At ten years of age, I rode my bike on a cow trail near our ranch house in Wyoming. I sped along at a good clip, too fast to notice a coiled rattlesnake on the other side of rock—until the snake struck out at full length. My bike flipped, and as I landed, I felt dozens of pricks all over my arms and hands. My mind raced with fear because I thought the rattlesnake had bitten me.
We lived on a remote ranch in the mountains and it was a two-hour drive on dirt roads to a hospital.
At ten, I prepared myself to die of snake poisoning.
Right about the time I was mourning the loss of what could have been a spectacular life, I noticed that I had landed in a pile of cactus. The wreck of my bike told me the rest of the story—the snake had struck the spokes of the front wheel and was now struggling to get out of the broken and bent spoke wires.
My first instinct was to run home to safety, but my parents had taught me that nothing can be accomplished by running, so I found a good sized rock and made sure that particular rattlesnake would never terrorize my cow lane again.
Then I loaded the bike on my shoulders and carried the sorry mess home.
Our reaction to adversity plays a big role in determining how fast we get back on track with life. New research shows that resilience to adversity in our life may be linked to how often we face it. The number of blows a person has taken may affect their mental toughness more than any other factor.
The School Of Hard Knocks has been around for awhile. The early Christians learned this lesson when they were being thrown into dungeons by the Romans. The apostle Paul wrote the following in a letter: “We also rejoice in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance; perseverance, character, and character, hope.” ( Romans 5:3-4 ).
Resilience is not only the ability to bend and bounce back from adversity, it is the strength to bounce though them as well. When I was an FBI agent, I realized that it is a person’s level of resilience that determines who succeeds and who fails.
A person with a strong mind is someone who can predict the way they will respond to events in life so they can choose the better alternative. They can look back at how they’ve responded to situations in the past, learn from those experiences, and apply that knowledge to future ones.
Living through adversity gives you the confidence that you can come out at the other end of almost anything. Here are 4 key behaviors of resilient people:
Tip #1: Decide Who Is In Control
My first reaction to the rattlesnake was a healthy dose of fear. At some point, however, I had a choice of letting that fear control me—or not. If it did, it meant I ran home and waited for my parents to take care of both the snake and my bike. If I didn’t let fear control me, it meant I got myself out of the situation using my own resources.
Develop an understanding of your fear. Chances are good that your fear sprouts from feelings of insecurity or doubts you may have about yourself.
It takes courage to look inwardly into the darkest part of your personality. We all contain bits of light and dark; we all contain bits of gold and lead.
Tip #2: Face Down Reality
If you want to be resilient, you must be able to look the reality of your situation square in the face.
There is a big difference between optimists who believe that everything will work out OK in the end, and positive thinkers who do not let optimism distort their sense of reality. Positive thinkers hunt the good stuff and look for positives in the middle of adversity, but they do not expect their situation to change; instead, they find ways to prevail in the middle of hardship.
Resilient people have a very sober understanding of what it takes to survive. This requires the ability to anticipate the worst of outcomes while staying cool at the same time.
My FBI training prepared me to be resilient by showing me how to truly stare down reality. It prepared me to act in ways that allowed me to endure when I was thrown into unpredictable and unstable situations. I trained how to survive before the fact—that was the essence of the FBI’s training program at the Academy.
Tip #3: Find Meaning In Your Life
If you look at yourself as a victim, living through a hardship carries no lesson for you. But, if you are resilient, you will squeeze meaning from your adversity and build a bridge to a better, and more fulfilled, future.
No one exemplified this better than Victor Frankl , an Austrian psychiatrist and Auschwitz survivor. In his book, Man’s Search For Meaning , Frankl describes the pivotal moment in the concentration camp when he became disgusted by how trivial and meaningless his life had become. He realized that to survive, he had to find a purpose. Frankl imagined himself giving a lecture after the war on the psychology of the concentration camp.
When he gave himself a concrete goal, he rose above his sufferings of the moment. He said, “We must never forget that we may also find meaning in life even when confronted with a hopeless situation.”
Possessing strong values creates an environment of meaning because they offer ways to interpret events. The most successful people, and businesses, have a purpose beyond just making money.
Tip #4: Make Do And Get On With It
Life never deals a perfect hand. Perhaps it was never meant to—as Meister Eckhart once said, “If humankind could have known God without the world, God would never have created the world.”
We learn, grow, and stretch by not just surviving adversity, but by thriving in the midst of it. When hardship does hit, resilience is the ability to make do with whatever we have available. Resilient people improvise and experiment until they find a solution to the problem. The key is to make improvising a way of life.
Karl E. Weick , a professor of organizational behavior at the University of Michigan believes there is good evidence that when people are put under pressure, they regress to their most habituated ways of responding.
Again, the way we train ourselves to think, feel, and behave during our regular daily life is exactly the way we will respond when hit with hard times.
What other key behaviors have you noticed in resilient people?