When we talk about resilience, one of the most common pieces of advice is to “face your fears”, “just step out of your comfort zone”, “just do it”.
Even though this approach can give you a boost in resilience, it has a danger hidden in it: if you jump into action and it doesn’t go well, it can also end up in an even stronger fear, a trauma, or just a really bad experience. For example, if you have a huge fear of heights, skydiving might not be the best way for you to step out of your comfort zone.
True, a great first step in strengthening your resilience is to face the challenges that take you outside of your comfort zone.
But building resilience through challenges is more than just facing the fear.
There are two other crucial elements:
First, to be careful to choose the action or experience well – make it challenging and stretching, but not stretched too far. You don’t want to enter the panic zone, where your brain is so stressed that you cannot operate at your best. For an example of fear of heights, you might start with a hike that has a couple of more exposed viewpoints, or paragliding, which is a much calm experience than skydiving.
The best way to gauge the size of the challenge is by noticing the intensity of the emotion: if it makes you feel very uncomfortable and almost panicking, probably it means it would be best to choose a step in-between, that is not totally comfortable and easy, but that still makes you feel safe.
The second element, and even more, important one, is the story you’re telling yourself about that experience. How you describe the experience to yourself once you go through it shapes how you feel about it and it shapes how you will see challenges in the future.
In other words, it is about your mindset and thinking patterns.
If you’re looking to build more resilience and mental strength, don’t “just step out of your comfort zone”.
Instead, ensure to do these steps:
- Choose the experience well
Find an interesting, challenging yet appealing experience. Make it challenging and uncomfortable, but not one that causes panic and very intense emotions.
- Do it!
And while doing it, ensure your success by preparing well and enlisting any type of support, skills and resources that you think you will need to deal well with this challenge.
- Pay attention to stories you are telling yourself
Both stories during and after the experience matter! Pay attention to your self-talk. Celebrate small wins and steps on the way.
Guide your thinking with powerful questions, such as “What can I be proud of?”, “How did this experience improve my life?” and “What can I be grateful for in this experience?”, to refocus your mind to see the experience in a positive light.
- Do this often!
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