On a recent visit to see my aunt, we got into an unexpected discussion. Reflecting on how challenging the current times are for some people, I commented that she had surely seen much worse times. This led us to speak about her experiences as a young childhood during the second world war. She remembered sleeping in her clothes so that they could quickly run to the bomb shelter when necessary. She recalled hiding under a tree as low flying aircraft shot at people around her, and she recounted the bread lines as there was not enough food when the war ended. This is a woman who went on to take care of my grandfather while he suffered from dementia in old age, which was followed by caring for my uncle during his six-year battle with cancer. She has experienced a lot for a woman who has lived her whole life in an unassuming small town in the southwest of Germany.
My aunt lives alone now and has been relatively isolated for most of the past year, yet she maintains a positive outlook. She maintains an active lifestyle while her friends one by one retire to nursing homes. Still, I do not hear her complain. Even the stories of her childhood are not something she typically shares with people. In all my years of knowing her, this was the first time she spoke of her experiences in such detail. With what I now know of her, I am amazed at her resilience. When we think of perseverance and grit, likely athletes, people overcoming illness or refugees may come to mind. When we hear stories of people overcoming great hardship, we may think that these are unique individuals with great strength, resolve and discipline. The truth is that each of us has the ability to overcome significant obstacles.
The challenges we face allow us to become stronger and more confident. They offer us a chance to learn and grow as we negotiate difficult obstacles in life. Naturally, I do not wish the kinds of hardships that my aunt, or others who have experienced war, on anyone else. However, we may all face difficult challenges in life that are out of our control. In order to live a happy and productive life when these challenges pass, we require resilience.
There are ways to develop your resilience in life, but we are often encouraged to do the opposite. Many of us live in a culture of convenience and distraction. We are offered ways of doing things that are easier and less hassle all so that we have more time to do things like binge-watch the latest series on our streaming service. If we do not challenge our minds and bodies, we will become soft and fragile. Some will suggest you do something daily that scares you while others set big, challenging goals for themselves. Unfortunately, most people will not engage in either of these.
One thing I do regularly is take cold showers. This is a proven method to build confidence and resilience both mentally and physically, but there are plenty of other ways. Perhaps you find speaking to strangers difficult or facing harsh criticism. For others, it can be simply spending time alone. Creating a habit of regularly challenging yourself both physically and mentally with brief experiences that take you out of your comfort zone and force you to deal with some level of discomfort will build your level of resilience. This can prepare you for life’s perceived disasters or crisis by reminding you that you can overcome difficult situations. Resilience comes from your mindset. Whether you are inspired by others like I am by my aunt or have faced your challenges without feeling like a victim or becoming disillusioned or jaded, then you understand resilience. When you recognise your own power and ability to overcome difficult times, you will have found your own resilience.