5 Ways to Practice the 10 Traits of Resilient People

Steps to strengthen your resilience and better endure stress.

Posted May 22, 2019

Using my post, "The New 10 Traits of Emotionally Resilient People" as a foundation, I’m challenging my readers to take action now on creating a more resilient future. There are practices we can all be implementing this very moment to make us less stressed, more psychologically agile, and better prepared to grow from traumatic experiences. Below are five ideas to get us started. It’s by no means an exhaustive list, so get out there and create your own menu of self-care and resilience habits . . . after reading this, of course.

1. Tell the Story of Your Strength

When difficult situations arise, they deflate us. We tumble from the top of our game and feel miles away from our strengths, dexterity, and resourcefulness. We become frozen in time, and our problems feel permanent. We forget that we’ve survived, even grown from, rough experiences in our past. 

I previously wrote, “Resilient people understand that there is a separation between who they are at their core and the cause of their temporary suffering. A stressful or traumatic experience might play a part in their story, but it does not overtake their permanent identity.” 

Action: Start a self-care journal that contains your mini-autobiography. It tells the story of your strongest self, including the core values and strengths that serve as your foundation. They are the traits that make you feel genuine and fulfilled. They guide your decisions, and they guide how you treat yourself and others. If you aren’t sure of your character strengths, take the free VIA Character Strengths assessment. If you aren’t sure of your core values, check out my list of over 400 values—can you narrow them down to your top 10? Then, tell your future stressed self about all the amazing traits that make up the unmistakable, unshakable, true you. Tell yourself that whatever happens, you possess a deep well of resilience. Then describe what’s inside. Down the road, when you're stressed to the max, take out your story and read what you've written to yourself.

This exercise can feel unexpectedly empowering. If to you it happens to sound a bit corny, maybe it will give your future stressed self a good laugh—and laughter is the proverbial best medicine. Include a few stories about when you were most stressed, most distraught, or most traumatized. Remind your future self what got you through it. What helped? Who helped? What did you learn? What do you never want to forget about how you can survive and thrive?

2. Build Your IQ and EQ Library

Oftentimes we think we know ourselves well until we hear the story of someone else. Those stories challenge what we’ve come to accept about ourselves and open us up to new ways of seeing the world. Expanding our horizons helps us see beyond ourselves and beyond the suffering that feels so isolating and insurmountable. Hearing others’ stories puts things in perspective.

Action: Keep a list of books that inspire personal development and boost emotional intelligence and coping skills. Add them to your Amazon Wishlist or, better yet, incorporate a few into your bookshelf so you can reach for them when you need them most.

As an example, Eckhart Tolle’s A New Earth is a modern classic that helps us maintain a healthy perspective and live in the present moment. Also, explore some titles that use cognitive-behavioral techniques for coping with stress, anxiety, depression, or grief. Consider keeping a mix of personal growth resources along with uplifting, feel-good reads for when you’ve had enough information and just want to get lost in a far-off place. If you’d prefer to listen/watch, check out inspiring podcasts like Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday (e.g., Sheryl SandbergJoe Biden) or The goop Podcast (e.g. Brené Brown) They both share real-life stories with thoughtful takeaways on resilience.

3. Set Structures

Structures are those little (or big, your call) visible reminders that you place in your physical environment to catch your attention. Like tying a string around your finger, you can use structures to remind yourself of a new healthy habit you’re trying to adopt (e.g., meditating for 15 minutes) or a new mindset you're trying to develop (No complaining today!). A structure can be a memo on a mirror, a string on the steering wheel, or perhaps you get a coffee mug printed with, “Did you remember that thing you’re supposed to remember?”

Action: Every time you see your structure, make a conscious effort to recall its intention. What reminder should you attach to your structure? Consider a mantra, prayer, or daily question. Some examples:

  • Accept and forgive.
  • Before blaming others, what part did I play? 
  • It will get better. It always has. It always will.
  • The sun is always shining above the clouds.
  • Did you turn off the coffee pot? Burning down the house will be far more stressful than these TPS reports.

Maybe you’ll adopt the call to action my clients often see in my email signature: Onward! Or, maybe it’s a line from a book, movie, or song that gets your runaway emotions back on track. I think Ice Cube and Van Morrison said it best when they sang, respectively, “You better check yo self before you wreck yo self,” and “Have I told you lately that I love you?” If structures aren’t enough, enlist an accountability buddy. Ask a friend to send you random check-in texts or to call you every Sunday so you can report on the progress of your new habit or overall well-being.

4. Direct Connect

I can’t stress this one enough. Alone time can feel rejuvenating and downtime is important, but direct connection with others is absolutely essential for our total well-being. By direct connect, I mean face-to-face interaction as opposed to electronic communication. Bonus points for hugs. Even the most introverted among us, yours truly included, need human connection. I specify “human,” because I spend every day with my dog—an amazing companion, but she makes for pretty one-sided conversations.

In my "10 Traits" article I write, “Resilient people tend to seek out and surround themselves with other resilient people when there’s a need for support. These supporters are our role models—a source of learning and inspiration for how they handle what life throws at them. Social support and sense of community consistently show up in research as one of the top resilience factors. As Dr. Romeo Vitelli tells us, 'For people without this kind of support, loneliness can often contribute to the emotional aftermath of trauma and make recovery that much more difficult.'"

Action: Don’t be afraid to ask people for help, or for a listening ear. People like being helpful, it makes them feel good to be of service—a win-win. If you don’t have someone you can talk to, there are many ways to make a human connection, and they don’t necessarily have to be intimate, tearful conversations. Honestly, sometimes it just feels good to get a haircut and unload on my stylist. She knows what’s coming, and I think every stylist knows they’re some people’s de facto therapist.

In this new LA Times article, one entrepreneur saw a solution to the problem of isolation and loneliness by starting a people-walking company. Instead of walking dogs, his team takes their human clients out for walks. I think it’s brilliant! If you don’t have a people-walking company near you, perhaps you can start one. You might volunteer at an animal shelter, teach a class at a senior center, snag a part-time job, mentor a student, or any number of ways of connecting and contributing. If you can find a hiking buddy, you’ve hit upon a double-dose of resilience. Connecting with nature is good for our well-being.

5. Teamwork

One of my personal development heroes, Barbara Sher, came up with the concept of Success Teams. Her Success Teams have been so popular and so successful that they've been established around the world—and you can join one. Sher explains that “a Success Team is a small, ongoing group, made up of about 6 people like you. The people on your team will help you make your dreams come true. Why? Because you're going to do the same thing for them. Your team will keep you moving until you discover and achieve your dream.” Not only are these teams a great way to make a social connection, they also help you take action on a dream or goal that you thought was difficult or impossible­—now that’s quite a boost!

Action: What do Success Teams have to do with resilience? Imagine if you created a Resilience Team. A small group of people who had each other’s backs in good times and bad. People who can share resources, coping skills, and discuss personal growth concepts. People who will call, email, text, or have a cup of coffee with one another, to remind each other that someone cares, and things get better. And who knows, maybe this group of six can help each other achieve their dreams.

To get started, you might share this post with a few friends or start a book club with a resilience and personal growth book. Perhaps you can use the Story of Your Strength exercise above to initiate a writing group that has resilience and strength as its core mission.

You might also watch this TEDx Talk together: Barbara Sher’s "Isolation is the dream-killer, not your attitude."