If you want to achieve anything big, you will face stress…

How you deal with it will play a HUGE role in what final result you achieve.

Take entrepreneurship.  Nearly every level of entrepreneurship exposes you to additional stress.  Starting a business — stress.  Trying to make sales and get customers — stress.  Hiring people — stress.  Making payroll — stress.  Dealing with operations — stress.  Building systems and fixing them when they break down — stress.

Even if you’re just trying to be a solopreneur, you’ll hit wall after wall of stress.  The worst of which is probably that period of time where the initial excitement wears off but you haven’t quite built your reputation to a point where it makes getting clients easier.  You’ve grown weary of the hard work (which used to excite you) but it’s still absolutely required.  So you hit a cash flow crisis and suddenly you’re feeling like a fraud, thinking you should just give up and go find a job.  Most gurus don’t like to talk about it.  Even though we went through it.  All of us.  (Yes, me, too.)

As long as you’re moving forward through life and trying to do new and big things, life will continue to hit you with more stress.

If you fall apart, you will not achieve what you set out to achieve.

If you shrink in the face of obstacles and adversity, you will never do anything great.

You must learn to fight stress head-on — which takes resilience…

Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child has done a ton of research on resilience.

They’ve focused on how children develop resilience.  But their findings are just as relevant to adults.  Because the same characteristics that contribute to resilience in children are mirrored in adult resilience.  And if you didn’t develop enough resilience as a child, you’re probably going to need to go through the same developmental steps as an adult, to get to where you need to be to fight stress and win.

What follows are a handful of takeaways — with my own insights and perspectives — based on Harvard’s findings into how children develop healthy resilience to fight life’s stressors and win.

First — it’s all in your head…

By this, I don’t mean you’re crazy for thinking stress is stress.

But ancient philosophers from many schools (including Stoicism) as well as their modern counterparts have all been right…

It’s not so much what’s going on around you that matters — it’s how you understand and interpret it.

How about this, from Hamlet, by Shakespeare: “There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”

That is, one person could get in a car accident, and be DEVASTATED that their car was totaled, and think it’s the worst thing in the world.  Another, GRATEFUL both that nobody got hurt, and that they have an opportunity to get a new car to enjoy.

We spend our entire lives assigning meaning to the outside world.

And one of the biggest things you need to understand, in order to understand and develop resilience, is that you can choose how you react to the outside world.

Yes, physical injury is physical injury.  Disease is disease.  Bankruptcy is bankruptcy.  But you can choose the meaning you assign to the experience of any one of these.

This is why rich people can be wretchedly miserable and people poor as dirt live lives of incredible joy.

It’s not so much your circumstances that matter, it’s how you judge them.

Second — there are common characteristics among the resilient…

Actually, there are four:

— The first is connection: having at least one really good relationship that’s stable, caring, and supportive goes a long way to having resilience…

— Second is having a sense of mastery over one’s own life: that is definitely helped by controlling not your life itself, but the judgments you make about it…

— Third is developed discipline: Harvard calls this executive function and self-regulation, basically being aware of your thoughts and actions, and maintaining control over them…

— Fourth is being part of a supportive culture: this can be faith-based, cultural, or some other social group, but being a part of a community of people really matters….

The more you develop your supportive relationships as well as your self, the more resilient you’ll become.

I think one of my biggest flaws in this area is that I can be self-reliant to a fault.  I want to solve my own problems, achieve my own goals, and not depend on others.  And I think most of Western culture perpetuates this attitude.  But the reality is that the world doesn’t work that way.  You can actually achieve more together than you can on your own.  And you can handle stress better with the help of others than you can by yourself.

Third — having physical, mental, and social strength matters…

Think of your resilience like a muscle.

You do something to challenge yourself physically.  Such as running a marathon.  Or participating in a fitness challenge.

By succeeding at that, you’re exercising and growing your resilience muscle.

Or you try something new.  Like improv classes.  Or painting.  Or public speaking.  Or going for a client you know will be a challenge.

When you succeed, it’s more exercise for the resilience muscle.

On the other hand, if you’re not developing these capabilities, or not going after opportunity, or treating your body poorly, you’re letting that muscle get weak.

So you spend an evening eating junk food and getting sloppy drunk?  The next day you’re likely to feel much less resilient (in addition to hung over).  Just like when you treat yourself poorly, your muscles feel physically weaker.  Do it every once in a while, and the impact may be easily offset by other good habits.  But if you adopt a bunch of negative habits, your muscles will weaken.

Consistently exercising your resilience muscle through taking care of yourself physically, working to improve your mental and emotional state through things like mindfulness and education, and developing quality relationships will go a long way toward giving you the resilience you need when you’re hit with stress.

Fourth — you can spend your entire life becoming more resilient…

And I should note here: resilience isn’t becoming hardened against stress, or cold to it.  It’s the ability to feel stress and respond appropriately.

Which means resilience can look like love, compassion, and care.

Not just being bad-ass.  In fact, often the bad-ass persona is someone who knows, deep down, that they don’t have resilience, and that makes them scared.  So they put on a mask for the outside world, and pretend.  That’s neither healthy nor resilient.  It’s just living a lie.

Healthy resilience is a muscle you can keep building for your entire life.

The more you work on it, the stronger it gets.  The more you cross-train it in different scenarios, the more it will work whenever life throws new stress at you.

There can be extreme events that you just can’t handle.  And then you might need even more help.  But the better you develop your resilience, the more capable you will become.

You can never predict what stress life will throw at you, but you can still prepare yourself…

Every day, in every moment, you have the opportunity to build and nurture your resilience, or neglect it and tear it down.

Good physical, mental, and social habits will increase your resilience.

Bad habits will decrease it.

And like any other muscle, the results are both fast and slow.  Fast, meaning you can get an initial burst of resilience when you start working on it.  And slow, meaning that developing a truly powerful sense of resilience that helps you through all stresses can feel like a very, very long-term task.

But again, if you improve your resilience just 1% per week through doing the right things to be more resilient, you’ll be amazed at how resilient you can become in 2 years, 5 years, 10 years, or longer.

Yours for bigger breakthroughs,

Roy Furr