How to Become Resilient for a Meaningful Life
Practical tips to tolerate setbacks and become unflappable
Dealing with setbacks was not easy for me. They posed remarkable challenges in my life. Each setback created disappointed, contributed to my ambient stress, and posed mental health risks. Later I learned that the secret to becoming an unflappable person is to rewire the brain intentionally.
Setbacks, rejections, and criticisms never end in life. They are ubiquitous and come from unexpected directions constantly. Dealing with setbacks, rejections, and criticism require the proverbial thick skin. Therefore, we need foundational skills to deal with them effectively. I share my personal experience applying the essential psychological skills to become a resilient person.
It can be challenging to deal with criticism and rejections for many of us. It requires significant experience and psychological skills to become calm, composed, and resilient. Building confidence is one of the core skills. None of us is born with the confidence to deal with rejections, setbacks, and criticism. We develop those skills as we grow.
Confidence building is a matter of rewiring our brain. Our primitive brain directs us towards comfort and energy-saving mode persistently. This survival zone does not enjoy criticism. It sees criticism as a threat to survival. Thus, it creates anxiety and fear signals naturally. When rewiring our brain for confidence, the first thing is to see negative criticism as a valuable feedback. Every complaint can be seen as feedback mirroring and reflecting on our actions.
When we habitually deal with negative criticism and see feedback as helpful and valuable, we increase our emotional intelligence and maturity. We become tolerant of negative criticism, rejections, and other setbacks by improving emotional maturity.
Being tolerant means that we still feel anxiety, but the effects do not cripple us anymore. When we become susceptible to criticism intentionally, our prefrontal cortex does not shut down by the impact. Rather than reacting mindlessly, we respond mindfully.
Whether positive, negative or neutral, all emotions have a purpose for our well-being. Therefore, we need to honor them appropriately. In this context, a healthy dose of anxiety and fear can expedite the rewiring process in the brain. Without emotions, our brains do not create new neural connections. The stronger the feeling and exposure, the faster the neural connections are made, and more profound memories are constructed. This is the secret to accelerated learning.
The vital point in dealing with these emotions is not to pass the stress threshold affecting our mental health. The ramification of the passing threshold is burning out and losing your mojo in life. The recovery can take too long or sometimes never happen.
In my younger years, I used to hate setbacks and negative criticism by family members, friends, managers, and colleagues. I envied people with equanimity and poise. I always wanted to be like them and wondered about their secret to having these remarkable traits.
After conducting research in leadership leveraging my cognitive science skills, I noticed that those who tolerated and embraced negative criticism performed better than those who couldn't.
Then I found mentors who have these traits. They taught me the importance of acceptance. I learned how to accept setbacks and negative criticism using mindfulness techniques. As soon as I accepted a few minor criticisms, positive things started happening. But my skin was still soft. I needed to be more flexible and resilient.
Another mentor taught me to observe my emotions when experiencing setbacks. It was part of my ongoing mindfulness training similar to my fitness training regime. Interestingly, uncomfortable emotions were triggered by perceived threats rather than actual danger. As a result, my perspectives towards threats changed gradually.
In addition to my thoughts, when I learned to observe my emotions, label them, and detach from them, I started tolerating setbacks and criticism more effortlessly. Remaining as a realist, I accepted that it would not be possible to be creative, productive, and enjoy life without tolerating setbacks.
Rewiring my brain required me to move out of my comfort zone and challenge my abilities. This significant behavioral shift became the major success factor for my growth towards resilience. By deliberately going out of my comfort zone, I learned to embrace negative criticism, rejections, and setbacks. Hence, I leveraged the power of the stretch zone to grow. Like any skill-building, it was not easy initially. However, I got used to it gradually. After a while, it became a designed habit.
During the rewiring process, I made a conscious effort to switch from the instincts of my primitive brain and consciously use the thinking part of the brain. When the thinking brain integrates with other brain regions, we experience intuition. So instincts come from the primitive area for survival and intuition from the higher self for thriving.
Mindfulness was my starting point to accept and embrace setbacks and criticism. Through mindfulness practice, I learned to observe my thoughts, emotions, behavior, and triggers. Mindfulness practice helped me live in the moment while still seeing my past and future without getting lost in those time zones. For example, before practicing mindfulness, I used to worry about the future and regretted the past a lot.
With the mindful approach, my thinking part of the brain became the boss. I characterized it more like an orchestra leader using the power of other sources to create a beautiful symphony. So, the more I used my thinking brain intentionally, the more cognitive skills I acquired. Habitual mindfulness practice improved my attention, focus, awareness, task switching, and reasoning skills. These skills helped me establish the foundation for dealing with setbacks and criticism incrementally and progressively.
When I gained these foundational skills, I deliberately accepted and even searched for criticism in my stretch zone. With this systematic approach, I started to understand and learn the benefits of proactively dealing with setbacks and criticism.
Using cognitive skills leveraging prior experience, I exposed myself to criticism deliberately and primed myself for dealing with it successfully. Asking about the worst-case scenario gave me new insights. Reviewing these worst-case scenarios helped me take calculated risks and strengthen my neutral connections.
I observed successful people, leaders, professionals, celebrities, politicians, and other confident public figures. I read their bios and particularly focused on how they dealt with setbacks and criticism in their daily lives. Interestingly, every biography reflected setbacks. None of those successful people has a comfortable lifestyle. Yet, they all learned and developed a thick skin by rewiring their brains.
Their passion was one of the reasons they made their skin thicker. Passion is a powerful emotion and helps us create strong neural connections. These outstanding people were once shaky and inexperienced, but they developed skills to thicken their skin, leveraging passion.
Learning from the mistakes of others can save us significant time. Inspired by unflappable people, I turned negative criticism into a positive motivational tool. I felt like playing an enjoyable game by re-framing setbacks as pleasant life challenges.
Our mindset plays a critical role in our growth. For example, implementing a growth mindset became a catalyst to rewire my brain to tolerate setbacks and criticism. The more tolerant I got, the thicker my skin got.
I applied my new skills in various situations and documented them in my transformation journal. After a while, dealing with negative criticism became fun. By leveraging negative criticism, I looked at things from multiple perspectives. I moved from a comfort zone to a stretch zone and later to a risk zone by accepting and using negative criticism.
The behavioral shift was noticeable. For example, when people ridiculed my ideas, I just smiled and thanked them. If you can smile and thank people who viciously criticize you, this means that you managed to gain thick skin. Congratulations. All of us can learn how to deal with setbacks and negative criticism. It is a learnable skill.
First, we need to start with creating foundations leading us toward being resilient people. Understanding the benefits of being thick-skinned can motivate us and keep the momentum going. Conditioning our brain to take negative criticism and repeating the process at every opportunity can improve our skills. Once we rewire our brain, dealing with setbacks and negative criticism becomes productive and joyful.
Gaining inspiration from thick-skinned people can speed up the learning process. Thick-skinned people are resilient even in the midst of dire situations. Of course, they feel the pain like anyone else naturally. However, they do not suffer unnecessarily.
Our physical and mental health significantly improves when we become tolerant of setbacks. We live a joyful, meaningful, and productive life with self-love and self-confidence without needing and craving external approval. Thus, our emotional and spiritual intelligence operates at an extraordinary level.
Becoming a resilient person was a substantial skill that added new meaning to my life. I gained productive and enjoyable benefits in my personal, social, and professional life. As I mentioned in the following article, we can increase our grit and resilience with mindfulness practices besides healing. Gamma waves create wonders in the brain.
Thank you for reading my perspectives.
The original version of this article is published on another platform.
About the author
I'm a writer and published author with four decades of content development experience in business, technology, leadership, and health. I work as a postdoctoral researcher and consultant. My background is at https://digitalmehmet.com.