Sunday 23 October 2016

10 ways to build resilience

Sports psychologist Dr Olivia Hurley advises on how to improve your staying power and overcome obstacles in your path

Published 13/09/2016 | 02:30

You can take steps to build resilience
You can take steps to build resilience

As a sports psychologist, I'm often asked what strategies I recommend to help students and athletes overcome difficult life events, such as losses, failures or injuries.

  • Go To

I aim to teach them how to become more resilient. But what exactly is resilience? Resilience is defined as the ability to persevere; to attempt to overcome setbacks or obstacles. In everyday-speak it is often referred to as 'bounce-back-ability'. Here are 10 suggestions that might help you to become more resilient.

1 Have the courage to be imperfect

Often in life we expect ourselves to perform perfectly. I do not recommend the use of the word 'perfection' by the athletes or students I work with. Instead we work together to help them produce consistently good performances that strive for excellence, not perfection. No performance, no matter what it is (eg, a game, a penalty or an assignment) will ever be 'perfect'. This knowledge should not, however, stop us from aiming to give 100pc to the effort we put into the task. Aiming for excellence allows room for error.

2 Have a positive outlook

This suggestion does not imply you must always wear a 'smiling' face all the time. Instead it refers to you being open to new experiences, new ways of doing things, such as signing up for your first run with our A Lust for Life team perhaps? It is only by allowing yourself to try out new things, will you find out what inspires you, even when the options are challenging for you to try, such as running five kilometres, when you have never run that distance before.

3 Know what you want to achieve and why

It is important to think about what you would like to achieve and why you wish to achieve it. Another consideration, something we often neglect, is how we plan to achieve that goal. Having a plan is important. What short-term goals do you need to set in order to reach your ultimate long-term goal? Who might you need to contact for support and help to achieve this goal? This brings us to the fourth resilience building tip, seeking out social support.

4 Seek out appropriate social support

Becoming more resilient cannot happen if you are too afraid to ask the appropriate people for help. The most successful athletes, teams, business people, indeed performers of any kind, have a support team around them to help them reach their goals. Why should you expect to be any different? Asking for help is a sign of resilience, not a sign of weakness.

5 Have the courage to be imperfect

See your decisions as active choices.

Too often we use the word 'sacrifice' to describe the decisions we make in order to achieve our goals. Such a word conjures up images of 'toil and struggle'. Yes, while the effort it takes to achieve many worthwhile goals are often physically and mentally challenging, they are also active choices you make, that you have control over. See them as such choices, not something you are being forced to do.

6 Take control and take responsibility

You have the power over your thoughts, feelings and actions. We often say things like "he made me feel like...", when in reality we allow the remarks and actions of others to impact on us. We allow other people to 'make us feel' a certain way. Take back that power. This often requires having some 'self-talk/trigger' phrases ready that we can say to ourselves to remind us that we do not need to 'let' another person make us feel bad when they are being unkind or judgemental about us. A simple phrase such as, 'let it go', may be helpful to use here.

7 Focus on your own personal development

We often engage in too many comparisons between ourselves and others. What someone else has achieved in their lives may not be right for you. You should try to focus more on yourself. Decide what you can do to change your life for the better. Is that something you think is necessary? Is that something you have a personal desire to do? Only you can answer such questions.

8 View setbacks as opportunities for growth

We often hear of post-traumatic stress disorder. The condition has been the focus of much psychological research and coverage in the media and rightly so. What is not often mentioned is the possibility for post-traumatic growth. This term refers to the possibility to learn valuable lessons from difficult experiences, such as illnesses or injuries. Being able to cope with the physical and mental pain of such situations can allow us to develop strength from such experiences.

9 Aim to create a performance mind-set

A performance mind-set refers to a thought process that focuses on the task (ie, running the race, and perhaps doing so in a specific time), rather than focusing on the outcome of the task (ie, the rewards - the winning of the race, the cup etc). This is a helpful mindset to develop because in enables you to focus on what is inside your control, eg, the task, and not what is outside your control, such as the outcome of the task (ie, the judge's opinion and positioning of your dance performance).

10 Recharge … Resilience is not all about enduring

Resilience building also requires 'strategic stopping'. Recent psychological research has reported that a high percentage of individuals are considered workaholics. They constantly devote their time and energy to their work, to the detriment of other areas of their home lives, and their mental well-being. Resilience is about working hard, stopping, recovering, and then getting going again. Consider this point and then work out when are the best times during, and at the end of, your working day when you can make a conscious decision to turn off your phone and do something completely un-work related. That could be taking some form of exercise (ie, going for a walk or run), meeting a friend for a coffee, spending time with your children in the evening or meditating.

* Olivia Hurley is a sports psychologist and contributor to A Lust for Life.

* Join us for the Vhi A Lust for Life Run Series brought to you by the Irish Independent on September 30 at Cork Airport for a unique and fun 5k event. For more information, or to sign up, visit

Health & Living

Read More

Promoted articles

Editors Choice

Also in Life