When we are in a difficult place mentally, it is tempting to tell ourselves just to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and power through; just rely on mental fortitude to get us through each day until, suddenly, everything is not the same. We can no longer power through. We can no longer keep up with the day to day.
Mental Resilience is Important
While mental fortitude is important in some respects, particularly when we are just feeling unmotivated or uninspired, I would argue and say that mental resilience is even more important. Why? Mental resilience is the ability to get back up after a mental hardship – whether that means seeking treatment, forming a strong support system around us, taking breaks and practicing self-care, or even re-evaluating and acting on new life goals and a new direction.
Resilience Isn’t a Single Skill
There are lots of quotes that I sifted through over mental resilience – most of them rehashed inspirational metaphors basically saying the same thing about getting back up after failure or hardship. The one that stood out to me, that was just a little bit different, is one said by Jean Chatzky, CEO of HerMoney.com who has appeared frequently on several well-known talk shows, including the Oprah Winfrey show.
Resilience isn’t a single skill. It’s a variety of skills and coping mechanisms. To bounce back from bumps in the road as well as failures, you should focus on emphasizing the positive.Jean Chatzky
The thing that spoke to me in this quote is that resilience isn’t a single skill. While many quotes repeat that resilience is ‘getting back up after failure/challenges/dark days/(fill in the blank, etc)’, I would agree with Jean Chatzky in that resilience is not a single skill, therefore just getting back up after failure, or in other words “pulling yourself up by your bootstraps” is indeed insufficient for effective transformation after a setback.
Therefore, I would argue that most sayings concerning mental resilience are actually describing mental fortitude. They are closely related – but they are not the same.
An Emotional Journey
Mental resilience is the emotional journey we go through in order to develop mental fortitude. Mental resilience, essentially, is the ‘heart’ of getting back up after failure, while mental fortitude is the ‘head’. One can be practiced separately from one another. But is it healthy to practice mental fortitude while ignoring mental resilience?
I would say, for the individual, it is unhealthy to practice mental fortitude without mental resilience. Why? Because doing so may lead to us becoming numb to our feelings, going through the motions, forging on without listening to how we’re really feeling. How can this affect us? It can lead to a breaking down of our emotional state, and a possible decline in our mental health. It can lead to burnout in our jobs or family life. It can destabilize us. When coming to forks in the road, It can make us inactive or indecisive in choosing which direction is the best one to take.
With all this being said, how do we foster mental resilience? How do we explore the heart of getting back up after setbacks?
Again, going back to the quote, mental resilience is made up of several skills, including coping mechanisms.
Practicing Mental Resilience
Since mental resilience is made up of skills and coping mechanisms, forming mental resilience does indeed take practice. We practice it beginning the day we are born, which brings us to our first skill or coping mechanism: Emotional regulation.
Regulating our emotions is a skill that we ideally learn when we are very young. However, it is also a skill that we can hone as we grow older, and one we can explore with qualified therapists as well. Emotional regulation can consist of skills such as distraction, acceptance, and healthy expressions of emotions (such as practicing art, listening to music, exercising, etc.), to name a few.
Why is mindfulness so important? Many people talk about it, but what is it, exactly? Put simply, mindfulness is the physical, emotional, and spiritual exploration of the present moment. This could induce positive, neutral, or negative emotions in us, however, it is very hard to feel numb while practicing effective mindfulness techniques. This skill is so important in practicing mental resilience, as it breaks us of feeling numb to our emotions and body, and so we are forced to emotionally confront that which affects us in the present moment.
This is the process of noticing and changing your thinking patterns. Finding healthy ways to interrupt and redirect destructive thinking patterns to more positive ones can help us in forming an attitude that can lead to being mentally resilient. Sometimes it is difficult to do this on our own if we are in the thick of it – that’s why it’s so important to have a good support system, including friends and possibly a therapist who can help us do just that.
Strong and Healthy Relationships
Relationships are probably one of the most powerful ways we can form mental resilience. Just the presence of another person that is able to truly listen to you when you are having self-defeating thoughts or are going through a difficult time can make such a difference. Friends, family members, teachers, therapists, coaches – forming a strong support system is so helpful in forming mental resilience.
Identify Your Areas of Control
Identify what you have control over and what you don’t have control over. Focusing our attention on what we do have control over is going to help us from feeling emotionally drained, and therefore enable us to focus our energy on being resilient in the face of setbacks, challenges, and mental hardship.
One of the best things we can do is foster these skills in order to increase our mental resilience. This will help us in getting back on our feet after setbacks in our outer or inner environment. Mental resilience is not just “pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps” – that is, indeed, mental fortitude; however, we can’t have healthy transformation without the heart of mental resilience.