Life can throw challenges at you hard and fast. The loss of a loved one or a job, illness, having a number of impending deadlines and unexpected financial expenses can induce unbearable stress.
How you respond to that stress could either make you weaker or make you stronger.
Stress could overwhelm you and make you irrational, unhappy, disengaged with life, and poor decisions. In some people, stress manifests in overeating, smoking, excessive alcohol consumption and other negative behaviours. It leaves you feeling exhausted and despondent.
But there are some who know how to use stress to motivate them beyond their current circumstances and thrive.
They inspire us to want more of good things in life. They are the resilient ones. They seem to triumph in spite of challenges and they keep pushing past limits even when they have doubts.
We could all do with a bit more resilience. More resilience means we will be better prepared to face future challenges.
Resilience leads to better physical and emotional well-being, stronger relationships, a lower chance for burnout, greater success and a more purpose-led life.
Resilience is a core strength you use to withstand adversity, to adapt, persevere and even thrive despite the challenge.
You can build your resilience. It is like a muscle. The more you apply some basic strategies the more you are likely to do so in the future.
One of the most resilient leaders who we can learn from is the Dalai Lama. Before Tibet was occupied by China, the 14th Dalai Lama was both its spiritual and political leader. In 1989, the 14th Dalai Lama, Tenzin Gyatso, was awarded the Nobel Prize for his peaceful and nonviolent campaign to liberate Tibet.
We can learn much about resilience from the Dalai Lama and his struggles.
Here are 8 quotes from the Dalai Lama to help you change your thinking about stress and adversity, and build your resilience.
1. Awareness of your emotions is key to becoming resilient
When life becomes too complicated and we feel overwhelmed, it’s often useful just to stand back and remind ourselves of our overall purpose, our overall goal. When faced with a feeling of stagnation and confusion, it may be helpful to take an hour, an afternoon, or even several days to simply reflect on what it is that will truly bring us happiness, and then reset our priorities on the basis of that. This can put our life back in proper context, allow a fresh perspective, and enable us to see which direction to take.
This quote embodies exactly what the most resilient people do.
Many people tend to believe that resilient people keep their feelings inside.
But, resilient people experience overwhelm and confusion like any other person.
What separates resilient people from strugglers are that they take the time to step back and reflect on how they feel. They connect with that feeling and try to understand it. They try to understand why they are feeling sad, angry, anxious or overwhelmed.
Resilient people appreciate that their feelings and behaviors are a consequence of their thinking. Also, they don’t brood too long on their feelings and mistakes.
If a problem is fixable, if a situation is such that you can do something about it, then there is no need to worry. If it’s not fixable, then there is no help in worrying. There is no benefit in worrying whatsoever.
The resilient person self-regulates, problem-solves using the understanding of their situation (maybe with the help of a professional), decide on a course of action, makes a plan to move forward, and then executes.
2. Control your impulses or suffer from self-destructive behaviours
When we meet real tragedy in life, we can react in two ways — either by losing hope and falling into self-destructive habits, or by using the challenge to find our inner strength.
Resilient people develop an awareness of their thinking traps and their associated reactions. They look for such patterns and self-regulate.
Resilient people understand that if they go shopping and buy unnecessary items because they are feeling down, they need to calm themselves and control their impulsive behaviours.
Thinking traps lead to impulsiveness which leads to self-destructiveness. Think of addictive behaviours. Impulsiveness is almost always a way to reduce feeling terrible.
So how do you learn this inner strength to control your impulses and mitigate against self-destructive behaviours?
When you get the feeling to act impulsively, practice the “stop and think” technique. Stop what you are doing or about to do. Take a few deep breaths, check-in with yourself and why you want to take this impulsive action. Then ask yourself whether the consequences of the impulsive action aligns with your goals. Choose not to carry out that impulsive action. Choose yourself and well-being first.
3. Optimistic people are often happy people
Choose to be optimistic, it feels better.
Resilient people are more optimistic. They know that the challenge they are facing will reduce with the appropriate action.
Optimistic people tend to be happier and healthier. In turn, they are more productive and have more success.
One way to be optimistic is to keep a gratitude journal. Every morning or night note down three things that you are grateful for or three things that went well.
Optimism doesn’t mean that you are blind to the reality of the situation. It means that you remain motivated to seek a solution to whatever problems arise.
But in being optimistic you do not deny that problems exist when they exist. Being optimistic does not mean that you never make mistakes. Instead, when you are choosing to be optimistic you do so within what is real about your situation.
Practising gratitude for things within and around your situation helps you to develop an optimistic attitude founded in reality.
4. Use challenges to cultivate the right attitudes
If you can cultivate the right attitude, your enemies are your best spiritual teachers because their presence provides you with the opportunity to enhance and develop tolerance, patience and understanding.
Cultivating the right attitude is difficult to do your own. How will you know what is the right attitude? This is why we often look to others for guidance.
To develop the right attitude, we have to look to others for different perspectives.
Speak with others, read books, watch interviews and documentaries.
Then try on each perspective. Look at the facts of your situation through each of these perspectives. Look beyond your current situation and think of how your life will change if you live according to each perspective.
Trying on different perspectives also helps you to challenge your underlying beliefs. Sometimes our core beliefs cause us to self-sabotage. But, when you try on perspectives you slowly start to shift some of your core beliefs when you realize that they no longer serve you.
Practice this flexible way of thinking as often as you can. View each challenge through different lenses and with the facts of your situation. When you do this, you develop greater understanding, patience and tolerance for your situation.
This flexible way of thinking helps you to develop multiple solutions to your problem. When one way does not work out you already have another possible path to take.
5. You can only control the present
Time passes unhindered. When we make mistakes, we cannot turn the clock back and try again. All we can do is use the present well.
Resilient people have trained themselves to focus on the present and what they can do now. They use their resources and strengths to be effective now.
So how do you train yourself to be present?
You are essentially training yourself to ignore distractions and focus on what is in your present.
Focus on one activity. Focus on movement, scents, colours, tastes, textures etc.
If you are washing wares, then focus on the soap, it’s scent and foaminess, the movement your hand makes over the dishes, their colours, textures and shapes.
When you focus on one activity you prevent your mind from mulling over negatives or worrying about something out of your control. You end up focusing on that one thing currently in your control.
When you develop your attention to focus on the moment, you can then develop your ability to use the current moment well.
6. Compassion and kindness immediately brings happiness
I believe compassion to be one of the few things we can practice that will bring immediate and long-term happiness to our lives.
If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion.
Resilient people are connected to both themselves and to others.
They connect not only to pain and struggles, but also to the joys and happiness of their friends, families, colleagues, and all those they come in contact with. Resilient people can empathize with others. And because they do so, they tend to have strong close relationships.
They understand another’s perspective even without agreeing with it. They show kindness to all even when they are being opposed. They extend a helping hand wherever and whenever they can.
Compassion brings immediate and long-term meaningful connections.
Practice compassion on yourself first. Empathize with yourself and your circumstances and then show yourself some kindness.
Practice compassion with those closest to you.
Note, if someone is abusive to you, self-compassion to yourself will help extricate yourself from that relationship.
Aim to show kindness to at least one other person besides yourself each and every day.
7. Success is beyond risks just outside your comfort zone
Judge your success by what you had to give up in order to get it.
Take into account that great love and great achievements involve great risk.
Resilient people take risks, not death-defying risks, but risks that allow them to grow either as individuals or as part of a community.
Resilient people come out of their comfort zones and widen their comfort levels.
Resilient people don’t see failures. They take the risk to try new things because they can learn more.
When you take risks you achieve more and enjoy life more.
Risk-taking might take the form of signing up for a class or trying on clothes in a style you never tried before.
When you take small risks, you develop the risk-taking muscle. Start small and progress to larger risks.
Although resilient people take risks they are not foolhardy. They don’t take risks that will harm them or their loved ones. For example, a resilient parent will not gamble away the college funds that they set aside for their child in the hopes of making more money for the college fund. Instead, they will come out of their comfort zone and take on a second job or build a side-hustle. They may even ask their kid to help out by working to pay or applying for scholarships.
Resilient people know that they have to give up some measure of comfort to get what they want. They know if they work through the challenge they will be better than before.
8. Forgive yourself and others for past mistakes
We can never obtain peace in the outer world until we make peace with ourselves.
One of the contributing factors of stress is the mistakes you or others around you make. Sometimes you end up with feelings of guilt, anger, resentment, bitterness and wanting revenge. These negative feelings only hurt you in the long run and keep you living in the past.
Developing resilience and moving forward requires you to deal with past mistakes and forgive yourself and others.
Look at children. Of course they may quarrel, but generally speaking they do not harbor ill feelings as much or as long as adults do. Most adults have the advantage of education over children, but what is the use of an education if they show a big smile while hiding negative feelings deep inside? Children don’t usually act in such a manner. If they feel angry with someone, they express it, and then it is finished. They can still play with that person the following day.
Learn from the mistakes and take only the lessons forward. Processing your feelings, having self-compassion and letting go of negative feelings will help you to focus on your present and what you can do now.
Self-compassion allows you to see the connectedness between yourself and others and the numerous factors influencing your decisions. Self-compassion makes it easier to forgive yourself.
If you had to choose one strategy
Of all the strategies above (and yes more than 8 quotes), the one that best helps with building resilience is compassion. Compassion is fundamental to the Dalai Lama’s teachings.
Compassion brings immediate and long-term relief to your stresses. It focuses your mind on being empathetic and kind. It distracts you from negativity and puts it in perspective. It shrinks the negativity down to the appropriate size and increases your peace of mind.
Love and compassion are necessities, not luxuries. Without them, humanity cannot survive.
Resilience can be built. It takes work. But, when you put in the work to build your resilience, you not only reduce your stress, you build your ability to weather future storms.