Few things are more important for happiness and success then the ability to bounce back from setbacks. Dennis Charney knows a thing or two about how to do so, and not just because he's dean of the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai or the author of Resilience: The Science of Mastering Life's Greatest Challenges.

It's because Charney himself had to apply resilience in abundance after taking a near-fatal shotgun blast in a murder attempt from a former disgruntled employee.

So, yes, I'd say Charney is quite the expert on resilience.

Resilience is a difficult skill to build, however, because of the dizzying array of self-inflicted things that get in the way of a mindset shift, due to the confusing amount of advice on the topic, and because, well, it's just hard to bounce back.

But Charney has simplified it for you. In fact, he has taken copious research and experience and boiled it down into what he calls a simple, science-backed prescription that, when you follow it, actually retrains your brain to be more resilient.

Follow these 10 steps:

1. Develop a core set of beliefs that nothing can shake.

In Find the Fire, I call this "finding your anchor." When facing major setbacks, you can feel untethered, like you're drifting in the wind far from any sense of certainty. It's important in these times to reground yourself to something that won't change--your most closely held, non-negotiable values. By doing this you keep yourself tethered to what really matters and effectively re-frame the pain of any setback you're recovering from.

2. Find meaning in the stressful event.

Whether it's a setback at work, a personal tragedy, or any stressful trigger you're working through, consider that it's happening for you, not to you.

I was convinced my first book, after 13 "no's" from publishers, would never happen. I had put five years into writing it, it was a traumatic thing for me. I finally got a "yes" on my agent's last try. I realized that all that pain happened for me to make me a better writer and to be better able to handle future adversity, not to me to devastate me.  

3. Stay positive.

Charney says optimism is based in genetics but can also be learned, and that it closely correlates with resilience. It's so easy to go negative, but those who bounce back quickly turn positive just as quick.

4. Find a resilient role model.

Doing so means you're looking for someone to imitate. Imitation is a great proxy for overriding the natural tendency of the brain when experiencing setbacks, which is to default to doomsday.

5. Face down your fears.

Resilience is worn down by fear. Fear of the unknown, that you're not enough to get through the rough period, that the setback means you're a failure. I like reminding people that there are actually only three ways to fail: when you quit, don't improve, or never try.

6. When things go sideways, get support.

Emotional strength comes from your meaningful relationships, and everyone could use those when under serious stress.

As a leader, I encouraged my employees to develop a Personal Board of Directors, a group of mentors who could keep them on track and provide guidance, support and encouragement when things got tough at work (or personally). You can do the same for yourself.

7. Learn new things frequently.

Learning new things trains the brain to embrace and enjoy the unknown. It builds your history of going from starting something as a bumbling novice to ultimately achieving growth and mastery. You can thus draw on this databank of experience the next time you face a doozy of a setback.

8. Find an exercise regimen you'll stick you.

Charney points out that exercise has positive effects on physical hardiness, mood, and self-esteem, all important ingredients for being equipped to muster resilience. If I face a tough problem during the workday, I often revisit it (and solve it) right after I've exercised, when I'm at my peak energy and mood.

9. Forgive yourself and face forward.

Resilience won't come easy when you're spending your mental energy beating yourself up rather than admitting that you're not perfect and that it's time to leave the past behind. Beating myself up after facing adversity is still something I have to work on, but I've made tremendous progress because I've learned to rifle past the self-mourning/loathing period.

10. Recognize and foster your signature strengths.

As Charney says, "Learn to recognize your character strengths and engage them to deal with difficult and stressful situations." Think of such strengths as your armor--keep it polished so you can wear it to make you feel even stronger and to protect you from further injury.

Published on: Jul 19, 2019
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