Life is challenging even at the best of times. Life will always have its ups and downs and the struggle will always be real. The ability to become mentally stronger and resilient however will help you to overcome any adversity that life throws at you. With resiliency and a strong mind, what was once a massive mountain of a problem that would send you into a spiral of depression, anxiety, helplessness and self-doubt becomes but a mere bump in the road and an exciting opportunity to learn and grow. So here are my 5 tips on how to develop a stronger mind and become more resilient.
1. Accept that suffering is inevitable. No seriously. This step is crucial. The notion that suffering is inevitable forms the basis of Buddhism. No, you don’t have to become a Buddhist to understand or apply this. It simply means that life in and of itself has no malevolent agenda and is not secretly out to get you. Life just evolves due to a complex interaction between atoms and molecules. Life is simply full of arbitrary events which we then, consciously or unconsciously, provide meaning to. We therefore THINK our suffering into existence. This leads us to the second tip.
2. Learn to become optimistic and learn how to re-frame events. The academic term for this process is called cognitive re-framing. If we all have the ability to use our thoughts to create our own suffering, then doesn’t it make sense that we also have the ability to use our thoughts to create our own happiness? I know, I know. Learn to be more positive. Stop being so negative. You have heard this a million times right. Easier said than done. It takes hard work and persistence to turn one’s mind around 180 degrees. I know this from personal experience. The best advice I can offer is to start small and don’t give up. Start with learning to re-frame one thought at a time. Think the arbitrary life event out rationally. Did someone promise to call or msg you at a certain time but did not? Ok…what are your options here? Sure, you could create your own suffering by thinking that the person must hate you and you must be a worthless person. Go ahead and use your thoughts to work yourself up into an emotional mess of self-hatred, anxiety, depression, and stress. OR, consider the event from multiple perspectives. Maybe the person got held up at work. Maybe they just got distracted. This happens to you, too right? So why not to other people? If the same person never returns your calls then it has nothing to do with you. If they don’t like you for whatever reason that’s their choice. Do you like every single person that you ever meet? Are there times you just don’t feel like talking to someone? Do you always and without fail return phone calls or messages exactly at the time you say you will? Learning to re-frame events and including positive (rather than all negative) alternative possibilities for why something did or did not occur will help you to become more resilient and mentally tougher.
3. Please learn to overcome playing the victim role. Now this tip may sound a bit controversial and may upset some people but hear me out. For me personally, a victim is somebody who ends up dead. You are a survivor. No matter how traumatic or adverse the circumstances were, if you did not die, you survived. This statement doesn’t take anything away from your experiences, pain, emotions, memories, current life circumstances or anything like that. I genuinely understand. I have been there and done that. I am not invalidating you or minimising your experiences.
But… think about the statement for a second. Consider how empowering the statement is. There are no surviving dead people, right? Using the power of re-framing to analyse this statement you can come up with an empowering notion. If you survived, it was because of something that you did. Whether you ran away, whether you fought back, whether you remained passive, whether you done what you were told, whether you done anything else, you done it to ensure that you became a survivor. Does this make sense? You didn’t do those things to help to you become a victim did you? That doesn’t make sense.
So, knowing that you’re are a survivor rather than a victim does what? It allows you to live. It allows you to take back control of your life. A dead person has no control but a surviving person has immense control. A dead person can’t change events. A survivor sure can. When you realise you are a survivor, you put yourself in the driver’s seat of your life. This is related to an internal locus of control. When you keep re-enacting a victim role, you are looking for other people to drive you. This is the external locus of control. Why allow somebody else to drive you when you have already proven to yourself, by surviving, that you are fully capable of driving yourself? So long as you are alive, you have the ability to create change no matter how small that change may be.
4. Learn to forgive. Even when an event occurs beyond the control of yourself or humanity (i.e., natural disasters) learn to forgive. Whether you forgive God, nature, the person who harmed you, or even yourself (for not “seeing” the warning signs) it is important to find a way to forgive. If you don’t learn to forgive you will forever hold onto excess baggage and forever perpetuate your own suffering. After all, a lack of understanding breeds resentment. Another old saying is “hating someone requires a lot of effort by you and no effort by the other”.
Think about it though. When you are thinking hatred thoughts about another, are those thoughts hurting you or them? Do your hatred thoughts have special powers which leave the box of your mind and travel across the country to cause injury or harm to another or to fill the other with stress and anxiety the same as which you are feeling? If not, then what is the point? Why are you causing your own suffering?
If you were harmed by a narcissist, psychopath, or sociopath you can either forgive the person or, if that is too difficult to do, forgive God or nature for creating them. They didn’t create themselves. They had no control over whether they were born or not. They ultimately did not choose their genetic makeup. That’s not to say that what they did was not harmful, traumatising, immoral, illegal etc, but it does provide a solution to end your suffering. In this particular case, if they are not thinking about you, why do you need to continually think about them?
The other key thing about forgiveness is that it doesn’t necessarily have to be said to the one you are forgiving. It can be said to them in your head. The words “I forgive you” can be written on a piece of paper and burned if you like. The point is you acknowledge that forgiveness has occurred.
5. Strengthen your sense of humour. Humour has been proven to be a strong protective life factor and a key ingredient in resilient and tough-minded people. Have you seen the list of defence mechanisms listed by Freud? You know, repression, sublimation, projection etc. If you look at the bottom of the list, you will find humour. However, humour is listed as a positive and healthy defence mechanism not a negative one. Even in ego development, a sense of humour is seen as a sign of cognitive strength. Humour in this context is the ability to laugh at yourself and to even laugh at life. We all do stupid things sometimes which causes consequences we may not necessarily like (i.e., you lose your job after getting too drunk at an office party). Sometimes you just have to laugh at yourself and say “well, that’s what you get for drinking too much and making an ass of yourself in front of the boss (lol). I learned my lesson and won’t do that again. Oh well, time now to get back to life and find myself another job”.