Resilience is an important skill to have when you live and work abroad. We all possess varying degrees of resilience, and it is something that we can develop with practice, much like any other skill. This is important because while ultimately, living abroad is incredibly rewarding and fun, the potential challenges can be overwhelming, if we let them be. Typically, we can encounter so many new issues when abroad, often without our traditional support systems at home, having resilience can make or break your experience.
What is resilience?
Resilience is our ability to adjust to stressful situations, meaning that while these situations may affect us temporarily, they do not have a major impact on us over the long term.
Without it, we have a difficult time managing stress and changes.
The good news is that we can improve on our ability to manage our mind-set and emotional well-being, regardless of what happens in life. Certainly, living and working internationally can present a myriad of challenges, such as loneliness, homesickness, culture shock and isolation. However, overcoming these challenges becomes easier over time as you become more resilient.
Below are 6 steps to so you can learn how to build resilience:
1. Do a ‘Thought Download’
Write down everything on your mind without editing yourself. Take out a journal and write for 15 to 20 minutes, or as long as it takes to get it all out. The point is to let yourself go without worrying about grammar, or spelling. Just empty your head onto the page. This process alone is a release and a great way to clear your mind. Think of it as spring cleaning for your brain. Ideally, this will become a daily practice for you.
Once you have everything down on paper, read it and see what comes to mind. Going over it can draw your attention to thoughts and feelings you need to be aware of and is an opportunity for self-reflection. By examining our thinking, we can create emotional awareness, understand what we are feeling and why. Question your thoughts from a place of love and compassion. Be curious as to why you might choose them. This type of understanding allows you to respond more aptly to situations and challenges. It also helps you to regulate and cope with difficult emotions such as anger or fear.
Don’t judge yourself for having certain thoughts, rather, decide if they are serving you in a meaningful way. If they’re not, let them go.
Did you know that all thoughts are optional?
You can consciously choose new thoughts to think – thoughts that are more in line with the way you want to feel and act. Thoughts that make you feel better and create the results you want for your life.
2. Reframe Your Problems and Focus on Solutions
What if it’s not really the problem that is the problem, but how you think about it? A problem is not a problem until you make it a problem. How do we know this is true? Well, a problem for me may not be a problem for you. We’ve all been there before, right? Maybe your partner or colleague can’t wrap their head around something that has you all wound up?
When we think something is a problem, that’s what our brain fixates on. It helps initially to talk about an issue with a confidante, but we can easily fall into a downward spiral of talking about it non-stop and focusing on it to our own detriment. This can be a huge waste of our time and energy. We become stuck in thought loops that keep us awake in the middle of the night or keep us from being fully present during the day. More importantly, focusing on the problem generates many negative emotions for us, such as fear, frustration and anxiety – we can’t let go and move on.
Think about your problem. Is the way you are thinking about it helpful or not?
Stop talking about the problem. No more explaining, no more excuses, no more arguing with reality thinking it shouldn’t have happened that way.
Instead, ask yourself how you can fix the situation. How do we make sure it doesn’t happen again? Certainly, an understanding of why or how a problem happened in the first place can be helpful, especially when trying to come up with a solution, but our main focus needs to be on moving forward and identifying a solution.
Put your brain to work. Asking your brain good questions such as, “How can I solve this?” is a powerful way to shift your attention and focus on a solution. Our brains love having something to focus on and solve.
Basically, you decide what counts as a problem and what doesn’t. You have the power to see things however you would like to, and decide if it’s worth getting upset over. If you are upset, it’s because of how you are choosing to perceive your circumstances.
Next time you’re upset, remind yourself – it’s not the problem, it’s how I’m choosing to think about it – I can always change. It’s not a problem until you start telling yourself it’s a problem. Your thinking makes something a problem, so, how do you want to solve it and what do you want to create?
3. Process Your Feelings
Emotions are harmless and they cannot hurt you. Regardless of how you are feeling, nothing has gone wrong. You are human and humans will always experience a variety of emotions – positive and negative.
By learning to identify, feel, and process your emotions, you develop inner strength. It will keep you from getting stuck in negative emotions and creating unwanted results in your life.
This is important because negative emotions are part of life. At least 50% of the time you will feel some sort of negative emotion. No one is happy 100% of the time and we’re not supposed to be.
However, in order to ensure that you don’t wallow, get stuck, and adopt negative coping mechanisms such as overeating, over-drinking, shopping, etc., we need to learn how to process, feel and accept them purposefully.
So, how do we do process our feelings?
– Accept all emotions as normal – even the negative ones. It will happen and it’s OK. There’s nothing wrong with you. Nothing has gone wrong.
– Identify what emotion you are feeling and name it. For instance, “I am feeling shame”. Identify where you feel it in your body.
– Allow the emotions to run their course. Do not try to change how you are feeling. Sit quietly with your emotions, without resistance or reaction. Give them space and be present. Resistance will only make your emotions stronger and last longer. Let your emotions move through you and release.
– Be patient with yourself. No negative self-talk, no beating yourself up.
4. Choose New Thoughts & Feelings
How we feel is not due to our external circumstances. It may feel like it is, but that is never the case. It’s the thoughts that you have about your circumstances which affect the way you feel.
Our circumstances are completely neutral until we have a thought about them.
You are in charge of your emotions and overall well-being. You have the ability to manifest certain emotions. How? You let intentional thoughts lead your emotions.
When we think thoughts such as, “This is really hard” it generates feelings within us, such as hopelessness or frustration. On the other hand, thoughts such as, “I can figure this out” generate a feeling of determination or courage.
Keeping in mind that actions are driven by feelings, it’s clear that frustration will make you act very differently than when you are feeling hopeful or courageous. Essentially, changing your thought patterns is the key to creating any result you want in life.
Many people think that life is out of their control. However, all they are doing is abdicating responsibility for their experiences and results. You need to take control over your mind and actively manage your thoughts and feelings – a form of self-coaching. Your thoughts generate a feeling. This feeling, in turn, is what drives your actions. Your actions are what generate specific results.
The overarching point is that all our feelings, including happiness, come from our mind and thoughts. So there is no happiness to be found in the future that we don’t already have now. That is incredibly important to remember.
5. Live in Emotional Adulthood
Emotional adulthood means accepting responsibility for your life and the results you create. You are in charge of yourself. External circumstances cannot control you, but your thoughts about those circumstances can. Nobody else has any power over what you think, feel and do.
Other people cannot hurt your feelings. Most of us are never taught this, but it is true. How you feel is never in anyone else’s hands. It is your thoughts about them and their actions that will trigger certain feelings. If you think someone else is making you upset, you are neglecting emotional responsibility for yourself and living in a state of emotional childhood.
Only you have control over how you feel at any time.
If you believe that other people can hurt your feelings through their actions and words, you are letting them take responsibility for your emotions. Simply put, you are not in charge of yourself in this situation. You’re delegating your emotional responsibility to someone else you have no control over.
Probably about half of our problems could be solved if we stopped doing this. We cannot change other people’s behaviour, but we can change our reaction to it. That way, our emotions become far less intense because we recognise that we are the ones in control.
6. Set Goals
Setting big goals for ourselves can be an important part of developing greater resilience. Setting goals creates the framework for working hard, overcoming obstacles and growing throughout the process. Growth helps us become better versions of ourselves and level up our lives. It is uncomfortable, but the internal changes that come with this pursuit are amazing and completely worth it. You will become more of who you are and realise how amazing you are too. In the end, it will not matter that much whether you actually achieve the goal. Happiness will not be in the achievement, but in who you become along the way. True happiness does not come from our external circumstances.
The other benefit of goal setting is that it gives your brain something to focus on. If you do not task your brain and give it a job, it will think thoughts that can be detrimental and cause you to go down the wrong path. Unsupervised, our brain will think it’s a great idea to lay around on the couch all day and watch Netflix. But by focusing it on what we want to achieve and setting goals, we create structure for our brains.
We decide what to focus on. Remember, your thoughts create your feelings which drive your actions and generate results. This is going to happen – either consciously or unconsciously. Goals are a way of deciding what you want those results to be instead of haphazardly letting your brain decide without any deliberate intent. Keep on setting goals.
I hope you found these steps useful. Living and working abroad is such an amazing adventure, it’s important that we do whatever we can to set ourselves up for success. Once you learn how to build your resilience, you can apply these steps as a daily practice in and improve any area of your life.
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