If you want to be more resilient, say goodbye to these 12 habits

by Brendan Brown | April 6, 2024, 10:37 pm

Resiliency is a great trait to have if you want to be successful in life. 

It will help you to bounce back from adversity and to keep going when times are tough, and it will help you to find success when success looks impossible. 

But is resilience something that you’re born with or something that can be nurtured? And are any of your habits holding you back from being as resilient as you could be? 

Well, I’m glad you asked. Here are 12 habits that you’ll want to drop if you’re hoping to be more resilient.

1) Generalizing

Generalizing isn’t always bad, but it’s also rarely a good thing.

In our case, we need to be careful when making generalizations because it’s super easy for us to think something along the lines of, “Good things don’t happen to people like me.” Generalizations can also lead us to make mistakes, whether we’re assuming someone’s gender or we’re trying to launch a product without doing any market research.

Generalizing won’t affect our resiliency directly, but what it will do is lead to more situations that do. It makes our life more difficult and creates more scenarios in which we’ll be tested. We can think of our resiliency as being like a battery that slowly runs out as we find ourselves in more and more tough situations.

The more we generalize, the more of those situations we find ourselves in and the more our battery drains. But perhaps that’s just a generalization.

2) Rumination

I first learned about rumination during cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) for my anxiety disorder, and I think that it’s super relevant here.

Writing for Very Well Mind, Elizabeth Scott, PhD explains, “Rumination involves repetitive and passive thoughts focused on the causes and effects of a person’s distress. However, these thoughts don’t lead to the person engaging in active coping mechanisms or problem-solving strategies that would relieve distress and improve mood.”

The concept is pretty simple, really. When you ruminate, you sit and brood over the challenges and adversity that you face, but you don’t try to find a solution that can take you past them. For example, I used to ruminate over my health, constantly worrying that I had a serious health issue. That wore down my resiliency battery and stopped me from focusing on anything else.

It’s not easy, but you can learn to overcome this rumination and to send your life along a more productive (and resilient) path.

3) Catastrophizing

Catastrophizing is what happens when you constantly look at the worst possible scenario.

Going back to that previous example of my health anxiety, every time I had a stomach ache, my mind would tell me that I had bowel cancer. Even though there was no evidence to suggest it (and in fact there was evidence to suggest the contrary), I couldn’t help myself or stop catastrophizing.

When you keep catastrophizing, you create a sort of ecosystem in which your resiliency will fall by the wayside. If you only ever see the worst possible outcome, you shouldn’t be surprised if you’re too scared to move in case you make that outcome a reality.

That’s not to say that people who catastrophize can’t be resilient, though. They just need to learn techniques to overcome it.

4) Personalization

Personalization is like catastrophizing, except that it’s less catastrophic.

When you struggle with personalization, you make everything about yourself, even when it isn’t. If you wave at a friend in the street and they don’t wave back, you tell yourself that it’s because they hate you and want nothing to do with you. It never crosses your mind that perhaps they just didn’t see you.

This can lead to all sorts of problems. Building on the previous example, the perceived snub might stop you from spending time with your friend in the future, and that could be devastating if they’re one of your biggest supporters.

Just try to remember that any adversity that you come across is rarely personal. And even if it is, that sounds like a “them” problem and not a “you” problem.

5) Black-and-white thinking

Black-and-white thinking is a binary type of thinking where everything is either/or.

Most often, it manifests as you thinking that people are either entirely good or entirely bad, which just isn’t the truth. Most of us belong to the gray area in between, and there’s even a common trope that we see in books and movies where we love to root for morally gray characters who live in the in-between.

If you’re struggling with black-and-white thinking, you might think of yourself as a bad parent because you missed a single school fundraiser. It’s easy to fall into this trap, but it just isn’t the truth. Reality is more nuanced than that.

And so when you catch yourself indulging in black-and-white thinking, try to pull yourself out of it and to remember that it ends up doing more harm than good.

6) Comparison

They say that comparison is the thief of joy, and I can confirm that’s true. Unfortunately, it’s also very difficult to avoid in today’s ever-connected world.

This tendency for us to compare ourselves to other people is likely to be one of the reasons why social networking can be so harmful to our mental health. We look at people who seem to have perfect lives and wonder why our lives are the same, but we forget that we’re only seeing the edited highlights, the things they thought made them look good enough to warrant posting them.

We need to let go of this obsession with comparing ourselves to others, because that’s not going to help us to be more resilient. It’s just going to hurt us and make our difficult lives more difficult, and there are really no benefits to comparing ourselves to other people.

It’s like when you go to the gym. Instead of obsessing over trying to beat other people, you should focus on self-improvement.

7) Perfectionism

Perfection is nice to aim for, but the thing to remember is that it doesn’t really exist.

My girlfriend is a classic perfectionist, and that’s both her greatest strength and her biggest weakness. When she gets things done, she always does a better job of them than I do, but she also has a tendency to start things, to get discouraged and then to give up altogether.

This is the classic trap of the perfectionist, and one that can have a huge impact on your overall resiliency. And so like I hinted at above, the best thing to do is to aim for perfection while simultaneously acknowledging that you’ll never get there.

It’s a difficult balance to find, but if you manage it then you can have the best of both worlds and you’ll find yourself being far more resilient than ever before.

8) Projection

Projection is sometimes also called mind-reading, and the idea here is that we tell ourselves what other people are thinking.

The problem is that nobody’s psychic (at least, if conventional science is anything to go by), and so if we’re trying to read people’s minds, we’re setting ourselves up for failure from the outset. We naturally tend to think more negatively and to put thoughts in people’s minds that don’t actually belong there.

For example, we’ll avoid eating as much as we might have liked to on a date because we’re worried our date will think we’re greedy. The chances are that our date is actually busy focusing on their own food and just wants us to have a good time, but our brain won’t allow us to admit that.

Instead, it’s always a much better idea just to ask the other person what they’re thinking and how they’re feeling. The response that we get will be far more accurate.

9) Avoidance

Avoidance is exactly what it sounds like. With avoidance, we try to dodge our problems completely instead of facing them head-on.

The problem with this is that it’s like burying our heads in the sand. Most problems get worse as time progresses and so the earlier we tackle them, the easier they are to deal with. Imagine having a leak in your house. It’s easier to stop the leak as soon as you spot it instead of waiting for water damage to spread throughout the house.

Avoidance does occasionally have its uses. For example, if you get anxious every time you go to the cinema, a perfectly valid option is to not go to the cinema. The problems start to occur when this avoidance is getting in the way of our daily life.

When that’s the case, the resilient thing to do is to learn to overcome it, even though that can be difficult. One of the most common ways to do that is with exposure therapy.

10) Impulsiveness

Impulsivity can lead to spontaneity, which can be a good thing. It can also get you into a whole heap of trouble.

One of the most important ways there is to become more resilient is to learn to spot your impulsive thoughts. When you see them, you can slam the brakes on and make a conscious decision about whether you want to act on those impulses or whether you want to let them go.

As I mentioned, spontaneity can occasionally be a good thing. It’s a great way to make sure that your relationship stays exciting, and it can lead to you discovering new interests or meeting new people. You just need to make sure that you keep an eye on your impulsiveness and that you don’t let it get you into trouble.

Unfortunately, that’s easier said than done.

11) Pessimism

I’m a pessimist myself and so it pains me to say this, but pessimism isn’t good for you.

The problem with pessimism is that the “glass half-empty” approach can become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we expect something to suck, it’s going to suck. Conversely, if we expect something to be good, it’s probably going to be good.

Because of this, we owe it to ourselves to try to be a little more optimistic and to look on the bright side. I’m a big fan of the whole “hope for the best, prepare for the worst” approach, because that means that you’ll get the positive mental health boost of optimism while still making sure that if something does go wrong, you’re still prepared.

In other words, don’t be a pessimist, but don’t be an optimist either. Be a realist.

12) Negativity

Negativity is basically a different flavor of pessimism.

With pessimism, we’re generally looking to the future and making a prediction that it’s not going to be any good. With negativity, we’re looking at things that have already happened or which already exist and only looking at the negative aspects.

For example, a pessimistic person might say something like, “Nobody’s going to come to my party and it’s going to suck.” A negative person might say, “Yeah, people showed up to my party, but the gifts sucked and the cake was terrible.”

As you can tell, you’re going to want to be on the lookout for both of these, because they can both have a negative (see what I did there?) impact on your resiliency. Good luck with that.

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