This week I stumbled upon a new podcast, How to Be a Better Human, created by TED (i.e. Technology, Entertainment, & Design), a non-profit organization dedicated to researching and sharing knowledge on topics from science and business to personal growth and global issues. The episode titled, How to Cultivate Resilience and Get Through Tough Times with Dr. Lucy Hone, caught my eye. With everything going on in our world, combined with our personal struggles, we could all stand to learn additional strategies to cultivate resilience so we can persevere through adversity.
What drew me into the conversation between host, Chris Duffy, and Dr. Hone, was her background story. As director of the New Zealand Institute of Wellbeing & Resilience, Dr. Hone’s research has been published internationally. She holds a Ph.D. in well-being science and public health from AUT University, where she currently works as a research associate. Yet, when Dr. Hone’s 12-year-old daughter was tragically killed in a car accident by a driver that ran a stop sign, her resilience research was put to the test.
In the podcast episode and accompanying TED Talk, Dr. Hone describes her journey back to hope, strength, and living life again after this devastating loss. If you’ve ever lost a loved one, had your heartbroken, battled anxiety or depression, struggled with chronic health issues, felt the weight of grief or disappointment, been a victim of injustice, navigated a difficult relationship, or lived through a global pandemic, then today’s post is for you. (Hint: That’s all of us!)
In Dr. Hone’s words, “Adversity doesn’t discriminate,” which is why it is imperative that we take intentional steps to cultivate resilience. Resilience, “a person’s or organization’s ability to adapt…and steer through some form of adversity and challenge” is necessary for us to “continue to function reasonably well or get back to functioning reasonably well,” while learning from our experiences.¹
Here are 5 ways we can cultivate resilience and get through tough times:
1. Recognize that “stuff” happens and suffering is part of human existence.¹
None of us are immune to suffering, nor are we entitled to a life that is comfortable, easy, or pain-free. In fact, even Jesus tells us, in John 16, that the Christian life is hard. Prior to His crucifixion, He tells his disciples he will be leaving them, He is going to suffer, and they too will suffer. However, He also invites them to have courage, promises to send a Helper (the Holy Spirit) to guide them, and assures them that their grief will turn to joy that no man can take away.
“I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But, take heart! I have overcome the world.” John 16:33
To experience peace in the midst of adversity, we must let go of control and trust God knows best. His plan may not be what we would have chosen, but He’s weaving it all together to create a beautiful tapestry of transformation and wholeness. From the underside of the tapestry, we see the loose, tangled threads and it may not make sense. But we can trust God’s promise to work all things for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28). His purpose is for us to become more like Jesus, and suffering is one of God’s greatest shaping tools.
Resilient people don’t welcome suffering, but in recognizing suffering as part of the human condition they don’t feel discriminated against when tough times come.¹ They expect life to be hard, they fall down, and they get back up again.
2. Carefully choose where you focus your attention.
This practice can also be described as mindfulness—that is, being aware of the sensations, thoughts, and emotions of the present moment. As we develop greater self-awareness, we are able to take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5). This means shifting our focus from our problems to God’s promises, or from what’s wrong to what makes life worth living. It doesn’t mean we ignore the negative, but rather that we choose to focus on good things, including the character of Jesus Himself.
When we are going through tough times, this can be hard to do. Physical and emotional pain distract us and are difficult to ignore. To focus on what is true, right, pure, admirable, excellent, and praiseworthy, as described in Philippians 4:8, we have to be intentional. Isaiah 26:3 promises us God will keep in perfect peace all who trust in Him, all whose thoughts are fixed on Him.
A framed copy of Philippians 4:8 hangs in my kitchen to remind me to fix my thoughts on what is true and praiseworthy. Christian music fills my car and home, so much so that my kids and I know the lyrics by heart. My phone lock screen is a scripture verse or inspiring quote. Right now, it’s “God never uses anyone greatly until he tests them deeply,” by A.W. Tozer. Consistent prayer, keeping a gratitude journal, fellowshipping with other believers, and getting out in nature are other ways we can heighten our awareness of God’s presence and focus our attention on Him.
Resilient people “have a habit of realistically appraising situations and typically managing to focus on the things that they can change and somehow accept the things that they can’t. This is a vital, learnable skill.”¹ I find the Serenity Prayer particularly helpful for this. Many are familiar with only the first part of the prayer, so I’ve included the entire prayer here. (You can also save this image to your phone, pin it, or even set it as your lock screen if you wish.)
3. Ask yourself “Is what I’m doing helping or harming me?”¹
This one is huge! Dr. Hone talks about asking this question repeatedly while grieving the death of her daughter. Some things, like attending the trial and facing the driver who ran the stop sign, were a no-brainer for her. Other things, such as whether to stay in or go out with friends, are more difficult. When it came to talking about her grief, Dr. Hone found that having others try to sugar coat it or skirt around what happened did not help, but creating a safe place for her to talk about it did. She discusses the fine balance between being “okay with not being okay” while not drowning in the sorrow. In my current season of physical pain, this has come through anchoring myself to something outside of my circumstances—that is, to Christ Himself. This is the only way we become emotionally stable, spiritually mature, and able to withstand the storms of life.
Asking ourselves, “Is what I’m doing helping or harming me in my quest to get through this?” is the difference between binge-watching unwholesome TV or getting anxious from watching the news and reading a good book or spending time in The Word.
It’s the difference between staying up late to search the Internet for answers and putting down the phone to go to sleep.
In my support group for others struggling with chronic pain, it’s the difference between late-night “roll calls” to complain about our symptoms and sharing successes to encourage one another.
Think about how this question can help you. How is scrolling through social media; binge-watching Netflix; or turning to food, alcohol, or another substance to numb the pain affecting you? What might it look like to set appropriate boundaries, monitor your screen time, create a stricter bedtime, or engage in healthy activities to fill the void that you’re feeling instead?
Resilient people practice mindfulness by pausing to ask, “Is this helping or harming me?” and then changing their course of action if the latter is true. Every action moves us one step closer or further from wellness. We get to choose.
4. Be willing to take risks.
Taking risks requires us to sacrifice comfort for growth so we can build mental stamina. It requires us to try hard things and be willing to fail, recognizing failure is part of the process. It also requires us to put our trust in Jesus to guide our steps so we can know Him in a more powerful and intimate way.
Let’s look at an example from Matthew 14:22-36. After praying, Jesus went down to the water and saw that the disciples’ boat was a considerable distance from land. He began walking out on the water toward them, and when the disciples saw Him they were terrified. “But Jesus immediately said to them: “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”
“Lord, if it’s you, Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.” “Come,” he said. Then Peter got down out of the boat, walked on the water, and came toward Jesus. But when he saw the wind, he was afraid and, beginning to sink, cried out, “Lord, save me!” Immediately Jesus reached out his hand and caught him. “You of little faith,” he said, “why did you doubt?” And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.” Matthew 14:27-32
Did you catch the part in bold lettering? When Peter started to sink because he took his eyes off Jesus and began to focus on the storm, Jesus didn’t need to come running toward Peter to catch him—He was right there, within arm’s reach! All He had to do was extend His hand! When we step out in faith and attempt hard things for Christ, He is right there with us too!
We don’t have to be afraid, because the Lord goes before us and is with us; he never leaves or forsakes us (Deuteronomy 31:8). When we rely on Him for strength we can accomplish infinitely more than we can ask or imagine (Ephesians 3:20). Like Peter, we just need to follow His call, step out of the boat, and trust Him.
Resilient people are willing to take risks even though it’s scary. They know any goal that requires physical or mental discipline also requires spiritual discipline, and that by stretching our faith we also strengthen our character.
What does taking risks look like for you? Maybe it’s asking for help, signing up for a small group, taking a class, or calling a friend to catch up. It could be talking to someone you don’t know, doing a social media fast, eating more vegetables, or accepting a compliment graciously. How can you challenge yourself to take a risk for the purpose of cultivating resilience?
5. Do not give up.
This one seems self-explanatory, but how often do we throw in the towel when we don’t see change happen on our timeline? Here’s an important point to remember: sustainable change happens gradually. This is true whether we’re talking about weight loss, starting an exercise routine, moving forward in our grief, or anything else. The goal is not to overhaul your entire life—it’s to focus on one, small change at a time. Rather than transform overnight, we can focus on getting 1% better every day.
The phrase “1% better every day,” was coined by James Clear, author of Atomic Habits. In the beginning, when building a new habit, we usually don’t see change immediately. This is when most people give up, but to cultivate resilience we must keep going! When we focus on slow, continuous improvement—such as spending ten minutes a day exercising, in prayer, or journaling—it adds up to big changes over time.
Resilient people focus on consistency, not performance. They celebrate small wins, are patient with themselves, and give themselves grace when they fall short of their own (or societal) expectations. They focus on what lies ahead rather than their past. And they commit to moving forward, regardless of their circumstances.
Some days we tiptoe forward, other days we move by leaps and bounds. But, every day we dedicate ourselves to becoming 1% better and praising God for His blessings. By directing our thoughts in a productive way, we become able to cope with challenging life events and even learn from them. This is what it means to be resilient and move toward a state of mental well-being.
- Duffy, Christ. (Host). (2021, January 25). How to Cultivate Resilience and Get Through Tough Times (with Lucy Hone). [Audio Podcast Episode]. In How to Be a Better Human Podcast. http://tun.in/tk4Xd1
This is an updated post originally published on Jen Roland