When we’re faced with setbacks in our lives, it can be hard to know how to get over the resulting feelings of disappointment, shame or fear and to keep moving forwards. In both our professional and our personal lives, it’s important to know how to handle our emotions. Sometimes our first reaction is to bottle them up or pretend they don’t exist, but by understanding how to improve your emotional resilience, you can learn to deal effectively with these feelings and use them for positive growth.
1. Know that anyone can improve their resilience
Many of us make the mistake of thinking people who are emotionally resilient, and able to work through tough challenges and difficult situations, are somehow born with this skill. This feeling can make them feel extra helpless when faced with hard times.
Emotional resilience is, of course, not genetic or based on luck, it’s simply a skill that anyone can learn and improve throughout their lifetime. Some circumstances in people’s lives may mean that they develop this skill earlier than others, or have had to utilise it more often, but this doesn’t mean they’re the only ones that can be emotionally resilient.
2. Embrace mistakes
To err is human and even the most successful people make mistakes, but what made them successful was how they dealt with them. The story goes that when Thomas Edison was asked how he felt about his many failures while trying to invent the lightbulb, he replied: “I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that won’t work.”
Start thinking about mistakes as opportunities, viewing them as a chance to get feedback on what you did, look at where you went wrong and where you can improve.
Let’s say you’ve had an unsuccessful meeting with a potential client, there’s no point being too critical of yourself. You can’t go back in time and change what happened, but you can try learning from the experience. Did you go in unprepared or did you misjudge their needs? By analysing and embracing your mistake you can teach yourself how to have better meetings in the future.
3. Accept and anticipate change
Change can be intimidating. If something’s going well, why change it? If something’s not going so well, maybe you’re afraid change could make it worse? The problem is that change is often out of our hands, so you need to be able to cope when it happens. Rather than fearing change, embrace it. Just because something’s going well, doesn’t mean there’s no room for improvement. And if something's not going well, treat this as a chance to improve the situation.
Changes always create new opportunities and new problems. Having a pessimistic attitude and only seeing the problems will, obviously, make you feel anxious about the changes. If you can remember to look at the whole picture, you’ll see the silver linings too.
Perhaps your office is updating with a new computer system. Rather than focusing on having to retain and transfer all your files, think about the way this will streamline your workload. After all, if we didn’t change our systems occasionally, we’d all still be saving our work on floppy disks and typing commands into MS-DOS!
4. Be flexible
Emotional resilience means being able to roll with the punches, so you need to learn to adapt. It’s easy to get comfortable and fall into habits, but in work and in life things often crop up unexpectedly. Emotionally resilient people are able to overcome these unforeseen challenges by always being flexible and being prepared for whatever life throws their way – not just what they expected.
Let’s say you’ve been working with the same manager since you started your current job. You both know each other and have developed a good way of working together, but they’ve just announced they’re leaving and you’re getting a new manager. It might be a bit weird to start with, especially if your new manager has a different style than you’re used to, but being flexible means understanding that these sorts of changes are inevitable and being able to find a way to happily work together.
5. Be your own judge
You shouldn’t let your own feelings of confidence and self-worth be based on other people’s opinions of you. If you spend days working on a project but for some reason no one else gets to read it, it doesn’t undo the effort and dedication you put in, or suddenly make the work lower quality. Sure, it can be annoying, but it doesn’t mean that you did a bad job.
Learning to judge yourself fairly and not craving other people’s approval is a freeing experience that can help you to be much more emotionally resilient. Because if you know you did a good job, does it really matter what anyone else thinks?
6. Don't fear negative feelings
We all have bad days filled with feelings of doubt and a sense of failure. Don’t worry, and don’t feel bad for feeling bad – these feelings are completely natural. Just like our advice of embracing your mistakes, it’s good to be able to recognise your negative feelings.
Try to recognise the root causes of your negative feelings. You might feel like you’ve had a completely awful day, but when you really think about it, was it really the whole day or was it just one piece of work that you struggled with, which made the rest of the day feel worse? If you can have enough self-awareness to recognise the underlying issue, you can start taking steps to either fix it or move past it.
7. Build strong relationships that can give you support
We do realise that telling you to just move past mistakes and negative feelings is much easier said than done, which is why we also suggest building yourself a support structure. No one can work through everything on their own and bottling up negative feelings isn’t healthy. Instead, remember that your friends and family are there to help you.
The people you’re closest to usually know good ways to help you and will be happy to do so. Do you need someone to vent to? A shoulder to cry on? Or someone to keep you distracted? That’s what they’re there for, so don’t be afraid of asking for their help.
8. Learn self-control
An important part of being emotionally resilient is finding ways to control your strong emotions and keep them from affecting other parts of your life. Being able to stay calm when someone upsets you, or not to feel overwhelmed when you feel stressed will help you to remain focused and resilient to things that could upset you.
We all have different ways of managing our emotions, whether it’s taking a five-minute coffee break, talking to someone, or getting our frustrations out at the gym, it’s important to find what works for you.
It’s also important to show self-control and not to let your emotions affect other parts of your life. Having an argument with your partner really shouldn’t affect the quality of your work the next day, and equally your work emails shouldn’t bleed into your personal time. Set boundaries for yourself – when you’re at work, turn off notifications for your personal messages and when you’re at home switch off work notifications. This will give you space and distance to compartmentalise emotions from home and work.
9. Don’t just hope your problems go away
Sir Isaac Newton understood that an object at rest stays at rest, and an object in motion stays in motion, until acted upon by an outside force. Or in other words: your problems won’t go away until you do something to affect them.
If something external is affecting you – such as getting stressed by a huge workload or how someone treats you – it’s unlikely to change if you just ignore it. Be proactive and see what you can do to improve the situation, such as talking with the people involved, or someone with the authority to make appropriate changes.
Similarly, if the issues are internal – for example, when you’re feeling nervous and unprepared for a presentation – then think about what you could do to feel better about it. Could you practice more or speak to someone more experienced for advice?
10. Be a cause, not an effect
Once you’ve figured out how to improve things for yourself, the next step is to actually do it. Make a plan of exactly what actions you’re going to take and when you’re going to do them, and do your best to keep to it. If you need to talk to your manager about your unrealistic workload, then plan out when you’re going to organise the meeting and what you’re going to say to them.
In life, especially in emotional moments, it’s easy to get swept along with the current. Even if you know how to make the situation better, it can be quite daunting. Maybe it’s just easier to accept it instead of rocking the boat? No. Being more assertive will help you to feel more in control, which will help to improve your emotional resilience.
To learn more ways to manage your emotions and other tips for Personal Effectiveness, make sure that you check out our courses.