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To Build Resilience, Treat New Healthy Habits As Experiments

Resilience the ability to grit your teeth and overcome daunting obstacles with unwavering determination. 

Resilience is the ability to kick it up a notch when things get tough rather than rolling over and letting life beat you down.

And resilience is the epitome of the old saying, “whatever doesn’t kill you makes you stronger.”

You may look at others and wonder how they were able to accomplish what they did despite the seemingly never-ending sh*tstorm life sent their way. 

The answer is resilience.

Some people seem to have it, while others don’t. But the good news is that you CAN build resilience.

Today, I will teach you one simple mindset shift that will help you build resilience so you can stick to and achieve your healthy habits even in the face of adversity.

Let’s get started!

Healthy Habits Are A Lot Like Science Experiments

Resilience has everything to do with mindset. By shifting your mindset you can learn to bolster and build your resilience.

I want you to begin thinking of the process of developing new healthy habits as being similar to performing a science experiment. (But don’t worry if science wasn’t your favorite subject in school! No lab reports, white coats or goggles required.)

Hear me out here.

New healthy habits, and goals in general, are a lot like science experiments.

They are complex. It takes a while to get the results you want. And frankly, you might have some small explosions here and there before it’s all said and done. 

Chemistry experiment blowing up in the scientist's face.

This is because new habits, goals, and science experiments all require trial and error.

The trial and error process demands that we learn from our mistakes, make adjustments as needed, and try again. 

That’s how new healthy habits are born and goals are achieved.

As you’re likely aware – forming new habits that you can consistently stick to long-term is one of the toughest things to do. 

In this post I will discuss how approaching your habits like a scientist approaches an experiment can cause a shift in mindset that builds resilience, so that you can stick to your new habits and goals even when things get tough!

“Do not be too timid and squeamish about your actions. All life is an experiment. The more experiments you make the better.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson Click To Tweet

What Scientists Can Teach Us About How To Build Resilience For Our Healthy Habits

One of the things that I find the most fascinating about scientists is the mindset that they use when working on their experiments.

The Scientific Mindset

The primary job of a scientist is to solve big, important, and complex problems. For example:

  • How do people inherit genetic material?
  • What killed the dinosaurs?
  • How did the universe form?
  • How can cancer be cured?

During their career, a scientist conducts hundreds or maybe even thousands of experiments. And the truth is that more experiments fail than succeed.

So how do scientists keep from getting discouraged? How do they stick with it day after day and year after year to solve these huge, mind-boggling, and rather intimidating problems?

The secret lies within the mindset of a scientist – specifically in how they approach problems and think about challenges and failures. 

How Scientists Approach Tough Problems

There are three main parts of a scientist’s mindset that I would like you to pay attention to as we take a closer look at how scientists approach difficult problems.

They Seek Out Challenges

One thing that stands out as unique to me about how scientists approach problems is that they seem to be excited rather than discouraged by a difficult problem. 

Most people tend to avoid difficult challenges because they fear failure. However, scientists actively seek out challenging problems, because they know that this is the only way they can learn something new and make an important discovery!

They Don’t Fear Failure

When scientists approach a big and complex problem, they don’t expect to solve it perfectly on the first try.

They go in knowing that they will have to work hard and put in lots of effort before they get the results they want. 

Scientists understand that “failure” is simply part of the experimental process.

They know some of their experiments will not turn out as they expected – but they don’t even see this as a failure!

“I have not failed. I've just found 10,000 ways that won't work.”-Thomas Edison, Inventor & Scientist Click To Tweet

The reason scientists don’t see these unexpected results as a failure, is that they learned something new that can be applied to their next experiment. This gets them one step closer to solving their problem. While it may be slow, it IS progress!

By having this view of “failure” scientists are able to avoid becoming discouraged so that they can be persistent and resilient in their quest for knowledge. 

“Success consists of going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm.” -Winston Churchill Click To Tweet

Going from failure to failure without loss of enthusiasm is the definition of resilience. This mindset when it comes to failure is what allows scientists to carry on with their work even in the face of setbacks.

They Keep An Open Mind

Finally, scientists keep an open mind when approaching an experiment. They go in with a theory, hypothesis (a best guess about the explanation to a problem), and a plan, but they don’t become too attached to any of these.

They are willing to change their minds and methods if the evidence supports it. This allows scientists to be flexible and to adapt and change their approach if necessary.

All three of these ways of thinking allow a scientist to be successful in making new discoveries. If they shied away from challenges, gave up the first (or even 100th) time an experiment failed, or refused to keep an open mind, it would be impossible for them to make any important scientific discoveries.

Now let’s take a look at how this scientific mindset can also be used to form new habits by looking at the mindset of people who successfully adopt new habits and stick to them long-term.

How To Use This Mindset To Build Resilience & Successfully Form Healthy Habits

If you want to be able to stick to your habits long-term, approach forming habits with the same mindset and resilience that scientists use to approach their experiments.

Seek Out Challenges

People who want to successfully incorporate a new habit into their lifestyle must also seek out challenges.

They must challenge themselves to step out of their comfort zone, which can be scary, but is necessary for personal growth.

[Related: How To Make A Habit Of Stepping Out Of Your Comfort Zone]

Don’t Fear Failure

One of the most common reasons that people give up on their new habits is that they are not able to recover after making a little slip-up.

As scientists understand that failure is a part of the experimental process, we also need to accept that slip-ups are a natural part of the habit formation process. 

It is unrealistic to expect that things will work out perfectly the first time we try to build a new habit.

Instead, we should go in knowing that things won’t always go as planned, but that a little slip-up is nothing to panic or quit a new goal over.

By accepting that we won’t be perfect in our first attempt to form healthy habits, we will be better able to recover after a mistake and stick to our goals rather than giving up.

Approaching habits with this mindset sets realistic expectations about forming new habits which builds our resilience.

[Related: How To Overcome Failure & Achieve Your Fitness Goals – A Complete Guide]

Keep An Open Mind

Oftentimes when people start out with a goal, they already have a plan or method in mind to achieve that goal.

For example, let’s look at a case study. 

Your best friend recently lost 30 pounds! She swears up and down that intermittent fasting is THE secret to shedding pounds in your sleep.

So, you take your friend’s advice and start your weight loss goal with all your hopes and dreams pinned on this intermittent fasting plan. 

But you quickly find out that going without eating for 14 straight hours instantly transforms you into a raging psychopath with the crazy eyes to make small children and grown men alike tremble in fear. 

So even though you are absolutely miserable you stubbornly try to tough it out with the intermittent fasting until you are literally tearing the hair from your scalp in frustration, before finally giving up.

My point here is not that intermittent fasting is bad, in fact it works very well for many people. 

Rather, the point is that sometimes people get so fixated on one “best” way to achieve a goal, that they turn a blind eye to the enormous red flashing sign that reads, “THIS ISN’T WORKING!!!” 

Building Resilience Is NOT About Sticking To A Plan That Isn’t Working

You might think that the best way to build resilience is to stubbornly cling to a plan that isn’t working until you can just “power through”. 

But that isn’t how resilience is built.

It is true that resilience means sticking to your goals and not quitting. But rather than “powering through”, resilience is about ADAPTING and overcoming. About being flexible, creative, resourceful, and open-minded with your approach.

[Related Video: Common Weight Loss Mistakes: Trying To Force It]

So if you’ve got a plan that isn’t working for you, that’s okay. Step back and take stock.

Realize that everyone is different. While intermittent fasting may have worked magic for your friend, that same magic may turn YOU into a heinous 7-headed monster with gnashing teeth.

Remember, there are MANY ways to achieve a goal. Keep an open mind and allow yourself to experiment with some of these other methods. 

For example, maybe small nutrient dense meals throughout the day would work better for your metabolism. Or maybe a kickboxing class would help you shed those excess pounds.

Take the time to do the trial and error necessary to figure out what works well for YOU – your body, your schedule, your sanity.

It is always better to adjust the plan than to abandon the goal. Don’t get fixated on a particular plan. 

By keeping an open mind you are allowed to tweak the plan as necessary so that you can be resilient and overcome those inevitable bumps in the road.

[Related: Learn how to tell if your plan isn’t working & how to adapt it.]

MindsetScientistsPeople Who Successfully Adopt New Healthy Habits
Seek Out Challenges– Are excited rather than discouraged by a difficult challenge.– Must step out of their comfort zone & challenge themselves in order to form a new habit.
Don’t Fear Failure– Understand that failure is part of the scientific process.
– Take what they learn from failures, & apply it to their next experiment.
– Understand that slip-ups are part of the habit formation process.
– Take the time to reflect & learn from mistakes so that they can overcome them.
Keep An Open Mind– Are willing to change their theories & methods when the evidence supports it.– Are not afraid to adjust their action plan if it isn’t working well for their body, schedule, or sanity.

Conclusion

Adopting new healthy habits is a complex process which requires a great deal of good old-fashioned trial and error.

Resilience is absolutely necessary to keep from getting discouraged while working through these trials so that you can persist and successfully form new healthy habits.

If you want to build resilience to successfully form new habits, approach the process of habit formation like a scientist approaches an experiment.

  • Understand that you’re likely going to hit a few bumps along the way and that is completely natural.
  • Seek out challenges by stepping out of your comfort zone so you can grow. 
  • Learn from your mistakes without getting discouraged.
  • Keep an open mind and don’t become overly fixated on a particular plan.
  • Adapt the plan as needed so that you can stick with it and achieve your ultimate goal!

By adopting this mindset, you set realistic expectations for yourself. These realistic expectations prevent you from becoming discouraged and help you keep calm when a slip-up does happen. This calm will allow you to creatively adapt to and overcome the problem so you can persist and achieve your new goal!

Now I’d love to hear your experiences!

  • Have you ever gotten fixated on one particular plan and had trouble adapting?
  • Have you made slip-ups and had trouble recovering from them?
  • Do you believe that slip-ups are part of the natural habit formation process?

I look forward to continuing the conversation with you in the comments!

Share the knowledge!

Author: clarissa.cabbage

Clarissa is a teacher, a coach, and an avid adventurer! Armed with a master's degree in Exercise and Wellness, she is on a mission to teach people how to build healthier habits that support the adventurous lifestyle of their dreams. There is nothing Clarissa is more passionate about than helping people get active and live their lives to the fullest!

40 Replies to “To Build Resilience, Treat New Healthy Habits As Experiments

  1. This is an interesting piece of writing and I love the thought it inspires!
    I love what you say about keeping an open mind, seeking out new challenges, and not fearing failure. It is easier to think about rather than actively balance those three things but making something into a habit makes it part of your lifestyle.
    I am working on being more flexible in the ways I approach things I need to get done or plans I put in place to work toward the future; nothing is as caging as making ourselves believe there is only one way to do something!
    Thanks for sharing this. 🙂

    1. Caging – I love that word Jaya, and yes I 100% agree! Convincing ourself there’s only one way makes it so much harder on ourselves than it needs to be! Flexibility and the ability to roll with the punches and adapt is so important! Thank you so much for taking the time to share your thoughts and contribute to the conversation!

  2. So much love for this post! Truly an inspiration, and lots I can learn with – that resilience isn’t always about getting fixated and powering through your original goals and planning. It’s about adapting and being creative to a finer and wiser resolution and planning. Facing slip-ups is another trick that allow you to adapt and improve!

    1. I am so glad to hear that you loved this post so much Ira! 😊 Yes I think a lot of people confuse making adjustments with failure. But in my opinion the only way to fail is to quit. And making adjustments is the opposite of quitting, so that’s a big win in my book!

  3. Thanks for sharing.
    Definitely getting yourself out of your comfort zone and putting yourself at risk of failure are massive resilience builders.
    By doing this you get used to failure, can get over it quicker and get back to trying!

    1. For sure James! No one likes failure but as you said by putting ourselves out there and realizing that failure is not the end all be all, we can build resilience! Thanks so much for taking the time to share your thoughts! 😊

  4. Another great and well-explained post, Clarissa! I find myself stuck in doing things a certain way because I don’t dwell well in change or a different approach, which makes it difficult to finish projects or work towards a goal. I will keep all of these in mind and tweak my approach to things, hopefully getting more resilient! Thanks for sharing this x

    1. You are very welcome Cristina! You make a great point about taking a different approach being a bit unnerving – you’re absolutely right! It can be tough to step out of that comfort zone, but if you can, there are so many rewards waiting for you!

    1. Thank you Sue! I really love a good analogy, what can I say? 😁🤷

      And yes I’ve seen some of your science experiment posts, I would have loved that sort of a thing when I was a kid! I wish I lived closer to my nephews (for many reasons) but they are getting to the age where I think they’d really enjoy that type of stuff, and I’d like to be the kind of auntie to share it with them!

  5. I need to get back on track with healthy eating and exercising after moving and having a torn-apart kitchen. I’m going to try your suggestions to approach it scientifically. Interesting read.

    1. Thank you Brooke I’m glad you found this interesting and hope you like the scientific approach. Big changes like moving and not having a kitchen can be big disrupters of healthy habits. I’m glad to hear you’re getting more settled now though and ready to get back to it. Best of luck!

  6. I love how you explain resilience as a scientist experiment. I’ve learned so much about the importance of personal strength in helping us achieve personal goals. Great article.

  7. I really like this mindset! I’ve always thought of habits as simply improving my actions until I don’t have to even think about the action anymore, but this is better with better analysis/self reflection.

    1. I’m glad you like this mindset Rachel! You are right, by definition, a habit is something that is more or less automatic. But so often I find that people don’t even make it that far, and end up frustrated and giving up instead. I think that this mindset helps people stick with their new goals long enough to make them habits where they become automatic. Thanks so much for stopping by and contributing to the conversation!

  8. This is such an interesting and informative read – I genuinely feel like I’ve learnt a lot through reading it! This has come at the perfect time too as I have so many 2021 goals and resolutions that I’d love to turn into habits xx

  9. I think of myself as resilient, and I attribute it to trying to focus on the positive. It helps that I have a growth mindset, which goes hand-in-hand with your suggestion to keep an open mind. There are many ways to do things, many ways to reach a goal.

  10. I loved this! I’ve found that not fearing failure is the biggest obstacle for me (which means it’s also the biggest opportunity for me to improve!) I really like the scientist analogy for this – it helps to think of everything as an experiment in progress. Thanks for the helpful resilience tips!

    1. You are very welcome Kate! The fear of failure is a big obstacle for most people – no one likes to fail after all. But I think this sort of scientific mindset normalizes these little failures so that they no longer become so big, scary, and discouraging. I hope this helps you achieve your goals!

  11. This is a fantastic post! I love how thought-provoking it is. My favorite piece of advice is seeking out challenges; I can say from experience that this is huge in building resilience. It’s easy to play it safe but it’s going to pay off more in the long run if you challenge yourself and your mindset. Wonderful post!

  12. I love this. This is an awesome post and a great way to look at building resiliencr. I love the science approach you took on it as well

    For a long time society has conditioned us to see failure as us not being good enough, but over time we see that failures shouldn’t be feared but rather looked as the stepping stones needed to reach success or make a change.

    Thanks so much for sharing

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