By Eric Barker
July 18, 2014

“Stick with it!”

“Be resilient!”

“Never give up!”

I see a lot of stuff about resilience, persistence and grit. What I don’t see is a lot of legitimate info on how to actually increase those qualities.

How can we be more resilient? How can we shrug off huge challenges in life, persist and — in the end — succeed?

So I looked at the most difficult scenarios for insight. (Who needs resilience in easy situations, right?)

When life and death is on the line, what do the winners do that the losers don’t?

Turns out surviving the most dangerous situations has some good lessons we can use to learn how to be resilient in everyday life.

Whether it’s dealing with unemployment, a difficult job, or personal tragedies, here are insights that can help.

 

1) Perceive And Believe

“The company already had two rounds of layoffs this year but I never thought they would let me go.”

“Yeah, the argument was getting a little heated but I didn’t think he was going to hit me.”

The first thing to do when facing difficulty is to make sure you recognize it as soon as possible.

Sounds obvious but we’ve all been in denial at one point or another. What do people who survive life-threatening situations have in common?

They move through those “stages of grief” from denial to acceptancefaster:

Via Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why:

What’s that thing doctors say when they’re able to successfully treat a medical problem? “Good thing we caught it early.”

When you stay oblivious or live in denial, things get worse — often in a hurry. When you know you’re in trouble you can act.

Nobody is saying paranoia is good but research shows a little worrying is correlated with living a longer life.

(For more on how a little negativity can make you happier, click here.)

Okay, like they say in AA, you admitted you have a problem. What’s the next thing the most resilient people do?

 

2) Manage Your Emotions

Sometimes when SCUBA divers drown they still have air in their oxygen tanks. Seriously.

How is this possible? Something goes wrong, they panic, and instinctively pull the regulator out of their mouth.

Via Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why:

When you’re having trouble breathing what’s more natural than to clear an obstruction from your mouth?

Now just a brief second of clear thinking tells you this is a very bad idea while diving — but when you panic, you can’t think clearly.

Rash decision making rarely delivers optimal results in everyday life either.

Resilient people acknowledge difficult situations, keep calm and evaluate things rationally so they can make a plan and act.

Via Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why:

(For methods Navy SEALS, astronauts and the samurai use to keep calm under pressure, click here.)

So you know you’re in trouble but you’re keeping your cool. Might there be a simple way to sidestep all these problems? Yeah.

 

3) Be A Quitter

Many of you might be a little confused right now: “A secret to resilience is quitting? That doesn’t make any sense.”

What do we see when we look at people who survive life and death situations? Many of them were smart enough to bail early.

Via Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why:

The best way to take a punch from a UFC fighter and to survive a hurricane are the same: “Don’t be there when it hits.”

You quit baseball when you were 10 and quit playing the piano after just 2 lessons. Nobody sticks with everything. You can’t.

When the company starts laying people off, there’s always one guy smart enough to immediately jump ship and preemptively get a new job.

And some people are smart enough to realize, “I am never going to be a great Tango dancer and should double my efforts at playing poker.”

And you know what results this type of quitting has? It makes you happier, reduces stress and increases health.

Via Think Like a Freak: The Authors of Freakonomics Offer to Retrain Your Brain:

You can do anything — when you stop trying to do everything.

(For more on how to determine what you should stick with and what you should abandon, click here.)

Okay, so maybe you can’t bail and really do need to be resilient. What does the research say you can do to have more grit? It sounds crazy…

 

4) Be Delusional

Marshall Goldsmith did a study of incredibly successful people. After assembling all the data he realized the thing they all had in common.

And then he shouted: “These successful people are all delusional!”

Via Supersurvivors: The Surprising Link Between Suffering and Success:

Crazy successful people and people who survive tough situations are all overconfident. Very overconfident.

Some of you may be scratching your head: “Isn’t step one all about not being in denial? About facing reality?”

You need to make a distinction between denial about the situationand overconfidence in your abilities.

The first one is very bad, but the second one can be surprisingly good. See the world accurately — but believe you are a rockstar.

Via Supersurvivors: The Surprising Link Between Suffering and Success:

(For more on what the most successful people have in common, click here.)

So this is how superheroes must feel: there’s definitely trouble, but you’re calm and you feel like you’re awesome enough to handle this.

But we need to move past feelings. What actions are going to see you through this mess?

 

5) Prepare… Even If It’s Too Late For Preparation

Folks, I firmly believe there is no such thing as a “pretty good” alligator wrestler.

Who survives life threatening situations? People who have done it before. People who have prepared.

Now even if you can’t truly prepare for a layoff or a divorce, you can work to have good productive habits and eliminate wasteful ones.

Good habits don’t tax your willpower as much as deliberate actions and will help you be more resilient.

How do you survive a WW2 shipwreck and shark attacks? Keep preparing for the future, even when you’re in the midst of trouble.

Via Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience:

One caveat: as learning expert Dan Coyle recommends, make sure any prep you do is as close to the real scenario as possible.

Bad training can be worse than no training. When police practice disarming criminals they often conclude by handing the gun to their partner.

One officer trained this so perfectly that in the field he took a gun from a criminal — and instinctively handed it right back.

Via Make It Stick:

(For more on how to develop good habits — and get rid of bad ones, click here.)

You’re expecting the best but prepared for the worst. Perfect. Is now the time to de-stress? Heck, no.

 

6) Stay Busy, Busy, Busy

What’s the best way to survive and keep your emotions in check when things are hard? “Work, work, work.”

Via Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience:

When things go bad, people get sad or scared, retreat and distract themselves. That can quell the emotions, but it doesn’t get you out of this mess.

Resilient people know that staying busy not only gets you closer to your goals but it’s also the best way to stay calm.

And believe it or not, we’re all happier when we’re busy.

(For more on what the most productive people in the world do every day, clickhere.)

You’re hustlin’. That’s good. But it’s hard to keep that can-do attitude when things aren’t going well. What’s another secret to hanging in there?

 

7) Make It A Game

In his book “Touching the Void,” Joe Simpson tells the harrowing story of how he broke his leg 19,000 feet up while climbing a mountain.

Actually he didn’t break his leg… he shattered it. Like marbles in a sock. His calf bone driven through his knee joint.

He and his climbing partner assumed he was a dead man. But he survived.

One of his secrets was making his slow, painful descent into a game.

Via Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why:

How does this work? It’s neuroscience. Patterned activities stimulate the same reward center cocaine does.

Via Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience:

Even boring things can be fun if you turn them into a game with stakes, challenges and little rewards.

And we can use this same system for everyday problems: How many resumes can you send out today? Can you beat yesterday?

Celebrating “small wins” is something survivors have in common.

Via Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why:

(For more on how to increase gratitude and happiness, click here.)

You’re a machine. Making progress despite huge challenges. What’s the final way to take your resilience to the next level? Other people.

 

8) Get Help And Give Help

Getting help is good. That’s obvious. But sometimes we’re ashamed or embarrassed and fail to ask for it. Don’t let pride get in the way.

What’s more fascinating is that even in the worst of times, giving help can help you.

By taking on the role of caretaker we increase the feeling of meaning in our lives. This helps people in the worst situations succeed.

Leon Weliczker survived the Holocaust not only because of his resourcefulness — but also because he felt he had to protect his brother.

Via Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience:

Sometimes being selfless is the best way to be selfish. And the research shows that givers are among the most successful people and they live longer.

Via Deep Survival: Who Lives, Who Dies, and Why:

(For more on how helping others can also help you, click here.)

So once the threat is passed, once the dust has settled, can we have a normal life again? Actually, sometimes, life can be even better.

 

Sum Up

So when life is daunting and we need resilience, keep in mind:

  1. Perceive And Believe
  2. Manage Your Emotions
  3. Be A Quitter
  4. Be Delusional
  5. Prepare… Even If It’s Too Late For Preparation
  6. Stay Busy, Busy, Busy
  7. Make It A Game
  8. Get Help And Give Help

To live full lives some amount of difficulty is essential.

Via Surviving Survival: The Art and Science of Resilience:

You can meet life’s challenges with resilience, competence and grace.

And when the troubles are over, science agrees: what does not kill you can in fact make you stronger.

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This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

Contact us at editors@time.com.

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