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Author's profile photo Laura Nevin

Building Resilience

“It is really wonderful how much resilience there is in human nature. Let any obstructing cause, no matter what, be removed in any way, even by death, and we fly back to first principles of hope and enjoyment.”
Bram Stoker, Dracula


In the relentless pursuit of #worklifebalance, I recently took an SAP course called Build Resilience and Improve Your Wellbeing. The “build resilience” part of the name was what intrigued me. I’d assumed one was born with a certain level of resilience, and that this level goes up and down temporarily based on fatigue, health, and circumstance. I rode the resilience level tide with no awareness of my own control over it. But the course title was hinting at some ability we have to predict and alter this tide.

The course started with a blur of references to experts in the field of “resilience-building”, their theories, their research, their books (e.g., Sonja Ljubomirsky’s “Happiness Pie”, Amy Cuddy’s TEDTalk on Power Pose, Rhonda Byrne’s book “The Magic”, James Pennebaker’s book “Opening Up by Writing it Down”, just to name a few).

Paradoxically, I was so overwhelmed by the list that I felt overcome. I was just about to give in and open the window to let Dracula in when then the speaker summed things up in a single tip that I’ll paraphrase here:

“Create a toolbox of intentional and sustainable activities that you enjoy and that build your resilience.”

Picture%20of%20an%20empty%20toolbox%20waiting%20for%20tools%20to%20be%20put%20inside..Now, the paradigm shift for me was the “toolbox” idea.

She wasn’t saying adopt some singular healthy habit and do every day for the rest of your life, which is good because I have a history of failed attempts at that, she was saying create a toolbox of healthy things you will draw from strategically depending on tide level and circumstance.

She explained that the toolbox should have activities from these categories: Thought, Body, Others, and Environment.

She further explained how each toolbox would be unique and personal to the individual, but to stimulate our thinking, she crowd-sourced a few examples from the course participants:

  • Thought: reading, meditating, learning a new skill, researching, watching a movie.
  • Body: yoga, cycling, taking a nap, taking a hike, eating an insanely healthy meal.
  • Others: sending someone thanks, sharing a coffee, doing a random act of kindness
  • Environment: going somewhere new, going somewhere you love to be, decorating where you are.

I’d tried adopting almost all of the things people listed at some point in my life, but couldn’t stay doing them every day. Boredom from repetition is real.

But a toolbox holds an assemblage. By its very nature, you can choose what to keep in it, and what to take from it. The possibilities to switch things up are endless.

I couldn’t wait until the course was over to create my own toolbox. I listed all of the resilience-building activities I occasionally do, want to do, or once did and abandoned. Simple things, like going for a walk, or drinking more water, or listening to my favorite podcast (The Weirdest Thing I Learned This Week (Popular Science)), or capturing nature in photographs.

Not only did they rebuild resilience when I did them, but they also rebuilt my resilience afterward when I would reflect on my day and having done them. They added to the “today was a good day” feeling, and a day without any of those activities felt like I’d had the life drained out of me.

Now, I won’t be able to do all the things every day – who could ever achieve that? But I can pick and choose based on what I need at given times.

Of the 20 things I listed, I’ve been averaging 5-6 things per day, which is more than I did before. And I have been adding and dropping tools if they don’t work or I’m getting bored of them.

For accountability, I keep my toolbox in my peripheral vision near my keyboard. That way I don’t work 9 hours straight without realizing the day is gone without any resilience (re)building.

Good news! You don’t have to take the course to benefit from this approach. List the things you already like in each category and keep the list in your peripheral vision as you work. It’s kind of fun, actually!

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      Author's profile photo Tammy Wellstood
      Tammy Wellstood

      Thanks for sharing.  I love the toolbox analogy.

      Author's profile photo Laura Nevin
      Laura Nevin
      Blog Post Author

      Hope it's helpful! It's been helpful for me - still doing stuff on my list, not all and not every day, which is good because doing any at all prevents you from feeling defeated 🙂

      Author's profile photo Joseph Hou
      Joseph Hou

      Hi Laura, this was really helpful to me. I didn't think of having different categories of tools in my toolbox.  Good insight!

      Author's profile photo Laura Nevin
      Laura Nevin
      Blog Post Author

      Glad you find it  useful. Hope all is well where you are, Joseph!


      Author's profile photo Danyelle Erwin
      Danyelle Erwin

      Definitely a great idea and one I will implement! I do tend to get "this feeling" when I subconsciously know that I need to do something for "me." Usually, it's pressure building up telling me I need to do something creative. I think it's a similar kind of idea.

      Well-written and thoughtfully engaging! Thanks!