5 Secrets to Becoming Resilient

What does it mean to be resilient? What is resiliency?

When I was 15, I was sent to a three-week intervention program for struggling teens… rebellious teens… teens who get in trouble. That was my life, full of negativity and bitterness. I had gone through a lot of hurtful events with my family and at school, and I was basically mad at the world. That intervention ended up being the wakeup call I needed. Even after the three-week program, I continued going to counseling sessions on a regular basis. And over the next couple years, I became a new person… mentally, socially, and emotionally. I became more resilient. So what does it mean to be resilient? 

Resiliency is the ability to “bounce back” when life gets you down. People who develop this important skill have a huge advantage whenever they face something difficult (or someone difficult). Instead of dwelling on the temporary setback, they make an intentional choice to learn something from their pain. Even in moments of great defeat, they start to pick up the broken pieces of life, so they can make something new, something better. When I speak at school assemblies as a youth motivational speaker, that is the essence of my message.

Wait a minute… isn’t resiliency just thinking happy thoughts and having a positive attitude? Well… no. It’s a lot deeper than that… and much more difficult. But it’s totally worth it. Here are my top 5 tips for being more resilient.

1. Talk to a Trusted Adult

Talk about the setback with at least one trusted adult in your life (for me, that was my English teacher, Mrs. Burdick). We all need a solid support system to fall back on. Talking about what happened with an inner circle of trusted friends and adults helps us see a clear perspective. Sometimes we’re just in a funk, and we need to look at what happened from some different angles.

2. Unpack the Baggage

When we’re hurt, we tend to carry the negative thoughts and emotions for a very long time. Our hurts weigh us down, and that’s why we don’t bounce back. As we start to talk through the painful memories with a trusted adult (like a parent, a teacher, or a counselor), we begin to unpack the “baggage” of our bitterness. We start to let go of revenge, and we refuse to get even, and ultimately… that’s what sets us free. *NOTE: If you’ve been bullied or abused in any way, make sure to report it to your parents or guardians, your school counselor, and if necessary, report it to the police.

3. Bounce Back

Attitude is everything. Sometimes you have to choose a positive attitude and fake it till you make it. Don’t let your feelings alone determine your actions. Instead, find a way to “reset” to a more positive attitude. For a list of calming and boosting “reset” skills, you can download our free PDF, “7 Tools for Reducing Anxiety” on our website at https://MentalHealth101.org.

4. Start Your Comeback

If you have the willpower to stick with it, your comeback can be stronger than your setback (hey, that rhymed). Your comeback may look different than what you originally thought. Remember: when one door closes in life, another one opens up. That means you need to trust your ability to adapt to whatever life throws at you. You have what it takes, and you’ve always been “good enough.” Make a clear plan for moving forward with your life, and be open to adjust the plan as you go.

5. Stay on Track

If you want to stay on track, you need to surround yourself with people who are going in a similar direction. You may have heard the quote from author Jim Rohn, “You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with.” Recent studies show that you’re even influenced by the friends of your friends – even if you don’t know them. Group member behavior determines what is acceptable, and eventually it becomes the norm. That means resilient friends = resilient you.

Throughout life you will always face setbacks. It is inevitable. My wife and I have four kids, and we’ve been through a lot together. Knowing that setbacks are a normal part of life helps us stay calm in the storm, and as we lean on each other (and on our trusted mentors), we slowly become more resilient.

Tom Thelen is the lead author of Mental Health 101 for Teens. Follow him @bullyingspeaker and at https://TomThelen.com.