Tools to Build Your Resilience: 1) A Strong, Healthy Mindset and 7 Beliefs to Help

Strong Resilient Woman with arms raised in fists Against Golden Background with Rays Pattern

Welcome to this second article in the resilience series—and how to grow it 🙂 You can read the resilience introduction here, which looks at what resilience is—and why it’s more important than ever to grow it. In this article we look at, arguably the most important tool in our resilience toolbox: a strong, healthy mindset. But what does that actually mean? And what does it look like?

What is a strong, healthy mindset?

Well one thing a strong mindset is not, is one that just toughs things out.

Instead a strong and healthy mindset is one that can bend and flex with life’s obstacles. In fact the strongest of mindsets rises up to meet those stress and challenges—and learns and grows from them.

But this isn’t easy in today’s busy world where we’re often over-tired and over-committed.

Most of us can maintain a strong and healthy mindset when everything else in life is going OK and we’re given one big challenge to deal with.

But what usually happens is that life piles up. Suddenly we’re dealing with a pot boiling over on the stove, a large unexpected bill, a crucial presentation to deliver, the car has broken down and the news that our best friend/mom has cancer.

So here’s what you need to know:

At its core, the foundation of a strong, healthy mindset is what you believe.

This includes what you believe about yourself—and the world. Because what you believe drives what you think, how you feel and how you approach any situation, problem or goal.

Here are 7 Beliefs that make a Strong, Resilient Mindset
  1. I don’t know all the answers, but I’m willing and open to change.
  2. There are always options and alternatives (even if I can’t see them yet).
  3. Life can be tough, but it’ll all work out in the end.
  4. I am grateful for my life, and all that is in it.
  5. Whatever I feel is OK.
  6. I am always learning and doing my best.
  7. I can handle whatever life throws at me.

Below we’re going to explore each belief, why it’s so important, and for each one you’ll find an easy exercise you can take into everyday life with you.

And as you read about each belief, when one resonates with you (or if you’re feeling brave, scares you!), choose this exercise to work with over the next month.


Resilience Belief 1: I don’t know all the answers, and I am willing and open to changeGilda Radner Quote

This belief helps us have a strong mindset because it enables us to take whatever happens in our stride, stay open to possibilities—and be flexible when handling change.

Life is about not knowing, having to change, taking the moment and making the best of it, without knowing what’s going to happen next. Gilda Radner

Let’s break this down.

Part a) I don’t know all the answers…

Are you willing to not know the answers? Willing to be wrong?

We can all think of times when we were certain that _____ was going to happen, and it didn’t. Or when we thought someone had let us down, but they actually didn’t—or had a crazy good reason we’d never have guessed.

Yes, not knowing (for sure) can be challenging. It means holding back judgement—and being ready to be wrong. And it means being unsure or waiting to see what happens when what most of us want is certainty.

It’s very human to want clarity. But there is so much power in not knowing too.

Not knowing for sure, means there are always other potential solutions, ideas and reasons waiting in the wings to help us out.

Another way to look at this is: Think possibility, not probability.

Resilience Exercise 1a

Think about a challenge in your life. Now answer consider these questions:

  1. What don’t you know?
  2. Where could you be wrong?
  3. If I stop focusing on what I think is probable, what else is possible?

Learning to live with ambiguity is learning to live with how life really is, full of complexities and strange surprises. James Hollis

Part b) … And I’m willing and open to change

How open-minded are you? How flexible are you really?

Being open helps you handle change. Remember that things that don’t bend under stress, break.

So when we flex, we’re stronger and more resilient.

That yoga class that you were super-looking forward to got cancelled: Do you grumble? Yes. Do you STAY grumbly? Well, if you’re flexible, willing and open to change you might say, OK, I could try a new studio, do yoga at home, call a friend, meditate, go for a walk. There are so many options!

But whether it’s a big or small issue, the key is:

  • Are you willing and open to changing your plans—or your mind?

Because life is a lot easier and less stressful when you are.

Resilience Exercise 1b

Next time something happens that you don’t like:

  1. First acknowledge the situation: That’s (eg. annoying)_____. I feel _____.
  2. Then ask:
    1. So how could I go with the flow here?
    2. What new or alternative options does this now enable?
    3. What’s great about this change?

TIP: Start practicing this with small (easy) things first!

When one door closes another door opens; but we often look so long and so regretfully upon the closed door that we do not see the ones which open for us. Alexander Graham Bell


Resilience Belief 2: There are always options and alternatives (even if I can’t see them yet)

When things go wrong, are you brimming with ideas? Do you believe in multiple possibilities?

The belief that there are always other options builds beautifully on our first belief of being willing not to know.

Did you know that we feel most hopeless, helpless and stuck (the opposite of resilience) when we believe there aren’t any options—or when we don’t like the ones we can see?

But when we believe there are other options and alternatives (even if we don’t know them yet), we feel more optimistic, hopeful and powerful.

Plus, our brains love a problem. If we believe there are more solutions, our brains will get work away in the background looking for answers.

We need to think in shades of grey

People with a strong resilient mindset believe there are always options: everything is doable, learn-able, figure-out-able—given time.

Because things are never truly black or white—instead there are countless shades of grey. There are always other explanations and possibilities you haven’t thought of yet. There may be another (better) way this could all pan out.

This roughly translates as being someone who, when faced with difficulty, asks (and keeps on asking): “What other possibilities are there?”.

Resilience Exercise 2

One way to begin to shift our mindset to one of possibilities is to learn to love the word “Yet”:

  • Simply stick “Yet” on the end of your “negative” sentences. Some examples:
    • I can’t do that, yet.
    • I don’t have enough clients, yet.
    • I’m not fully recovered, yet.
    • I don’t know what to do, yet.
    • I’m not through this, yet

Life does not ask what we want. It presents us with options. Thomas Sowell


Resilience Belief 3: Life can be tough, but it’ll all work out in the end

Sonny Kapoor QuoteDo you find and focus on the positive? Do you believe that, eventually, it will all work out?

Resilience isn’t about ignoring—or plowing through—our problems. Instead true resilience is about taking things in your stride—because you know that setbacks are only temporary.

It’s also about having faith in life itself. Because it’s so easy to focus on the negative and to spend time worrying about everything that could go wrong.

Because yes, those things could happen. But what if they didn’t?

Instead we need to spend just enough time thinking about our challenges and problems so that we can make plans and have options should things go (more) wrong.

And then we need to let go. Because doesn’t it all (one way or another) all work out in the end?

This brings me to one of my FAVOURITE quotes to get me through tough times—from Sonny Kapoor in the movie The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel:

It’ll all work out in the end, and if it hasn’t worked out, it’s not the end.

I say this quote aloud whenever I feel life is throwing too much at me! Which seems to be a lot at the moment.

Another related belief that many people find helpful is: This too shall pass.

Resilience Exercise 3

So next time you find yourself worrying about something:

  1. First, acknowledge what’s going on in your life that’s difficult.
    • It may help to make a list with what’s difficult and how you feel about it.
  2. Now acknowledge that:
    • It’s tough right now.
    • And as needed, acknowledge that you don’t know how and when this will all finally resolve itself.
  3. Finally, repeat as often as needed: It’ll all work out in the end, and if it hasn’t worked out, it’s not the end.*

* Adapt this belief statement to suit you. You could also use “This too shall pass” or something else similar that resonates with you.


Resilience Belief 4: I am grateful for my life and all that is in it

Gratitude is a deep spiritual practice, but we mustn’t force it

I’m sure you’ve heard of toxic positivity: where people only display positive feelings and suppress negative reactions. Toxic positivity is dangerous because it denies us the ability to see the truth of a situation and plan/respond properly. And because we’re in denial about what’s really going on, it can also lead to unhealthy coping mechanisms. This is the opposite of resilence!

Well, we also have to be careful with gratitude too. It’s absolutely NOT a tool you should use to override what you really think and feel.

Instead, be sure to acknowledge what you truly feel first without forcing yourself to feel grateful when you’re upset or struggling.

And yet, gratitude is a powerful tool to help us not just focus on, but actively look for the positive in our lives. And this makes us more resilient.

Gratitude unlocks the fullness of life. It turns what we have into enough, and more. It turns denial into acceptance, chaos to order, confusion to clarity. It can turn a meal into a feast, a house into a home, a stranger into a friend. Gratitude makes sense of our past, brings peace for today and creates a vision for tomorrow. Melody Beattie

Gratitude helps us find a way to appreciate the life we have

When tough things happen, gratitude reminds us there is still good in our lives (even if it’s really, really small).

Gratitude helps us heal, learn and grow by looking for and appreciating what we (often) take for granted. It creates a positive focus we can draw on for strength when we need it.

And a gratitude practice helps us create a habit of gratitude—a positive way of looking at our life and world which makes us more resilient.

Resilience Exercise 4
  1. First, acknowledge what’s going on in your life that’s difficult and/or how you feel.
  2. Now write out: Even though my life is _____ and I am feeling _____, I am grateful for:
    Make a list of 3 things (minimum)—and up to 10 things if you are able.

    • _____
    • _____
    • _____

TIP: If you can’t find something to be grateful for, think smaller. Is the sun shining? Can you see a beautiful tree or flowering plant? Are you seeing a friend for lunch? Are you warm and dry? Will your cat/dog be pleased to see you when you get home?

Finally, you may also like this simple 5 Finger Gratitude Exercise here (perfect to do any time, anywhere or to turn into a daily routine).


Resilience Belief 5: Whatever I feel is OK

You may have noticed that most of the resilience exercises in this article start with some variation of:

  • But first, acknowledge what you really feel.

That’s because when we deny, ignore, repress what we feel it actually decreases our resilience!

Because however much you might like to, you can’t control your feelings: they’re there—whether you acknowledge them or not.

So when you deny/avoid what you’re feeling, you literally reject a part of yourself. Plus, stuffing down ‘negative’ feelings like sadness or anger, also reduces your capacity for ‘positive’ feelings like joy and vitality.

And when you do this habitually or over a long period of time, it becomes a vicious circle and can lead to depression, anxiety, unhealthy coping mechanisms and more.

Lori Deschene Quote about FeelingsWe need to embrace all of who we are

The answer then is to embrace all of our thoughts and feelings, not just the ‘positive’ ones.

You don’t have to be positive all the time. It’s perfectly okay to feel sad, angry, annoyed, frustrated, scared and anxious. Having feelings doesn’t make you a negative person. It makes you human. Lori Deschene

Because your feelings are simply signals

Your feelings tell you who you are and what’s going on with you.

So once you know you’re experiencing ‘negative’ feelings, this is the signal to take care of—and be gentle with—yourself.

Plus acknowledging your so-called negative feelings may be just the push you need to take constructive action.

This is what it means to be authentic

Being authentic is about owning all of who you are, not just the bits you’re comfortable with.

It’s not about focusing on your fears, disappointments etc. Instead simply embrace and acknowledge all of what you feel including the difficult stuff.

Because resilient people acknowledge and take care of whatever they feel, and then choose to focus on the positive.

Resilience Exercise 5

Next time you’re in a difficult situation—or notice you’re feeling ‘off’:

Begin by reminding yourself: Whatever I feel is OK.

  1. First, acknowledge what you’re actually thinking and how you feel.
    1. What are the (scary) stories you’re telling yourself about your situation?
    2. How do you feel? Name the emotions.
  2. Next, take care of you:
    1. What do I need right now?
    2. Is there anything I need to take action on?
    3. What would being kind to myself look like? What do I need to hear?
  3. Finally (once you’ve taken care of you or made a plan to do so), now answer:
    1. What can I find to be grateful for or positive about in my life?
    2. What will I now focus on?

Resilience Belief 6: I am always learning and doing my best

Do you believe you can learn new skills if you apply yourself? That each new experience helps you grow your knowledge and wisdom? That you’re always doing your best?

If so, you have what is called a “growth mindset”. And this helps enormously with resilience.

So here’s a new way of looking at the hard stuff that happens in our lives:

  • The more life challenges we experience—and learn from—the bigger our world becomes and the stronger we get.

Drake Quote about pain and heartbreakBecause when we consciously reflect and learn from life’s hurdles (whether our own mistakes or something imposed on us) we have literally ‘tamed’ more of our world. Life’s challenges become one more experience we learned to handle—and triumphed over.

Pain makes you stronger. Fear makes you braver. Heartbreak makes you wiser. Drake

So life’s difficulties teach you: YES, you survived. YES, you were strong and you came out the other side. YES, you can do this.

And then, when the next difficult thing happens, it seems more smaller and more manageable—because you’ve grown.

Finally. When we (truly) believe we’re always doing our best, we’re gentler with ourselves when we do make mistakes—and it’s easier to focus on the learning instead of blaming ourselves.

Resilience Exercise 6
  • Make a list of the 5 most challenging experiences* of your life.
  • What did you learn from this experience? How did you grow as a person?
  • How is your world bigger as a result? What seems easier and less scary now?

* If you have a major trauma in your life, don’t include this here unless you 1) have processed it and/or worked with a counsellor and 2) want to think about it here.

My dark days made me stronger. Or maybe I already was strong, and they made me prove it. Emery Lord


Resilience Belief 7: I can handle whatever life throws at me

Helen Keller Quote about Overcoming SufferingDo you believe you can manage whatever life gives you?

Although the world is full of suffering, it is also full of the overcoming of it. Helen Keller

Life may be tough, harder than you’d like, perhaps it feels impossible. But the big question is: Deep down, do you believe you’ve got this?

Because ultimately a strong and resilient mindset boils down to this:

  • I can handle it!

There are few, if any, life experiences someone hasn’t already had—and come out the other side.

And if they can do it, so can you: you are stronger than you know.

Resilience Exercise 7

Next time something difficult happens simply say to yourself (choose one of these phrases, or add your own):

  • I’ve got this!
  • I can handle this!
  • I can do this!
  • I __________!

Take a moment to really FEEL into this statement. Think about all the people around the world and in history who have gone before you and handled something similar.

If they can do it, so can you. You’ve got this.

Now simply repeat every time your brain starts to worry or fret.

Plus, a final thought for you. Sometimes how life works out for us can all be in how we approach things. I love this quote too:

When we accept tough jobs as a challenge to our ability and wade into them with joy and enthusiasm, miracles can happen. Arland Gilbert


Wrap-up

So, here are the 7 beliefs for a Resilient Mindset:

  1. I don’t know all the answers, but I’m willing and open to change.
  2. There are always options and alternatives (even if I can’t see them yet).
  3. Life can be tough, but it’ll all work out in the end.
  4. I am grateful for my life, and all that is in it.
  5. Whatever I feel is OK.
  6. I am always learning and doing my best.
  7. I can handle whatever life throws at me.

So, what do you think? Which of the above beliefs do you already have? And which would you like to develop?

Because we can change the way we think—but it does take time. For deeply embedded beliefs it can be a real process to let go and shift to a new way of thinking. But it is possible.

And it starts with knowing that deep down, underneath any fear, guilt, shame or worry, you are a once-in-a-lifetime, unique, fabulous, creative—and strong person. You can do this.

AA Milne brave quoteRemember: Resilience is a skill! So you can build healthy resilience and make life easier—if you work at it, take care of, and believe in you.

As Christopher Robin said in Winnie the Pooh:

Promise me you’ll always remember — you’re braver than you believe, and stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think.

Change the world. Start with you!

Lastly, we’d all love to hear what works for you! What beliefs have served you and helped you be more resilient? Share with everyone in the comments below.

If you liked this article on resilience beliefs, you may also like:

Image of Happy Resilient Woman with her arms in the air by Kraken Images

4 Comments

  1. Kakoli

    I loved this article. Beneficial exercises especially for those who are lonely, and feeling helpless. I will use these exercises with one of my clients who is feeling low as she lost her husband and her sister.

    Reply
    • Emma-Louise Elsey

      Dear Kakoli, I’m so glad you found these resilience exercises and ideas helpful. Warmly, Emma-Louise

      Reply
  2. Lynda Monk

    Hi Emma, thanks for this excellent article! I love all the graphics you included in it too. You always put so much thought and care into everything you create and it is appreciated.

    Reply
  3. Hazel

    I ended up journaling about plants. Even those whose growing conditions are tough, just keep on growing as best they can. They don’t get caught up in blaming the world or others or themselves. They don’t get waylaid by self pity. They just acknowledge the difficulty and do what they can to keep on becoming who they were meant to be.

    Reply

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