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  • Writer's pictureLeslie Feinzaig

Resilience is a muscle. Here's how to build it.

Updated: Apr 13, 2020

Sophia Danenberg summits Mt. Everest.

This post is a summary of the first session of my webinar, Entrepreneurship School for the Quarantined, featuring guests Melania Guerra, an oceanographer and climate scientist, and Sophia Danenberg, the first black climber to summit Mt. Everest. Watch the full webinar here.

Today marks 4 weeks since I've been working from home. My daughters have been out of daycare for 2 weeks. I’ve tried to “stay productive”. I’ve tried to stay away from my phone, from the news, social media. I've tried to manage my stress. But this is hard. Really, really hard.

Two things occurred to me sometime around week 3 of the quarantine. First, this is hard not just for me but for everyone in the world. We are living through a collective global traumatic experience. And second, this also means that everyone who survives the pandemic is building a huge reserve of resilience as we speak.

I happen to know a lot about resilience. As a two time entrepreneur and the leader of a community with thousands of entrepreneurs, I can tell you with full confidence: resilience is the most important skill required for entrepreneurial success. The job of an entrepreneur is so wrought with uncertainty, rejection, extreme highs and extreme lows, that you simply don't survive without resilience. The most successful self-made entrepreneurs in history are great examples of great resilience. Think of Steve Jobs, who was fired by his own investors at Apple only to go on to launch two spectacularly successful companies, return to the CEO role at Apple through an acquisition, and launch the most successful products in the history of technology upon his return. Or Jack Ma, the founder of Alibaba, who failed his college entry exams, was rejected from Harvard 10 times, and was turned down for 30 jobs. He is now one of the wealthiest men in the world. And my favorite story of resilience: that of Madam CJ Walker, an orphaned daughter of slaves who became the country's first self-made female millionaire from selling hand made hair products door to door. Resilience is the process of adapting in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats or significant sources of stress. As such, it is a predictor of survival and a pathway to success. And the good news is we're not born resilient - we become resilient. In my research for today's webinar, I found five tips to build resilience. As we're quarantined, fearful for our health and that of our families, and facing enormous economic uncertainty, there has never been a better or more critical time to build our personal store of resilience. Here's how:

1. Change the narrative. Whatever is swirling in your head, you have the power to change that reel. A helpful way to do this is to consciously find the silver lining in a difficult or scary situation, for example, by keeping a daily gratitude diary.

2. Proximal development. This is a fancy way of saying that we build resilience by accomplishing lots of small goals that are just beyond the reach of what we know we can easily do. Like running just ten more minutes every day, or writing one more paragraph, or meditating for five minutes in the morning. Accomplishing small goals frequently, and expanding the scope of the goals over time, builds resilience.

3. Practice self-compassion. Nobody builds resilience by beating themselves up. Instead, be kind to yourself, and talk to yourself like you were your own best friend.

4. Meditate. The power of meditation has been well documented - try it. I signed up for Headspace a month ago and it has been very helpful in this time.

5. Forgive. This one is hard for me. When someone does me wrong, I carry the feelings of anger, hurt, and resentment for a long time. It's a source of anxiety, like I'm carrying around a backpack full of heavy rocks. But I've learned that it's not necessary to hold on to those feelings. The act of forgiveness is freeing. And the practice of forgiveness is resilience itself.

Researching this topic in preparation for my webinar was inspiring and helpful, at a time when I needed a reminder that this is all leading us somewhere. I hope this helps others, too. It has never been truer - we're in this together. And we're building resilience together too.


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