you to more positively react in the way you want to, more often.
These tools are ladders to help us climb out of ruts we might find ourselves in. And that is resilience in action; it is using methods to improve how you respond, choosing to see things differently, creating more time when you’re under pressure or using simple techniques to manage your thought processes in the face of challenging situations. The more you try, the easier it will be and the more optimistic and empowered you will become. You won’t always get it right, so be sure to celebrate your successes and know that with constant, deliberate practice, you will create the change you want to achieve.
Dr Melissa Weinberg is a performance psychologist and an Honorary Fellow of the Australian Centre on Quality of Life at Deakin University: “If there’s anything we know about what works when it comes to resilience, it’s social connection. Committing to an activity with someone else increases our adherence, compliance, and enjoyment of the task. Even though the tips above sound like self-help strategies, the best outcomes for your resilience will be attained if you can use these tools to facilitate stronger, more genuine connections with the people around you.
"One of the great things a friend or close family member can offer you is support and reinforcement that you are loved and valued when you find it hard to remind yourself. They can also offer a different perspective. So, if you’re having trouble reframing a situation yourself, ask a friend if they can think of any alternate explanations for why your boss has been rude to you.
"You can also develop a better understanding of yourself by inviting open and honest feedback from a friend on how you tend to respond in different situations. The first step towards changing any behaviour is to monitor what you’re currently doing; achieving a better understanding of yourself can help you to gain insight and awareness, so that you can be empowered to change.”
Originally published on www.onelife.aiavitality.com.au on November 12, 2017.