3-Steps to Build Personal Resilience (& Effective Training Examples)

"My best life advice is to focus on personal resilience and emotional intelligence" —Yuval Noah Harari Click To Tweet

Stress isn’t good nor bad.

Our world changes fast. And our biology, not so much. Chronic stress piles on from all angles. Work stress, diet stress, fasting stress, exercise stress, relationship stress, together it can overwhelm your ability to cope.

Today, healthy diet and exercise alone won’t produce spectacular, lasting results. We’re neglecting something fundamental to all life.

Our relationship with the environment. But not like that. Your inner workings depend on your surroundings. Resilience training builds is a way of overcoming environmental obstacles.

Personal resilience is all about reprogramming the feelings caused by undeserving automatic reactions to sensory input.

Building personal resilience widens the gap between a stressful event and our reaction. With that extra moment, we’re able to tame our response. Oura all-around quality of life improves. I’m going to cover resilience training, real-life examples, and practical tips to become an adaptable, “anti-fragile”, thriving human.

What is Personal Resilience?

Personal Resilience Definition

Simply put, personal resilience is the ability to bounce back from unfavorable situations like stress, adversity, trauma, or danger. Each exposure strengthens you. Similar to building muscle, you can grow resilience over time.

First, how do external events change your body?

Sensation (hearing, sight, touch, taste, smell) are all information about the external world interpreted for our internal biology. Click To Tweet

Every situation has:

  1. A sensation
  2. A delay
  3. Our response

Throughout the day, our nervous system runs automatic programs. The goal of resilience training is to increase that delay, buying you time to override automatic disserving responses.

Your body and the environment are in constant dialogue. They communicate via underlying code made of sensations and emotions.

Taking control of your automated responses is the biological equivalent of upgrading from a flip phone to an iPhone.

The Science of Resilience

I claimed that stress isn’t bad. I’ll explain.

Two nervous systems can react oppositely to the same event. I love the smell (and taste) of peanut butter. But to someone allergic, a small whiff may cause a panic attack.

How does stress become an encoded automatic reaction?

You encounter a new sight, sound, feeling, smell, or taste. The brain cross-references it against an existing library of sensory data.

  • Existing sensations get an automated response.
  • New sensations are packaged into code and stored along with the current emotional state.

The next time you encounter the same stimulus, your body will serve that stored emotional state. The way you feel will change to match the stored reaction.

What does all this mean?

Stress is a subjective external threat that depends on your unique perception. You can hijack the normal fear response by pairing that same stimulus with a stronger emotion.

Over time, training can help you overcome stress-inducing sensations. Not just that, but you can flip between stress and relaxation at will.

The Importance of Building Resilience

Building Personal Resilience
“We don't rise to the level of our expectations, we fall to the level of our training.” — Archilochus Click To Tweet

Personal resilience didn’t used to have a fancy name. Humans practiced it on a daily basis to survive.

Have you wondered why anxiety, autoimmune conditions, fatigue, and loneliness are all on the rise?

Look around. The people by your sides aren’t nearly as robust as their ancestors.

We’re shackled to the comfort of temperature-stable, air-conditioned rooms. We no longer follow the Earth’s natural light and dark periods (thanks to electricity). We’ve replaced walking and physical strain with transportation via buses, trains, cars, and motorized scooters. Heavily stocked convenience stores make hunger obsolete.

Technology numbs us to the world’s faint cues. The farther we get out of alignment with nature, the more fragile we become and the graver the costs.

The answer?

Resilience training.

Benefits of Personal Resilience Training

  1. Control over your own life. Where there was once a road you recognize a fork.
  2. Better quality of life.
  3. Less trauma by controlling your neurological conditioning. You can prevent negative responses to pain.
  4. Greater survivability. Widening the gap between stimulus and response also widens the margins to survive in intense situations.
  5. Longer physical endurance since you’re comfortable with discomfort.
  6. More observant of life’s minutiae.
  7. Feeling free. Harsh situations become manageable.

Resilience training reassociates your automatic emotional response to different sights, smells, sounds, and feelings.

Effective Real-Life Resilience Training Tips & Examples

"Do one thing every day that scares you." —Eleanor Roosevelt Click To Tweet

I’ll admit, resilience training is uncomfortable.

To change your conditioned responses, your body needs some convincing. You do this by venturing into the unknown. Throwing a wrench into your daily lifestyle. Your heart should skip a beat. You’ll feel your blood pumping. You might enter the hyperfocused flow state.

The more real the stakes, the more your nervous system pays attention.

Proper resilience training requires one easily overlooked mindset shift…

You must embrace the stressor and notice something positive, no matter how small.

Note: consult your doctor before trying any of these tactics.

Breath Work Resilience Training

Deliberate breath is the most fundamental form of personal resiliency.

Humans have known the importance of breathwork for millennia.

The breath is one of few automatic bodily functions that you can manually override. Click To Tweet

Your inhalations and exhalations can flip stress on or off in real-time. Hyperventilation ratchets stress up, while calm, smooth breathing tones it down.

Panic, and you’ll quickly notice your heart increases, you breathe shallower and more. You get caught in a feedback loop where panicked breathing only panics you further.

Most breathwork practices work via one of two mechanisms:

  1. CO2 retention
  2. CO2 deprivation

Both forms of breathwork actively alter the sensory pathways used to process stimuli.

How you handle carbon dioxide (CO2) and oxygen deprivation determine how effectively you can bounce back from stress. Click To Tweet

You can get started using any of the ancient breathwork practices from around the world:

  • Indian yogis wrote about this 5,000 years ago, calling their practice pranayama.
  • Ancient Tibetians called their own form of deliberate breathwork “tummo”.
  • Patrick McKeown uses apnea breathing protocols to improve his athlete’s performance.
  • Modern-day Wim Hof Method combines tummo and pranayama.

Cold Exposure Resilience Training

Even in the summer, bathing in cold water sounds terrible.

The concept is simple: cold introduces the nervous system to the stress of low temperature. The body makes all kinds of changes to survive, keep warm, and adapt. Next time, it’ll have better defenses against the cold.

Historically, winter around the world meant long periods of inescapable and intense cold. Humans had no choice but to endure. Not so much these days.

As I hop into a cold shower, I tense in anticipation. The water hits me and I notice the sensation objectively. I convince myself that the bite of the cold isn’t a sting of pain. Rather the feeling of change. I know the clear-headed relaxation that awaits me on the other side.

How you can get started with cold:

  • Start small. Spend a few seconds in the coldest water you can tolerate at the end of your next shower.
  • Work your way up to a purely cold water shower.
  • An ice bath will never sound appealing. When you’re feeling extra bold, take the plunge.

Sauna Resilience Training

“The sauna is the poor man’s doctor” — Unknown

Cold and heat work in tandem, increasing the band of temperatures you’re comfortable in.

I’m obsessed with Saunas. But I wasn’t originally.

I had a long-standing problem with overheating. I lasted only a minute or two my first few sessions.

Strenuous exercise always pushed me over the top. I felt my brain shutting down as I struggled to cool. Sauna resilience training provided a hefty dose of heat stress, and I had no choice but adapt. Gradually lengthening my sessions improved physical and mental endurance.

Extremely impressive health benefits aside, saunas build resilience.

Stay in a hot environment long enough, and you’ll surely panic in one way or another. That’s why I barely lasted a minute during my first session. A wall of claustrophobia hit me seemingly out of the blue, I panicked, and quickly escaped.

Later I reassociated the claustrophobia away from danger by paying attention to my surroundings, focusing on my breath, and forcibly relaxing.

How you can get started with heat:

  1. Use the sauna in your local gym.
  2. Build your own homemade near infrared sauna for ~$200.

Intense Exercise Resilience Training

How much training stress can you handle?

Odds are, more than you think.

When you’re red-lining, on the brink of passing out, body screaming to stop, it’s not your muscles ready to give up.

As early as 2001, researchers discovered that the brain decides when to quit. Your brain tires before muscles. The weak link in your physical fitness can be strengthened to last longer.

Training your brain into resilience results in greater maximum mental and physical performance.

This style of training is less about building huge amounts of muscle or strength, or dropping weight quickly. It’s about mindset and mental resilience.

How you can get started with fitness resilience:

  • Do a high-intensity exercise to failure. Be sure to maintain form. Burpees are a good option.

Sprinkle a brutal workout into your routine once every two weeks or so. Unlike other training, intense exercise heavily strain the body.

Easy Ways to Build Resilience Every Day

Build Resilience News

The above examples are extreme and effective practices.

Instead, you may prefer to start out with small, everyday resilience building activities:

  1. Join communities
  2. Face your fears
  3. Try nose breathing
  4. Foster relationships
  5. Forgive someone
  6. Practice Yoga
  7. Notice negative thoughts and beliefs
  8. Meditate
  9. Help other people
  10. Sleep as much as you need
  11. Perform a news or social media detox
  12. Journal
  13. Listen to your body
  14. Maintain optimism
  15. Implement a 10-day caffeine tolerance reset
  16. Learn from past mistakes
  17. Reframe crises as overcome-able
  18. Work toward goals
  19. Tackle a recurring problem

Personal Resiliency Frequently Asked Questions

Is resilience a skill or quality?

At its core, resilience is about how you respond to adversity. It’s both a skill and a quality. You can train resilience through deliberate practice and it then becomes an established quality. Without intentional training, resilience can fade.

Is resilience a strength?

Resilience is one of the ultimate strengths since your resilience level determines how you respond to the hurdles of everyday life. Everyone encounters stress, and the people with the greatest resilience emerge most successfully.

What happens if you are not resilient?

Sadly, most people today are not resilient. You can get by without resiliency, but it comes at a cost. Any and all stress derails non-resilient people faster and for longer. They also struggle to recover and live a lower quality of life.

Can you lose resilience?

Resilience is like a muscle. Over time, without practice, it weakens. You must continue training resiliency to keep it. Once you feel improvements, you’re unlikely to stop. There are both simple and extreme ways to build resilience.

What is the difference between resilience and anti-fragility?

Professor Nassim Taleb coined the phase “anti-fragility” to describe resiliency which results in higher functioning. He argues that resiliency alone is Or, in other words, what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.

Practice Becoming a Resilient Human

Resilience Plan

Exercise and diet are no longer enough for optimal health.

As much as we try, isolation from our natural environment comes at a cost. Avoiding our human roots predisposes us to cancer, heart disease, degenerative conditions, and an inability to capitalize on our retirement years. Each of which are the results of chronic stress.

We can overcome the deleterious effects of stress through intentional training.

This habit turns us into robust human beings, capable of thriving in every environment.

Adapting to extreme temperatures, intense exercise, and uncomfortable breathing patterns ultimately increase quality of life. Click To Tweet

Use this general three step process to train personal resilience:

  1. Provoke a stress response by getting uncomfortable.
  2. Perceive the stressor differently by questioning existing beliefs and focusing on something positive about it.
  3. Practice often.

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