If the last year and several months have taught us anything, it’s that the more resilient we are, the more ready we’ll be to tackle life’s curveballs.
The same applies now that our days have returned to some semblance of normality: Bouncing back into daily routines and consistent workouts can take some effort, particularly as most of us are still feeling wrung out by the events of last year.
Yet it’s crucial not to let ourselves get overwhelmed and stay stuck on the couch. Now really is the time to get up, get fit, and get back to an active life.
So how do we do it? How do we build resilience — particularly if we’ve none left in reserve? The answer is that we need to keep challenging ourselves so that we can be prepped and pumped no matter what life throws at us.
And if you’re already beginning to scratch your head as to how you could possibly challenge yourself more than you’ve already been challenged this past year and a half, don’t worry. Here are five simple ways to start challenging yourself and building resilience right NOW.
Go the Way of the Ice Man
Part of resilience is developing toughness to things that make us uncomfortable. So why not start each day that way? A tip to do just that is to turn the tap to freezing at the end of your morning shower. Or better still, if you’ve no medical conditions that would prevent you from doing so, go the whole distance under a gush of icy water.
World-renowned “Ice Man” Wim Hof is a well-known advocate of using cold showers to build endurance and personal resilience — and science says he’s on to something.
A study on winter swimmers showed that immersion in cold water puts the body through oxidative stress. Done often enough, it’ll prompt the nervous system to adopt an appropriate response that helps increase tolerance to environmental tension and strain.
Add to that further findings that cold showers boost mood, increase alertness, super-charge willpower, and help optimize the immune system, and it makes sense that shocking your system in the shower first thing in the morning is a great way to start on the road to resilience.
Snap Out of Sleep
Rolling out of bed 15 minutes before your usual time is another surprising way to start building resilience.
For many people, early rising can be stressful. But that’s the point — confronting stress proactively can help you to cope with it. Use your extra 15 minutes in a way that matters. Do some stretching, do 20 burpees, or turn that 15 minutes into 50 minutes and go for a run.
Related: 6 Ways to Become an Early Riser
And while waking up early can get you on the good side of gritty, there may also be a link between success and busting out of the blankets before the world awakes. Research suggests that early risers tend to be more goal-focused with proactive personalities, which typically leads to better school grades and higher- paying careers.
However, before you set your alarm, make sure you’re clocking in an appropriate amount of sleep overall. Several major studies show that a regular lack of sleep can have a significant impact on our wellbeing, including our ability to adjust to stress.
Decide to Be a Person With Willpower
Willpower is one of the cornerstones of resilience. It gives us the strength to keep going in adverse conditions, yet so many people treat willpower as something beyond their control.
But if you’ve ever reached for a slice of cake, lit up a cigarette, or drank another beer because “you can’t say no” or “you have no willpower,” you’re actually just telling yourself a story. The truth is, you haven’t thought through what you’re really doing.
Psychologists define willpower as the ability to delay gratification, resisting short-term temptations to achieve long-term goals. This highlights that willpower is really about where we put our focus. If we’re only thinking of the short-term appeal, then of course we’re going to polish off another wedge of pavlova. But if our long-term goal is to drop 30 pounds and we’re focused on that, forgoing all sugary food becomes a no-brainer.
The point is, we can decide to be a person with willpower. It won’t be a cinch, but consciously choosing actions in life will help us to become stronger, and therefore more resilient human beings. Because, as psychologist Kelly McGonigal — who teaches a course on willpower at Stanford University — also notes, willpower is not only about saying no. It’s also about saying yes to those abilities and activities that bring us closer to our goals, no matter how tough or tiresome they might be.
Do. One. More.
Resilience is the ability to utilize our inner resources to overcome challenges and crises. But how do we know what we’re really capable of overcoming unless we test ourselves?
Now let’s be clear. This is not about pushing through, which can leave us completely depleted. Instead, it’s about pushing up. It’s about getting comfortable with being uncomfortable and doing the things that we need to do even if we think that we can’t. An easy way to get into the swing of this is to simply direct yourself to “do one more.”
Do you ever feel like you can’t go any further in your workout? Do one more set of squats. Done with your burpees? Who said so? No one. Do one more.
And this principle can apply to other areas of your life where resilience can take root. Stay that extra 30 minutes at work to figure out the problem with the project. Commit to writing just one more page a day of the book that you keep talking about writing. Never exercised before but want to start running? Just lace up your sneakers and start with one mile.
Unless we take that extra step and put in one more ounce of effort, we won’t learn how to get comfortable with being uncomfortable and we won’t build resilience to discomfort in the process.
Get With the Group
We can’t do it alone. Countless studies have shown that social relationships are crucial for greater well-being and enhancing our resilience to stress.
According to the Road to Resiliency Report carried out by the American Psychological Association (APA), “Relationships that create love and trust, provide role models, and offer encouragement and reassurance help bolster a person’s resilience.”
And they’re not just counting family connections. Close friends or groups that you're part of can also give you the support that you need during times of difficulty, and — as a result — help you build toughness and resolve.
If you feel like you don’t have friends or family to count on, do something about it. Look for new ways to connect with people, whether it be through a club, your gym, a community event, etc. You can even sign up to join a join a team in your Spartan account to race together with like-minded athletes.
It might feel awkward at first, but most new beginnings do. And if you’re committed to building resilience, then stepping outside your comfort zone is all just a part of the journey.