Change. Some people take it in stride while others pout, cry, grumble, and fight it every step of the way. But have you ever pondered why some folks are able to effortlessly roll with the punches—whereas others fall apart at the very mention of impending change?
Adaptability in the face of stress, periods of instability, and change is a practice in emotional resilience, and while there may be some biological reasons behind innate emotional strength, the following six behaviors can help us all develop better ironclad emotional resilience and handle any changes that come our way…
1. Focus Your Attention on the Positive
Your yoga instructor might tell you that, “Energy flows where attention goes,” which may sound fluffy at first. However, psychology researchers from the University of North Carolina have found some merit behind the fact that positive thoughts can actually create real value in your life, and help you build emotional strength.
In fact the research discovered that individuals who experience positive emotions—such as love, joy, gratitude, and life satisfaction—tend to view life with greater possibilities, which broaden the overall sense of opportunity.
2. Embrace Uncertainty
Oftentimes, in the face of change, a lot of undue stress stems from self-doubt about one’s self, according to author, Steven Pressfield, who wrote Do The Work! Overcome Resistance And Get Out Of Your Own Way. Self-doubt often makes us hold tight to outdated habits and roles, and rationalize a situation to fit our emotional state because we’re afraid to fail, look bad, or take responsibility for more than we believe we can handle.
For example, introducing a new process at the office might bring about feelings of hesitancy due to unfamiliarity. You may feel that having to let go of an old role you excelled at to learn something new might open you up to looking unskilled. The tendency to resist the new and unknown for the old way of doing things has much to do with a fear of looking incompetent. However, accepting change is not about giving up and being overwhelmed with self-doubt—it’s about experiencing something new with the knowledge that you can adapt and grow stronger (even learn new skills) as you embrace the change.
3. Practice Self-Compassion
Most of us are used to offering compassion to others in the face of stress or tragedy, however, when it comes to granting that same self-compassion to ourselves, we often criticize and beat ourselves up mentally. Research from the University of Texas, in Austin, draws a direct correlation between self-compassion and resilient mental health.
In fact, Dr. Kristen Neff, Associate Professor in Human Development and Culture, Educational Psychology Department at University of Texas, claims that it’s important to keep our emotions in balance when life doesn’t go as planned. That, according to Dr. Neff, takes a 3-tiered approach—which is comprised of acknowledging your own suffering (and the self-criticism and judgment associated), to remind yourself that you are human and imperfection is a part of that, and finally, to practice compassion toward yourself, which may include not having all the answers to a challenge right now!
4. A Test of Willpower
You’ve no doubt heard about the famous Stanford University marshmallow experiment? The study presented children with marshmallows in a test of impulse control. Each child was given one sweet with the promise that if they waited (and didn’t eat the marshmallow in front of them) they would be given a second marshmallow. Researchers then left the children with their single marshmallow to see what happened.
The Stanford study tested the ability to stop and consider an action before letting pure desire take over. It might be the difference between you flying off the handle or allowing pause to assess your best course of action in the long run. Findings from the Stanford study showed children that delayed gratification by controlling their marshmallow urges were able to develop the ability to choose actions that better aligned with their goals.
5. Let Yourself Experience Unease
As you can guess, the more emotionally resilient you are—the better able you are to tolerate discomfort in the face of anxiety, newness, and change. According to Nicole Urdang, a Buffalo, New York-based Psychotherapist and Mental Health Counselor, humans are naturally prone to avoiding pain and seeking pleasure.
However, the ability to sit with discomfort not only helps you come to terms with change you can’t control, but also to make peace with it, experience less frustration over it, and in the end, learn acceptance.
6. Gain Valuable Perspective
There is much truth to the analogy of war—when you’re deep in the trenches, it’s difficult to see the larger picture. When we meet a challenging situation head on, it’s human nature for our fight or flight response to take over. However, using the power of time as your ally can help you see past the short term unease and recognize the grander possibilities beyond.
According to Psychological Scientists from the Kellogg School and the Carlson School of Management at the University of Minnesota, hindsight really is 20-20 thanks to a phenomenon referred to as the” hindsight bias,” which stems from the refusal to stop and examine why change is happening. Remember, feeling an emotion is not the same as getting caught up in it. So take the proper time, let yourself react, adapt, and accept change as you offer self-compassion. In the end you will grow stronger emotionally.