We all wish that life could be smooth and always full of joy. Unfortunately, adversities can hit unexpectedly, testing our resources and our ability to cope. Rather than letting these challenges drag our lives down, we can build resilience to help us recover more quickly. I came across a study in which three groups of survivors were interviewed: workers in the civil rights movement, survivors of childhood cancer, and children of parents with affective disorders. Although in totally different environments, these survivors exhibited similar behaviors that can help build resilience:

1. Find a community. A sense of belonging is one of the most basic human needs. A healthy person cannot live without companionship. Therefore, the right kind of relationships become especially important in the face of adversity. The first and most obvious thing that the three groups of survivors had in common was that they all had productive relationships with other group members. Finding community members who are going through the same troubles can be extremely helpful. The community members can support each other, both strategically and psychologically.

2. Be realistic. Negative thoughts can be dangerous to a victim suffering from adversity. Unrealistic negative thoughts can make us anxious and unproductive. It is important to stay realistic and use our critical-thinking skills. For example, the childhood cancer survivors understood the realistic chance of cancer happening again; this allowed them to avoid wasting energy in worry and helped them do the right things to prevent relapses.

3. Know your skills. In addition to the right attitude, proper understanding of ourselves is also important. In the face of disasters, we need to know clearly what tools we have. If we know what skills we have, what help we can get, and what tools we can use, we can make good decisions about how to use these resources to cope.  To start this process, assess your resilience so that you better understand your strengths confronting adversity. Also, check out our resource page to find out what help is out there.

4. Take action. Finally, after having the right help, attitude, and knowledge, we need to take action against adversity. It does not help resolve problems if we just sit there and think; we need to do something to change the situation or figure out how to adjust to it. It does not take much to turn thoughts into actions if we have already accomplished the 3 steps above. Once you have taken action, you can reevaluate the situation and figure out what needs to happen next.

These lessons from survivors can help you meet your own challenges with greater resilience.