Optimal resilience has nothing to do with avoiding stress, disease, hardship or failures in life, bur rather with knowing that you will meet with adversity in life and when you do, you will be prepared to take it on, learn from it, become stronger as a result of it, bounce back easily and thrive.
How you perceive yourself—whether you are or have enough—determines how you handle uncertainty and stress. It determines how efficiently your stress response and the neurobiological mechanisms involved function, and therefore how well you can bounce back from difficulty.
Your genes, early life experiences, physical and mental health, toxins –in the environment, in the processed foods you might eat, in the exercise you don’t do, in the thoughts you might have–along with world stress like an economic downfall, or daily stress like a traffic jam or pressures at work and at home, add to how efficiently your stress response works, which then influences your brain and emotions, subsequent behaviors and habits, and ultimately, your perception of yourself and the world at large.
When you practice healthy self-care habits, understand that everything in your life functions as a fuel or a toxin, and maintain a positive self-perception, the stress response is better controlled, which translates to improved self-discipline, better physical health, mental clarity, emotional balance, spiritual awareness, healthier relationships, more effective leadership and thriving networks of support.
To achieve optimal resilience, therefore, you want to cultivate these Five Pillars of Resilience:
Physical Vitality and vigor
It is impossible to think clearly, work effectively or fully enjoy life when your body is sick, tired, inflamed and not functioning at its best. This may be obvious to you, but what may not be apparent, is how easily the body can be inflamed and how this negatively affects your brain and your ability to function at your best. Whether it is due to lack of sleep, improper nutrition, lack of exercise, poor work conditions, hectic scheduling, or negative thinking, inflammation and lack of proper fuel will leave you lacking with fighting power when stress comes your way. Indeed, it has been shown that physical fitness can facilitate resilience and protect individuals and their families from the negative effects of stress.
Improving physical vitality requires that you begin to perceive everything in your life as something that will fuel your body to thrive and enable continuous personal renewal, or cause it to dive. Whether it is through improving quality of sleep, developing an exercise routine, abiding by a healthy nutrition plan, or developing a meditation practice, the key is to challenge the body physically yet also fuel it appropriately.
Mental and Emotional clarity and equilibrium
Your brain, not just your body, requires high-octane fuel, plenty of rest, relaxation, social support and stimulation to function optimally, especially under duress, when positive beliefs, confidence and ability to think clearly falter, largely because fear takes over along with the stress hormones, adrenalin and cortisol.
When you learn to control the stress response, to stay alert, yet relaxed and purposeful especially under stress, and acquire emotional awareness through a mindfulness practice, you can develop mental toughness, clarity, and emotional equilibrium. You can maintain a more positive and optimistic mental attitude, no matter the circumstance, remain confident, and stay open to growth and learning. Studies show, in fact, that resilient individuals not only maintain positive emotions, but also use them to bounce back from negative experience.
Spiritual awareness and purpose
A growing body of evidence is showing that a spiritual outlook makes human more resilient to trauma. The literature also shows that possessing a sense of meaning and purpose in life is strongly positively related to quality of life and improved health and functioning, as well as improved resilience, including with military personnel.
Spirituality, or the profound belief of belonging to something greater, can be accessed through a religious belief, worldview or practice, connection with nature, involvement with a spiritual community, or an affiliation with a higher purpose.
Relationship balance and social support
Humans are social creatures, meant to belong to a community that works together and numerous studies indicate that social support is essential for maintaining physical and psychological health. For most people, however, when faced with distress, the ability to socialize, communicate and bond diminishes.
By controlling the stress response, maintaining positive emotions and a spiritual construct, relationships thrive, as do social connection and communication. Healthy relationships can be upheld despite adversity, as networks of support are cultivated.
Team leadership and culture
When you understand that you are part of a larger whole, that you have a valued role within a group, that you are able to cultivate networks of support, and that you have the resources to mitigate uncertainty, not only can you be more resilient individual, but a more resilient leader and a more resilient community.
Human beings have influence on everything else around them—some big, some small. Like a bolder that creates ripples in the water when dropped, the larger the role, the bigger the influence. This means that when leaders are distressed, negative, lacking social grace or sick, the chances that they will exert negative a influence on subsequent events is high. And though pebbles may only cause a small ripple, that ripple can extend outwards to effect family, coworkers and so forth.
To exert a positive influence on others to enable a resilient, it is necessary to uphold the other five pillars of resilience, while understanding that everyone within the community has value. To be a resilient leader, it is necessary to continuously be able to adapt in the face of many changes, while simultaneously persevering towards strategic goals, stay clear headed, authentic and insightful.
Ultimately, the path towards optimal resilience differs from one individual to the next as we all have different genetic tendencies, backgrounds and life circumstances and some individuals are more fit in one pillar over the other. The beauty is that there is no single right way to get there, as there are many tools and many paths that lead to the same place, where eventually, stressful challenges become opportunities and life indeed becomes more joyful, successful and rewarding