Ten habits that build mental resilience

4 Minute Read | Author: Claire Stewart

Being able to cope when things get tough at home, or to grit it out when problems arise at work, is a skill, not just a genetic gift as many people assume.

Dr Timothy Sharp, nicknamed Dr Happiness is, among other things, an executive coach, a clinical psychologist, and an Adjunct Professor at the UTS Business School. He compares resilience to sporting talent, and says while genetics and natural ability determine whether you’ll be fourth in the school swimming carnival, or the next Ian Thorpe, any improvements ordinary people can make will have a big impact.

“If we accept that we live in an imperfect world, then wouldn’t it be a good idea to get myself as mentally fit and strong as possible? That’s something you can do on a daily basis.”

To that end, here are ten suggestions to build your talent for resilience.

Improve physical health

Eat well and get exercise. “Often when we’re physically fit we tend to have a bit more energy which then makes taking on problems a bit easier,” Sharp says.

Sleep better

Get into good sleep habits, Sharp says. “If you’re tired and exhausted, small problems seem a lot bigger so sleep is a very important component of not just physical but mental health as well.

Meditate

We all know meditation and mindfulness is beneficial for a whole lot of reasons, Sharp says. Make it a habit and it will have an exponential impact on your mental strength.

Find purpose and meaning

This is about establishing a sense of the bigger picture. It covers everything, Sharp says, from goal setting to spirituality and religion and could be as simple as waking up in the morning and setting an intention for that day or week. “If we have a sense of the bigger picture then often those day-to-day problems don’t seem as big, and we can be a bit more constructive about the way we approach them.”

Put things in perspective

Psychologists teach clients to ask themselves how bad the problem will be in a day, a week, a month or a year from now. Sharp says the technique helps people see that for most of us, most of the time, the day-to-day problems we face will be irrelevant in 12 months. “It’s not about dismissing these problems, it’s just that they won't seem so big or insurmountable as they did.”

See problems as short term

It’s the old adage, ‘This too shall pass’. Resilient people can reassure themselves that while circumstances might be bad right now, it’s not going to last forever. Part of this is about perspective, but it's also about being able to acknowledge the awful feelings associated with stressful situations, and know they will eventually dissipate.

Don’t blame yourself

Resilient people are less harsh on themselves, Sharp says. “Those people who tend to struggle say everything is rubbish because I’m hopeless, I can’t cope, I’m a useless person. All that does is create more distress, and when we’re distressed we can’t cope.” Take responsibility if required but don’t beat yourself up about it.

Ask for help

“We often think about resilience as ‘my strength as an individual,” Sharp says. “But what we know about the most resilient people is that they are much better at reaching out and asking for help. Even the best people, the strongest and most resilient people, can’t do it all on their own all of the time.”

Build strong relationships

To ask for help we first need people to ask. “Keep in touch with people, share good experiences with those people who are close to us. That’s advantageous in many other respects as well. Probably the most important thing we can do for our health and happiness in life is to build quality relationships.”

Practise your attitude

Daily problems, from spilt coffee, to traffic jams or IT glitches provide opportunities to practise optimism. The three questions are: How long will it last? How bad is it really? and How much am I going to blame myself? Constant practise will help make resilience habitual.