How to Become More Resilient

Posted on June 21, 2013

I clearly remember the day in the ninth grade that a classmate accosted me in the hallway of my junior high to recruit me for the high school debate team. I thought he was crazy. My heart would beat frantically at the prospect of answering a question in class. I could not talk in front of people—and I made this clear to my classmate. It didn’t matter, he said. The coach was looking for smart kids, he went on, and someone (I am not sure who) had decided I was one of those. My scholarly aptitude seemed irrelevant to me, but he spoke as if the decision had already been made. And it is probably fair to say that this brief conversation changed my life.
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Although I recall the persistent nausea I felt on the bus that took me to my first novice speech competition, I ended up traveling with the debate team throughout high school. I survived every meet and even collected some trophies. I had been shy, but became much bolder—about speaking in front of others and, I think, in other ways as well. I believe that, in conquering that fear, I learned not to let sweaty palms and a thumping heartbeat hold me back. Trepidation was, in many cases, a sign of a hill that needed climbing rather than circumventing, as difficult as that might seem at first.

In the current issue of Scientific American Mind, Steven M. Southwick and Dennis S. Charney confirm that one of the best ways to build resilience is to make an effort to take on increasingly difficult, but manageable challenges (see “Enhance Your Resilience”). Doing so will help you handle higher levels of stress. (For more on why, see “When Is Stress Good for You? [Video].”) Other strategies for building resilience include getting physical exercise, learning to regulate your emotions, solidifying your personal relationships and looking for resilient role models. Resilience is apparently not just something that comes about by accident. You can train yourself to bounce back from adversity.

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Source material from Scientific American