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6 Practices for Building Resilience

Building resilience with simple strategies

Getty/ Lyubov Ivanova

Building resilience does not require superhuman feats. Begin today with these accessible, science-backed strategies.

For years the belief was that the human brain stops learning and growing at a certain point. But research now shows that you can rewire your brain, creating the foundation to become happier and more content in your life by building resilience.

To understand how, it’s important to look at the concept of neuroplasticity, which is the ability to change the malleable neural grooves in your brain in both positive and negative ways. Every action you take and habit you form impacts which neural grooves deepen, how your brain is wired, and, consequently, how you feel.

It’s empowering: You have the ability to take action, embrace new practices, and rewire your brain to be more positive.

Here are six practices you can engage in to create new, positive neural pathways, building resilience along the way. You don’t need to use all six: Pick one that works best for you and commit to it.

Journaling for Building Resilience

According to research, writing in a journal for just three days can help you feel better. While any journal writing is beneficial, one style has been shown to have huge benefits: It’s known as emotionally expressive journaling or affect labeling. When you focus on the feelings you experience during a story, it helps your brain better regulate your emotions, leading to both immediate and long-term emotional and physical benefits.

  1. Write for five minutes about something that’s bothering you or something you feel like is not working in your life right now.
  2. Reread what you’ve written and label every emotion you can identify in your story.
  3. After each labeled emotion, write the words, “I notice that I am feeling (insert emotion).” This helps to create separation and distance from the feeling. Then describe where you feel it in your body. Maybe it’s a tightness in your stomach or your shoulders? Does your jaw clench? Do you feel heaviness in your chest?

Mindfulness Meditation

One of the most powerful practices for building resilience is mindfulness, which trains your mind to shift from focusing on your thoughts to your breath or a mantra. This begins to create space from thought patterns, allowing you to begin to notice them and become less attached to them.

There is power in becoming less attached to your thoughts—you are freeing yourself from automatic reactivity, creating the freedom to choose how you respond to your thoughts. Although mindfulness requires regular practice to work, it doesn't require hours: there are measurable benefits after only 10 minutes a day for 30 days.

Sit quietly and focus on your natural breathing for five minutes. Listen to the inhale and exhale of your breath. As other thoughts begin to roll in, gently notice “I’m thinking” and direct your attention back to your breathing. If you notice any emotions coming up for you, allow them to be present without judgment.

    Self-Compassion

    Engage in self-compassion, or treating yourself with the same understanding and kindness that you might offer to a friend. Self-compassion has been proven to both calm and ground us and is an important tool in building resilience. Aren’t we all doing the best we can?

    Imagine an older, kinder, wiser you. What words would that person say to you? Or, if this feels challenging, try writing a letter to your younger self. Picture that person—a younger you—in your mind and offer some written wisdom.

    Gratitude

    Gratitude is a deeply impactful practice that actively creates new, positive neural grooves. Research shows that writing down just three things you are grateful for every day for 21 days significantly increases your level of optimism, with benefits lasting for up to six months.

    Write down three things you’re grateful for today. Research shows that when you think of small moments from your day—the warmth of a cup of coffee, the smell of freshly cut flowers—and stay with the feeling for 20-30 seconds, it has a deeper impact.

    Identify Your Mindset

    We have many thoughts a day, with 95 percent of them repeating daily. These thoughts become your beliefs and influence your mindset, which is the lens through which you look at the world. Your mindset dictates what you believe you can do/achieve/ deserve in your life, so it’s really powerful. It’s been scientifically proven to have an effect on the body and how it reacts—because when you believe something as truth, your body believes it, altering biochemicals in your brain and changing how you feel.

    Limiting beliefs are the stories you repeatedly tell yourself. They restrict what you believe you can expect or achieve in your life, directly impacting your mindset. Once you begin to identify your limiting beliefs and see how they alter your mindset, you can choose to “not believe them,” giving them less power. By questioning their truth, you have the opportunity to reframe limiting beliefs into more positive thoughts, leading to a growth mindset and freeing yourself to make choices that lead to the life you desire.

    Close your eyes and visualize one thing that you are deeply seeking in your life. Hold it in your mind. Take out a journal and begin to write down any obstacles that may be preventing you from having/achieving it. While some may be concrete, often roadblocks are based on thoughts or limiting beliefs we self-create.

    For example: I’m not _____ enough to accomplish X. You fill in the blank.

    Can you identify three limiting beliefs that you’ve been holding onto?

    Compassion for Others

    Research repeatedly shows that resilience is built through a compassion practice. Finding peace with our relationships—both current and past—is key to finding our own inner peace and contentment. While we don’t need to externally forgive those who have hurt us, letting go of the emotional holding of pain or resentment creates new space for positive thoughts and feelings.

    Think of a person you came into contact with yesterday, someone you don't know. What do you remember about their face? Do you recall anything specific about their expression? Try and imagine something that might be going on in their life. What might be on their mind? What might they be struggling with?

    These practices need to be done regularly, to become habits, in order to really change our brains and build resilience. Just like you can't read about exercise or try it once and expect to experience the benefits, building resilience requires a commitment to make lasting change. Pick one technique that feels good to you, stick with it for a while, and you'll begin to notice a shift in how you feel.

    Read more: “Building Resilience in the Body.”


    About the Author

    Kate Simpson & Ellen Cady are the co-authors of “Take Two: A Journal of New Beginnings,” a guided journal filled with exercises to build inner resilience.

    Kate works as a consultant in the sustainable investing field. She has a master's degree from Stanford University and an undergraduate degree from Boston College. Always striving to remember the practices found in Take Two, she tries to meditate and spend time in nature every day, while helping her three kids navigate their very full lives.

    Ellen manages the social media strategy for a nonprofit and is a trained yoga teacher, a freelance writer, and a mom to two daughters. She’s lived and worked in Telluride, CO, San Francisco, Seattle, and Manhattan, before settling back into the comforts of her native Maine. As a writer and mother, she is inspired daily by the sights and sounds of Maine’s natural beauty, taking her children on as many adventures as she can muster.


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